Beyond Mission Zero

28 Jun 2017

As Interface draws closer to achieving its goal of Mission Zero by 2020, the world’s most sustainable carpet manufacturer has set its sights on an even more ambitious target: using carbon as a resource. We check in with Interface’s Managing Director – Australia, Clinton Squires, to find out what this means.

In 1994, Interface’s founder Ray Anderson promised to eliminate his company’s negative environmental impacts by 2020. But moving away from the standard ‘take-make-waste’ philosophy required a radical redesign of the company and its products.

Since then, Interface has replaced the latex in its products in Europe with recycled windscreens. Its European factory was first across the line to achieve zero waste to landfill, but the new Sydney factory is already hitting a 70 per cent diversion level with zero comfortably in sight by 2020.

Interface’s Net-Works program harvests discarded fishing nets that are then recycled into new yarns. More than 140 million kilograms of carpet has been recycled. And it has reduced its carbon footprint per square metre of produced carpet by 98 per cent, and water usage by 93 per cent, since 1996.

“We’ve hit some balls out of the park – which is extraordinary when you consider we didn’t know how we’d get there when we set the Mission Zero goal,” Squires says.

While Interface won’t entirely eliminate its power usage by 2020, it will be 100 per cent renewable. Squires says “we’ve achieved the spirit of the goal, and a whole lot more when you consider the boundaries of sustainability are much broader than they were in 1994”.

Some of Interface’s projects are truly awe-inspiring. Net-Works, for example, now supports coastal communities in the Philippines and Cameroon – places that were strategically selected because of their high-value, at-risk ecosystems and the opportunities to elevate living standards.

The benefits? Fewer ghost nets, less virgin materials consumed and a new source of income for communities.

“While it’s only a small part of the supply chain, this program changes people’s lives. We’ve established embryonic banking systems, provided a means of saving and investing, and are supporting livelihoods that are low impact on ecosystems,” he says.

Closer to home, Interface’s Australian recycling facility in Sydney’s Minto, is in the final stages of commissioning, and will soon be able to process in excess of 100,000 sqm of carpet tile this year. The plant separates the materials into its constituent parts, some is fed back into Interface’s processing, and some is returned to raw materials.

“When we started recycling our product at the end of its useful life, we imagined it would be difficult and we would, at best, have a downcycled product. To our amazement, and by working with great partners, we are able to recycle like for like. This means we retain the high value of the material,” Squires explains.

Squires says it’s a great honour to work for a company that has an environmental commitment spanning decades, and this is reflected in its talent acquisition. “We have very low employee turnover rates and this is an additional dividend of our business model.”

But now, as 2020 nears, Interface is thinking about the next challenge.

At its heart, Interface’s approach is to see carbon not as a challenge but as a resource and to “look at how we capture that resource”.

Every day, plants pull carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis, but release it when they decompose. Interface has converted this plant-based carbon into a durable material that prevents its release into the atmosphere. The result is a new proof of concept tile.

Interface has also started looking outside the carpet sphere to a broader range of modular products.

“It’s a big agenda for a carpet manufacturer. But one of our early insights around sustainability was the power of modularity; how efficient modular products are to install, and how that means less wastage when they are recycled.

“We are using this insight to engage with a wide range of industry experts to look beyond our own product.

“As a sustainability leader, Interface sees its power to influence as key factor in building a coalition of like-minded businesses, institutions and communities with the common goal of reversing our impact on our environment.

“We are really reaching out to our customers, employees our extended stakeholders to come and join us with ideas, challenges, insights – we don’t have a complete roadmap, but we want to work with other companies looking to take carbon from being a problem to a resource.

“It’s a generational challenge on a global scale. We’re certainly up for it.”

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