Global carpet-tile maker Interface is seeing the benefits of drastically cutting the environmental impacts of its European operations

Interface is at it again. The carpet-tile manufacturer, famed for being a green business pioneer, says it has achieved a number of “major sustainability milestones” by virtually eradicating some of the main environmental impacts from its continental European operations.

At its Scherpenzeel plant in the Netherlands, energy is now 100% renewable, water has been “virtually” eliminated from manufacturing processes, and zero waste is sent to landfill, according to Interface. In Europe overall, since 1996, the company has cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90% and water use by 95%. Innovations at Scherpenzeel include a switch to biogas (produced from rotting fish) and recirculation of water.

Interface, which was founded in the US, has seven manufacturing locations across the globe, and the company says its Netherlands achievements cannot necessarily be reproduced at its other sites, which will have “their own strategies”. However, progress at Scherpenzeel is a vindication of the Mission Zero vision of Interface’s founder, Ray Anderson.

Although Anderson died in 2011, Interface remains committed to becoming, by 2020, “the first company to be fully sustainable, and ultimately to become a restorative business”, an Interface spokeswoman tells Ethical Corporation.

Model approach

Interface is following the logic of the “new industrial model”. A recent report for the company by sustainability consultant Lavery Pennell summarises this succinctly: companies should cut their non-labour resource costs through efficiencies, reinvest the savings in more sustainable inputs such as renewable energy or recycled materials – thereby ensuring more secure supplies and reducing price volatility – and then boost their market share by capitalising on these advantages and developing new products that will be even more resource efficient and competitive.

It has worked for Interface, which has increased sales and profits, attributing its continued financial success to its sustainable orientation. It has also arguably worked for the sector. Martin Charter, director of the Farnham-based Centre for Sustainable Design, says: “Although there were no clear drivers in the contract carpet/carpet tile market in 1990s, many competitors also made good strides, so sustainability was and is a factor in the market.”

Dutch carpet and artificial grass maker Desso is one example of a company that has followed the Interface lead, Charter says. Dessso’s “cradle to cradle” approach to its products is now industry leading.

According to the Lavery Pennell report, all companies can make the transition to the new industrial model – they just have to decide to do it. “The most important catalyst is senior executive leadership,” the report says. Every company needs to find its Ray Anderson.

For Interface, the next step is to move from overall efficiencies to a product-level approach. The company says the Scherpenzeel experience shows that the direct environmental costs related to manufacturing can be drastically cut. “However, for Interface, Mission Zero is about more than this – it’s also about taking full responsibility for the entire lifecycle of its products. This is where the company will next focus its attention,” the spokeswoman says.

Charter says: “Recently, there has been a drive to back Interface products with environmental product declarations – lifecycle assessment-backed data to encourage buyers of flooring to ask suppliers questions on product-related environmental performance.”

This will help Interface differentiate itself by providing more backing for its sustainability claims, and will also add to the data on products held by the company – thus providing the raw intellectual material for the next stage of resource innovation and efficiency.

carpet industry  cradle to cradle  environmental impacts  global  Interface  landfill  sustainability  waste 

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