Designing with climate in mind.
By JON KHOO REGIONAL SUSTAINABILITY MANAGER INTERFACE.
THERE’s no question sustainability has increasingly become part of our everyday lives and we’re regularly encouraged to make sustainable choices – whether that’s swapping a paper cup for a reusable one at your local coffee shop or walking to work to cut carbon emissions.
As a result, businesses can no longer choose whether to engage when it comes to corporate environmental and social responsibility. In fact, failing to do so represents a significant risk to the long-term future of any company. Across the built environment, there are a lot of influences, and moreover influencers, in this process and specifiers have significant scope to drive this change towards not only more sustainable thinking, but also more sustainable actions.
Where to begin?
Whether you’re an architect, designer or in our case a manufacturer, achieving sustainability is all about having a full understanding of how your business and its associated outputs impact the environment. Next comes setting goals, and within them achievable objectives, to act to turn that impact into a positive one. It’s important to remember these goals need to be ambitious enough to drive real change, but realistic enough to be achievable.
Take the flooring industry as an example, historically it’s one which had a negative impact on the environment. That’s something which Interface wanted to change. At Interface, our vision was sparked by our founder Ray Anderson. In 1994, he set a challenge for Interface to ‘be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: people, process, product, place and profits – and in doing so, become restorative through the power of influence’. That power of influence is key. If we as manufacturers can become more sustainable, we can help our partners, whether our suppliers, customers or employees do the same.
Our journey began with Mission Zero – a public commitment for the business to have no negative impact by 2020. This ambitious approach inspired innovation across all areas of the organisation – from sourcing raw materials, to manufacturing and the management of products at end of life. It also helped Interface reach several key milestones in its global operations:
- 58% of the total raw materials in products sold were recycled or bio-based
- reducing the carbon footprint of the average Interface carpet tile by 66% since 1996
- 88% of all energy used in Interface’s manufacturing sites provided by renewable sources
- greenhouse gas emissions intensity from energy use at manufacturing facilities are down 96% since 1996
- water use is down 88% since 1996
But Mission Zero was just the beginning and it provides a key lesson for any business wanting to imbed sustainability into its operations. Reassessing and resetting goals are just as important as creating them in the first place. So, in 2016, Interface launched Climate Take Back. The aim was to take the company beyond eliminating its negative environmental impact, to helping reverse climate change and inspiring other organisations to do the same.
Let’s talk about carbon
Climate Take Back is made up of four objectives and the second of these is to Love Carbon. This means stopping seeing carbon as a problem, and instead seeing it as a resource and an opportunity.
Last year we hit some key milestones around this pillar. All our carpet tile and LVT products are now carbon neutral across the entire product lifestyle. That means as a specifier there’s no compromise between design and sustainability on projects. Nor do you need to pay more for a carbon neutral floor.
What’s better is you’re helping your customers achieve their carbon goals and you can communicate this tangibly. For every 1,000sq m of Interface flooring sold, we’ll offset carbon emissions equivalent to a car travelling over 25,000miles or one trip around the Earth’s equator.
But we’re not stopping at carbon neutral. Last year we announced our goal to become a carbon negative company by 2040. This will be done through innovating in three key areas: raw materials, supply chain and operations. This work has already begun through our Proof Positive carpet tile and backing, CircuitBac Green.
Proof Positive is a prototype tile which uses plant-derived materials in the backing and yarn that have captured and hold in a large amount of carbon through photosynthesis. Although at the moment it’s a prototype, the next step will be the working towards offering carbon negative products. Enabling specifiers to have even more impact as we strive for carbon neutral, and one day, carbon negative interiors.
But it’s not just what’s on the surface that counts. CircuitBac Green is a backing which uses a mix of bioplastics and mineral filler. It absorbs more carbon than it emits during production and the total recycled and bio-based content for a product using this backing can be as high as 87%. It works with a wide range of Interface products, making it an easy decision for those wanting to make the sustainable choice.
Assessing our carbon contribution
Our flooring products are just one way we’re trying to make a difference and drive change. Joining forces with likeminded companies is also key and that’s why we’re a founding member of materialsCAN (the Materials Carbon Action Network). This group is made up of members of the global building industry that are ready to act on the smart prioritisation of embodied carbon in building materials.
That’s the carbon dioxide emitted during the extraction, manufacture and transport of building materials. Alongside Gensler (design), Skanska (construction), Armstrong (ceilings), CertainTeed (insulation) and USG (wallboard) we are providing education and awareness in this area.
Ultimately, it’s about working with specifiers and decision makers to make it easy for them to evaluate and choose building materials with a low carbon footprint every time.
The great waste debate
It’s all very well and good ensuring that every time you embark on a new project you take the right steps to specify the most sustainable materials, but what about the products being removed from a building before a refurbishment project starts? These also need to be dealt with in a responsible and sustainable way.
It’s estimated that about 165,000 tonnes of carpet end up in UK landfill each year and diverting this waste has been a key focus for Interface for several years. Our ReEntry scheme allows used flooring to either be reused for the same purpose, converted to another product or service, recycled, or where absolutely necessary, energy is recovered in a waste to energy facility.
We’re looking to contribute toward a circular economy within the built environment. This commitment goes further than just recycling and means specifiers can ensure that sustainability considerations are made early on within a project.
We’re not the only ones who think in this way and that’s why we’re delighted to sign up to the BITC Waste to Wealth Commitment, bringing together business, government, academia and civil society to help collectively double the UK’s resource productivity and reduce avoidable waste by 2030.
What comes next?
Although a great deal of progress has already been made, we’re under no illusion that the hard work is done. As 2020 approaches, it will be a time to reflect on the successes of Mission Zero and our Carbon Neutral Floors programme, but also the optimum time to again assess, reset and consider what comes next.
As a manufacturer, we feel that the goals we set for ourselves are of paramount importance, but we want to be part of a collective that’s driving real change towards a more sustainable future. In reality that means bringing together all our partners to work together across an inclusive supply chain. We know it’s possible to both do well and do good, and that’s a message we’re proud to share.
5 TIPS FOR SPECIFYING SUSTAINABILITY
- Recognise your sphere of influence
As specifiers, you are in a unique position to influence the design of buildings and interiors. You know your materials and can help your customer choose options that are beautiful, functional and sustainable.
- Understand your client’s
Consider and explore how important sustainability is to your clients, their investors, and the employees that’ll use the space. If it’s not currently on their agenda, raise the issue and you may just be helping them future-proof their business.
- Question your suppliers – “What are you doing for the environment?”
Interface’s sustainability journey started with our customers asking what we were doing about the environment. Ask your suppliers what they are doing to lower the carbon footprint of their products or whether they are embracing the circular economy.
- Look for the low hanging fruit
For example, the take back of furniture, flooring and ceiling tiles on a refurb
offers a great opportunity to provide
value to a sustainably-minded client.
With proof points on reuse, recycling
and being part of the circular economy.
- Make designing with the climate in mind mainstream
Celebrate your sustainability successes and develop processes and knowledge sharing to ensure your practice and business continues to design with the climate in mind and your recognised for being part of the solution, rather than further contributing to the problem.