So Aidan, what is your role at Interface?
I believe I have the best job at Interface. We manufacture beautifully designed, high performance flooring but what really gets me out of bed in the morning is the fact that there's this purpose, part of our DNA, that underpins all we do.
A large part of my role is driving sustainability programs to eliminate waste and reduce our carbon footprint as part of our Mission Zero and Climate Take Back initiatives.
Designing Australia’s first real carpet recycling process at our factory located in Sydney, has been one of my most satisfying achievements and I have been working with key stakeholders to make renewable gas, biomethane, a reality in Australia. In March 2022 Interface will be the first Australian manufacturer to use renewable gas at its Sydney factory.
My role also gives me the opportunity to share the lessons learned on the way to achieving our Mission Zero goals through workshops, lectures and mill tours. This year I am delivering CPD training on “Designing with Carbon and Climate in Mind” to the A&D community.
So you mentioned that sustainability is in Interface’s DNA. What does having sustainability in your DNA really mean?
It is fair to say that sustainability is in every human being’s DNA but here at Interface it defines our culture. As our first CEO and founder said, “the right thing to do, in the final analysis, is driven by enlightened self-interest”. We are aware that we are part of nature, we are not outside it and that what we do to nature we do to ourselves. I paraphrase Herbert Reeves, astrophysicist and philosopher, “we are at war with nature and if we win, we will lose”. This is front of mind in everything we do.
How did the journey of sustainability at Interface start? And what’s the story up until now?
It started with one person, Ray C Anderson who founded Interface in 1973. In 1994 after operating successfully for 21 years successful Ray began to hear questions coming through his sales force from his customers. The question: “What is Interface doing for the environment”? A major customer had said, “Interface just doesn’t get it”! Ray’s response was “Interface doesn’t get what”? He could see that customer slipping away and needed to provide answers.
It was when he read Paul Hawken’s book “The Ecology of Commerce” that he had his “spear in the chest epiphany”, realising the impacts of the industrial system on the environment.
That is when Ray changed course, going from the take-make-waste business model to one like nature, cyclical, radically changing our practices, cutting our dependency on petrochemicals and using design that restores our planet and our people.
Developing a circular economy was key to achieving a net zero carbon future.
Interface has, since 1996, reduced the embodied carbon footprint of its carpet tile product by 76%. This was achieved by redesign, the use of recycled materials, de-materialisation (less is more), improved manufacturing efficiencies and converting to renewable energy. In 2018 we became the first company to offer all products, verified as carbon neutral across their full lifecycle, at no extra cost.
In 2016 we realised that doing no harm was not good enough, we needed to repair the environmental damage done, to become restorative. That is when we developed our Climate Take Back Plan to reverse global warming and set a new target to be a carbon negative company by 2040.
Lots of businesses aspire to be carbon neutral. Interface aims to be carbon negative. But how do you create a carbon negative business? In the very nature of producing something, surely there must be a use of carbon? So how does it work?
If you look at the basics, Ray's vision was to take recycled materials, and use renewable energy to make new products. It’s a great starting concept, and you're correct, there would still be some environmental impacts from that. The answer is to rethink your supply chain, the materials you use. So apart from materials that have been recycled we consider materials that are bio-based. In other words materials that have sequestered carbon, taken carbon from the atmosphere.
Think of a plant sequestering carbon through photosynthesis. When that plant ends its life, it is going to decay, produce greenhouse gases and leave some carbon in the ground. Our goal is to interrupt this process, to take that naturally occurring material with its sequestered carbon and convert it into raw materials that we can use in our products. In other words, by using bio-based raw materials we can actually sequester more carbon in our products than would be released into the atmosphere during their manufacture. That’s how we achieve what we call product carbon negativity.