The company, a world leader in the manufacture of modular carpets, was one of the first to use circular techniques in the design of its products back in 1994. Today, its products have achieved carbon neutrality, but the company wants to go even further.
"What is your company doing for the environment?" This question, asked in the early 1990s by one of his clients, prompted Interface's founder, Ray Anderson, to radically transform his company. The CEO of the worldwide leading carpet tile manufacturer then pledged to completely eliminate any negative impact the company could have on the environment.
Its pioneering and ambitious commitment to fight global warming, made public in 1994, was based on reducing CO2 emissions and waste, but also on cutting down water and energy use. It also aimed to supply all its plants, in more than 100 countries around the globe, with 100 percent renewable energies by 2020. An ambitious promise that Interface has been able to uphold, according to its latest reports, after adopting a holistic and circular approach.
With nearly 3,500 employees around the world, the Atlanta-based company founded in 1973 has recently announced the achievement of carbon neutrality over the entire life cycle of its flagship products - modular carpets for commercial offices. Its American and European sites now operate with 99 percent renewable energy - 89 percent on average worldwide.
Such progress can struck as significant, considering that in 2018 the building sector accounted for nearly 40 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Agency. And that, among other materials, carpets used for flooring can have a significant carbon footprint due to their manufacturing process, which usually requires using virgin petroleum-based nylon.
In order to reduce its environmental impact, Interface turned to the eco-design of carpet tiles with recycled or biosourced nylon, that could also be reused or recycled. Inspired by nature, the company designed the world's first biomimetic and modular carpet tile, called Entropy. Its non-directional design allows to reduce the waste generated during installation from 14 to 1.5 percent, as well as to separate and recover different components of the carpet at the end of its life cycle, for recycling. Eventually damaged tiles can also be replaced individually without changing the entire installation, thus extending the lifespan of the product.
It is through its ReEntry program that the company has been recovering and reusing these end-of-life carpet tiles in new flooring designs since 1995. The program has so far prevented roughly 136 million kilograms of carpet from reaching the landfills, particularly in California. By simultaneously optimizing the manufacturing process of its products, thanks to an ultrasonic laser cutting method, and reusing all the bits and pieces generated by these cuts, the company has managed to reduce its entire waste generation by 92 percent.
In addition to offering a second life to its own products - or those of its competitors - Interface also looks for other types of waste to manufacture carpet tiles. The NetWorks program, launched in the Philippines in 2012 in partnership with nylon supplier Aquafil and the Zoological Society of London, has enabled the company to collect around 224 tonnes of fishing nets from local coastal villages and transform them into raw materials for its products. Replicated since then in Cameroon and Indonesia, the program now benefits around 2,200 local families.
Roughly 60 percent of the elements used to create these carpets currently come from recycled or bio-sourced materials. Thanks to this and its energy efforts, Interface has managed to reduce its carbon footprint by 69 percent over the entire cycle of life of its carpets. And to fully achieve carbon neutrality, the company offsets those emissions that cannot -yet- be cut off by purchasing credits on reforestation or green energy development projects, verified by Bureau Veritas.
Now Interface is working to transform CO2 into a design resource for its products, using new materials able to store carbon. Its ambition? To have, someday, a negative carbon footprint.
This article has been written as part as a series of stories produced for open _resource by Sparknews, a French social enterprise that aims to foster new narratives that can help accelerate a social and environmental transition to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.