From a punk band to the national sales team at Australia’s leading flooring manufacturer - Joel Williamson talks about fusing creativity and practicality in business, his enduring commitment to sustainability and why GH Commercial looks beyond flooring to tackle Australia’s waste problem.
What is your background and what does your current role in the business entail?
I started in the flooring industry on the installation side and steadily progressed to project management, to estimating and sales and then moved across to manufacturing.
Before that, I was a musician and involved in leadership roles in various organisations. I have always felt that having a blend of creativity and pragmatic business experience has given me a unique approach to the way I go about things and that coupled with industry experience anchored in delivering solutions at the project level has helped me a lot over the years.
Currently, I am the National Sales Manager at GH Commercial in Australia.
Has focus on sustainability always been a part of your career trajectory?
Sustainability as a career path has changed so much over the years. I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania and have always had a strong connection with nature. While some kids were playing video games, I was hiking through the woods identifying and counting birds to provide reports to various bird societies with my family. I’m not saying I was always happy about it but it was ingrained in me and no matter what I have been doing, I have always been very aware that we are all part of this amazing ecosystem, and we have a responsibility to look after the world around us.
As I have gotten older, I have become more and more excited about the concept that industry is and needs to be shifting from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. Marcus Aurelius famously said “What stands in the way becomes the way.” I firmly believe that the industry is waking up to this now and in countless ways is looking to the very problem as the solution. I am excited to be a business leader that is part of this revolution.
And how does sustainability show up in your day-to-day as GH Commercial’s National Sales Manager?
A lot of it boils down to communications, and assisting with decision-making and prioritisation. It’s fantastic to have a focus on a certain area, but it’s important to ensure that it’s something our architecture and design community, and end consumers, care about as well.
My team and I talk to our clients about the solutions that they need, and then we relay that back to our internal teams to inform how we do things. We see ourselves as part of our clients’ supply chain and if they have a goal to achieve – for example in terms of pursuing specific certification marks – those are the things we need to be able to interpret and say “This is how we need to be thinking about it.”
Another crucial element of my role is collaborating with various certification bodies to understand how our offering fits in with their requirements, and to be able to offer the architects, designers and specifiers more assistance with how our products can help them achieve their goals in the certification space. Constructing a building that ticks the relevant boxes is one thing, but having to figure out how every single product that they have to choose fits within that scheme is a huge task.
How important is sustainability to your organisation? How does this commitment manifest through various stages of product development and company operations?
Our company fully believes that our success comes through what many would call the triple bottom line principles of people, planet and profitability. We like to sum it all up in our “Believe in Better” concept. We’ve been proud to make PVC-free carpet tiles in Australia for years and have received multiple sustainability awards for our innovation and our ability to incorporate sustainability into our everyday processes.
That’s why sustainability is not an independent factor in what we do – our sustainability steering committee is formed from most of the key leaders and individuals across each department to ensure that all decisions are balanced, that we can achieve our goals and that fresh ideas come from the places that are most aware of the issues.
As part of Mohawk Industries, the world’s largest flooring manufacturing company, we not only look inwardly at our own operations here in Australia or New Zealand, but we also take into account the global goals of the company. It’s important that the steering committee helps to drive the prioritisation and the coordination of projects, and to interpret reporting and provide oversight along with ensuring that positive outcomes are achieved, and that we meet the relevant timelines and goals as well.
Because of this collaborative approach, there is often much better uptake in what we do across the entire organisation and it’s great to see the passion that many of our team have for the projects that affect them or their departments most. Where we can, we like to use external frameworks to help with benchmarking our own standards. For example, Declare Certification on products not only provides a benefit to our customers, but it also positively affects the people working in the manufacturing side who have to be around the raw materials we are using every day. It’s a win-win solution, but the process itself also helps us with driving better decision making from a procurement point of view and ensures that our change management processes are rigorous enough to maintain our certifications that get reviewed regularly.
What are the company’s current priorities from a sustainability point of view?
We are working on a few fronts. Significant changes in the cost of energy mean that we need or have the opportunity to fast track many of our planned projects relating to increasing renewable energy production or use in our processes. In addition to this we are working on multiple ways to increase recycled content in all of the products that we manufacture along with creating real solutions to recycle pre and post-consumer waste into product lines that deliver better circularity for our industry here in Australia and New Zealand.
Carpet sits on this cusp between textile and building products. So for us, it’s really interesting to be looking at how we can start to solve textile waste problems and start to create solutions for the products that are currently going to landfill in Australia, and be putting them into really key applications throughout commercial and residential buildings around Australia.
And this isn’t limited to flooring, particularly because there aren’t many flooring brands that make their products in Australia. For instance, we collaborate with GT Recycling, here in Geelong, to help them create a product called fibre crete which takes the recycled carbon fibre and incorporates it into concrete, allowing a major reduction in the use of reinforcement steel in applications like footpaths or driveways. So even though we're not in the concrete business ourselves, we're definitely happy to be part of that conversation and those kinds of collaborations. Because collaboration is going to be the solution moving forward.
Speaking of the future, what are the company’s aspirations, goals and ambitions for the future from a sustainability point of view?
Globally, Mohawk Industries wants to remain a leader in sustainability and at GH Commercial, we intend to partner with our global counterparts within a greater company to achieve goals such as reducing our impact in order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees. Locally we want to lead our industry to innovate and create solutions that make a real impact in Australia and New Zealand. This is beyond a specific product category but is across all categories.
We believe that as the largest flooring manufacturer across commercial and residential applications we are in a unique position to affect real change where the impacts are the greatest. We’ve already started the journey with Climate Active certified carbon neutral operations being achieved in 2021 and also now have a vast rollout of products that are Declare Certified to be Red List Free, PEFC certified timber products and more.
We are working to reduce our absolute emissions across all scopes and have set ambitious goals in both the inclusion of recycled or biobased renewable content in our products and the ability to recycle all products by 2030.