Sustainability Insights and Advice from Interface

At Green Business Singapore, we have always admired the vision and work of Ray Anderson, a true sustainability leader and the founder of Interface, Inc. To give our readers an overview of Ray’s vision and how Interface embraces sustainability, we recently interviewed Jim McCallum, Senior Vice President, InterfaceFLOR. His insights in response to our questions are found below.

[We are sad to hear the passing of Ray Anderson on 8 Aug 2011. A great loss for the green business community but his vision will continue to inspire many others on Mount Sustainability.]

About InterfaceFLOR

InterfaceFLOR – part of Interface Inc – is a worldwide manufacturer of environmentally-friendly modular flooring. Founded in 1973, InterfaceFLOR has manufacturing facilities across four continents and offices in more than 100 countries.

Interface companies share the commitment of founder Ray Anderson’s vision of a business that gives back to the environment what it takes out. This vision is known as ‘Mission Zero’– achieving a zero carbon footprint by 2020. Sustainability governs every creative, manufacturing and building decision made; it is at the heart of the company’s culture, with staff rewarded on their commitment to sustainability as opposed to output levels.

1. Describe your company’s green initiatives and practices.

Over the years the Interface brand has gained more and more recognition for sustainable awareness. Since the mid 1990’s we have been on a journey towards a position whereby our company will have no negative effect on the environment. This goal is what we call Mission Zero, which is our promise to eliminate any negative impact our company may have on the environment by the year 2020. There are 7 markers which we base our journey on:

  • Zero waste
  • Zero harmful emissions
  • 100% renewable energy
  • Creating closed loop systems
  • Resource efficient transportation
  • Integrate sustainability as part of culture
  • Pioneer new business models for sustainability

Additionally, we have the following key initiatives:

ReEntry® 2.0, a process that reclaims old carpet and converts it into recycled raw materials, diverted 12,500 tonnes of carpet from landfills in 2010. Since 1995, ReEntry has diverted a cumulative total of 103,400 tonnes of carpet and carpet scraps. The company’s ReEntry 2.0 reclamation process recently expanded to the company’s European operations in the Netherlands.

Carbon offset program – “Cool Carpet”. This is the 1st “Climate Neutral” option offered in the industry. Twenty-six million square metres of the company’s climate-neutral Cool Carpet â„¢ were sold in 2010, with over one hundred and twenty million sold since the start of this program. Under this program, GHG emissions for the full lifecycle of Interface products are calculated. Carbon offsets are then purchase in the form of certified emission reduction credits which are independently verified, thus providing green customers an environmentally responsible product option.

2. Why did your company decide to go green?

This journey, which has now been going on for 16 years was really started through the leadership of the founder of the company and current chairman Mr. Ray Anderson, who was greatly inspired by the book “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken. Ray observed two absolute myths that had existed since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

  • The earth is so large. It is an inexhaustible source of materials and natural resources. We’ll never run out.
  • The earth is so large. It is a limitless sink, able to assimilate waste, no matter how poisonous.

This is exactly how the industrial world had been viewing its approach to business. Of course the two statements are fundamental untruths. The fact of the matter is the earth and its resources are finite.

Ray felt very passionately that things had to change; that governments would not be decisive enough to bring about this change, so the change would have to be led by industry, by commerce, by business and if industry had to lead the change, who would lead?

Interface took on this challenge and very soon the entire company was motivated to try to make a difference. Try to change the way we do business, try to reduce – in every way – the effect our actions had on the environment.

3. What are the challenges faced by your company in going green?

While the challenges inherent in “going green” are not overwhelming, the challenges inherent in reaching Mission Zero; our promise to eliminate any negative impact our company may have on the environment are immense.

We are however, over 60% along our journey and the greatest challenge is to maintain and heighten the motivation of all our employees to innovate further, in order to reach the summit of our Mount Sustainability. This culture of integrating sustainable business practices into the everyday lives of our associates is the most important factor in the quest to reach our primary goal. This culture must be continuously nurtured and our employees must be empowered to think creatively and be connected towards a higher purpose.

4. How has going green helped your company?

  • We have reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill per unit of production by over 80%.
  • Our water usage is also down 80% per unit of production
  • Our net absolute greenhouse gas emissions are down 35%
  • However, with verified offsets, our net absolute greenhouse gas emissions are down 90%
  • Total energy usage is down 43% per unit of production
  • But fossil fuel derived energy is down 60% per unit of production
  • And 30% of our global energy requirement comes from renewable sources.
  • Our use of recycled materials as a percentage of total materials used now stands at 36% as opposed to one half of one percent in 1996.

The list goes on and on, but the key thing we should all understand here is that this is a good business plan. You do not have to sacrifice profitability to be sustainable.

The waste saving efficiencies alone (in excess of US$430 million) have financially justified our endeavours, but this approach also differentiates us and creates a compelling reason why our customers want to continue doing business with us.

5. Does your company have other green plans over the next few years?

We are constantly evolving and innovating in the arena of sustainability; our journey so far has lasted 16 years, so this business model is not merely a fad to us. We take it one step at a time, making many small improvements as opposed to occasional giant leaps. A motto we have adopted is that the compass is more important than the speedometer; the importance lies within maintaining progress in the right direction.

A major target we have set ourselves however, is to establish a ReEntry system right here in Asia, whereby we can reclaim and reprocess old carpet tiles totally within the confines of this continent instead of utilising the facilities we have in the US and Europe.

6. What advice would you give to companies who are interested to go green?

It is the right thing to do. When we first embarked on this business model it was almost an altruistic development on our behalf. However, we soon discovered incredible economies through our diligent approach to waste reduction and energy reduction. Processes and systems needed to be overhauled, we needed to pay attention to the tiniest of details, but this tenacious and focused approach brought about great savings. These savings (in excess of US$430 million) has more than paid for the investment necessary to further our goals and the savings go on and on.

As well as efficiencies, our approach brings about differentiation. Our endeavours are not lost on our customers and prospective customers. The achievements we have already made, and further intend to make, in reducing our environmental footprint help drive what has become a greatly admired Interface brand.

Please do not make the mistake in thinking profitability and sustainability are mutually exclusive. This is a sound business model; it is economically viable and is ultimately necessary if we are to think of the welfare of our children and their grandchildren after them.

About Jim McCallum, Senior Vice President, InterfaceFLOR

Born 1955 in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the North East of England, Jim McCallum takes on the leadership role in InterfaceFLOR Asia as Senior Vice President. Upon his graduation from Leeds Metropolitan University with BA (Hons) Business degree, Jim moved to London and started his career with American textile giant Burlington Industries (Fabrics Division) in 1979.

He was transferred to Burlington Corporate Head Office in Greensboro, North Carolina (USA) in 1982 as Planning Manager for its Denim Division. Three years later, Jim headed Burlington Industries’ European Denim Division. In 1990, Jim moved back to North Carolina and took on the role of Vice President (Operations) for Burlington Industries Carpet Division, Lees and served on the Burlington Industries Management Committee.

In 2003, Lees was acquired from Burlington and became part of the Mohawk Group -a $7 billion floor covering empire. Upon this acquisition, Mohawk appointed Jim as President of the Mohawk Commercial Group that is a $800 million commercial carpet division. This acquisition also resulted in his relocation to Atlanta, Georgia. In 2008, Jim accepted the challenge to head up the Interface Asia business.

Images: InterfaceFLOR

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