Cross-sector collaborative projects have been pivotal in helping to reduce Interface’s carbon footprint

Part of our 7 in 7 series – where we ask senior business executives seven timely questions in seven minutes. The below Q&A is part of the knowledge exchange in the build up to the 11th Annual Sustainable Supply Chain Summit

Ethical Corporation: What’s your current role and what are your responsibilities?

Ton van Keken: As Senior Vice President of Operations at Interface, I oversee the complete European operational strategy, ensuring manufacturing excellence throughout the business. This includes supply chain management, from procurement to manufacturing and distribution. 

EC: In our State of Sustainable Supply Chains Report 2016, industry collaboration has been highlighted as the biggest opportunity in the coming 12 months. How is Interface approaching collaboration? What key determiners do you look for?

TvK: Collaborating and co-innovating with likeminded stakeholders has been a pivotal part of developing ground-breaking innovations at Interface. While it’s difficult to identify key determiners, collaboration works best when the end goal is the same for all those involved, whether it be minimising waste sent to landfill, creating a wholly sustainable product or mining existing products for their raw material.

EC: Do you have examples of a successful and a not so successful collaboration, and importantly, what you learnt from both?

TvK: One example of a successful collaboration is Interface’s ten year partnership with advanced recycling organization, Shark Solutions. Interface worked with the company to create an environmentally-sound replacement for the synthetic SBR latex precoat that’s predominantly used in the carpet tile industry. 

PVB is a by-product in the production of glass and car windscreens. Of the 1billion cars worldwide, up to 6% have a window replaced each year, which generates an estimated 1million metric tonnes of readily-available polyvinylbutyral (PVB) annually. Without the collaborative intervention from Interface and Shark Solutions, this material would be send to landfill. 

Cross-sector collaborative projects such as this have been pivotal in helping to reduce Interface’s carbon footprint, while also addressing the global-scale problem of waste.

By taking an otherwise redundant and widely available product, like used car windscreens, and remanufacturing it into a raw material for use in a brand new product, waste is minimised more sustainable ways of working can be established across the entire supply chain.

Not all of Interface’s collaborations have been a success, but they have paved the way for some of the company’s most renowned initiatives. JUST, launched in 2007, is one such example. The project was launched in partnership with a non-government organisation in India and saw the creation of a fair trade product made with natural raw materials.

While this partnership was not strong enough to meet the company’s core business needs, it did pave the way for Net-Works, a collaboration between Interface and ZSL that turns discarded fishing nets into carpet tiles and benefits coastal communities. To date, Net-Works has seen the collection of over 100 tonnes of fishing nets, and helped approximately 55,000 people improve their quality of living.

EC: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for Interface in 2017?

TvK: In 1996, Interface pledged to become a totally sustainable company by 2020. Now the company is reaching that target, the next step is to surpass it.

Instead of just eliminating any negative impact, Interface is looking at ways in which it can operate more restoratively, and actually put back what it takes from the environment. I’m confident that this new mission, titled Climate Take Back, will present the company with a multitude of opportunities in 2017 and beyond.

As part of the Climate Take Back mission, Interface is also calling for other manufacturers to recognise the importance of putting back, and encouraging businesses to start thinking about adopting more restorative ways of working. To do this, Interface will be looking to engage with new suppliers and explore opportunities for collaboration, and building on the success of its existing initiatives, like PVB.

EC: What do you see as being the big issues to watch for in 2017?

TvK: With periods of fast growth followed by rapid decline, markets are becoming unpredictable. This has the potential to decrease productivity in manufacturing, which in turn could minimise customer demand.

If Interface is to keep finding new, innovative and restorative ways of working, it needs to ensure the bottom line remains stable. This means maximising capacity, increasing flexibility and making wise investments.

EC: And finally, what are you most looking forward to at this year’s Sustainable Supply Chain Summit?

TvK: It will be very interesting to speak to likeminded companies in different sectors to find out how they are collaborating to establish more restorative, closed loop ways of working.

I’m also, of course, keen to share ideas as to how Interface operates, and discuss the opportunities available to the business in line with our latest mission, Climate Take Back.

Ton is speaking on a session that looks at how companies can establish long-term sustainable solutions through industry-wide supplier collaboration. Joining Ton at the event are 20+ other expert speakers from the likes of; Primark, Cisco, Ericsson, AstraZeneca, Skanska to name a few. Click here for more information about the event

Interface  sustainable sourcing  collaboration  supply chain 

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