If we stop and think about the damage that we are doing to our environment we should reflect on the words of Hubert Reeve, Canadian astrophysicist and philosopher when he said “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshiping.”

Ray C Anderson, CEO, and founder of Interface came to this realization in 1994 just over 21 years after he started up the company. In 1994 when a customer asked what the company was doing for the environment, his response was “not much”. He lost that customer. Looking for answers he turned to Paul Hawken’s book “The Ecology of Commerce” and as he read, he had what he called his spear in the chest epiphany. He clearly saw that, as a captain of industry, he was responsible for the pollution and biodiversity loss referred to in Hawken’s book.

He became convinced that there is only one business – the business of life. He reimagined everything - the interface, if you will -- between industry and ecology, economies and ecosystems, the present generation, and future generations. Ray changed course and the change was dramatic. Interface became a company with purpose, Mission Zero. That purpose was to reduce its environmental impacts to zero by 2020.

Interface celebrated success in achieving its Mission Zero targets in 2019. Sadly, Ray, like the medieval architect building his cathedral, did not live to see his vision completed. He died in 2011.

Since Ray’s “midcourse correction” 27 years ago, sustainability has been imprinted in the Interface DNA and the company is now one of the most innovative global businesses when it comes to not just minimizing, but reversing, its impact on our natural environment.

“As the company neared its Mission zero goal it realized that doing no harm was not good enough and that the company had to become restorative” says Interface Sustainability Manager, Aidan Mullan, “Industry must repair the damage it has done”. In 2016 Interface set a new plan in action - Climate Take Back. “The key tenet of this plan is that if humanity has changed the climate by mistake, then humanity can reverse that change with intent”.  Interface set a new audacious target, to become a carbon negative company by 2040.

Since 1996 Interface has reduced its carbon footprint by 76% and, to make all its products carbon neutral across their full life cycle, it has been necessary to purchase carbon offsets to neutralize the remaining emissions. “A company that declares it will achieve carbon neutrality or indeed carbon negativity, by using carbon offsets only, is greenwashing. Interface recognizes offsets as a necessary short-term steppingstone towards becoming carbon negative,” explains Aidan, “the key focus is real emissions reduction. Interface recently signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative, committing to Business Ambition 1.5°C. This means it will cut current emissions by 50% by 2030 taking it closer to its 2040 goal”.

“To achieve carbon negativity by 2040,” he continues, “requires innovative new technology and rethinking the raw materials that we're using to manufacture our product and reduce climate impact. The company has done this by making a substantial investment in its “Backings of the Future” production lines that will use recycled and bio-based raw material to reduce its carbon footprint. It is the innovative use of carbon sequestering bio-based materials that will take the company to its 2040 target”.

This year Interface launched its first carbon negative, cradle to gate, carpet tile into the Australian market. The Embodied Beauty collection is inspired by Nature and designed to respect it.

This podcast was brought to you in association with Interface, proud sponsors of the Sustainability series of podcasts. 

Listen to this episode here.