THE intensifying climate crisis has put sustainability at the top of the agenda for all businesses – and therefore for specifiers, too. With more projects needing to meet green building standards such as BREEAM and LEED, and pressure mounting for end-user clients and investors to build responsibly, it’s now a matter of urgency for architects and designers to demonstrate a true commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of their designs.
So, when it comes to creating commercial spaces, being climate conscious is paramount. This means choosing products, including flooring, that have a positive environmental impact, from the materials to the end-of-life options and everything in between.
At Interface, sustainability is integral to everything we do. We have spent the last 27 years learning and innovating to not only develop a range of products that support the sustainability goals of our customers, but to ensure that our business has a positive impact on the environment.
A key milestone in this journey came this year when we launched our first carpet tiles that are carbon negative (cradle to gate) as part of our Embodied Beauty™ collection. These carbon negative tiles represent a real step change and are the result of our longstanding work to understand the relationship between carbon, the built environment, and our planet.
Interface’s sustainability journey
Historically, the flooring industry hasn’t been very kind to our planet. In 1994, following questions from customers on how Interface was helping the planet, our founder, Ray Anderson, realised he needed to understand the impact that his company was having on the environment. He learnt that Interface was using carbon intensive manufacturing processes and he wanted to turn this around to prove that a business could be both sustainable and successful.
This sparked the launch of Mission Zero® – a bold ambition for Interface to seek to have no negative impact by 2020. This approach inspired innovation across the whole business, from the sourcing of raw materials to manufacturing processes and exploring the management of products at end of life. In 2019, we announced that we’d achieved Mission Zero® – one year ahead of schedule – based on our offer of carbon neutral products, as well as progress on renewable energy and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, since 1996, we’ve reduced factory Greenhouse Gas emissions by 96 per cent and our EMEA carpet manufacturing plants now use 100 per cent renewable energy.
Even before we achieved Mission Zero®, we started working on our next goal. In 2016, we launched Climate Take Back™, a pledge to run our business in a way that actively helps to reverse the impact of global warming and inspires other organisations to do the same. Our own goal is to become a carbon negative enterprise by 2040.
Achieving carbon neutral
The built environment is currently estimated to be responsible for 40 per cent of global energy related carbon emissions – something our industry needs to work together to change urgently. At Interface, our approach is to try change the perception that carbon is a problem and instead see it as a resource we can work with. After all, when we understand carbon, we can manage it correctly to support a healthier planet.
In 2018, we introduced our Carbon Neutral Floors™ programme across our full product catalogue globally, including carpet tiles and LVT, and later nora® rubber flooring products in 2019. To achieve this, we assessed the emissions released at every stage of production, from raw materials, supply chain and manufacturing, to transport, use and finally end of life. As a result, since our efforts began, we have sold more than 419 million square meters of carbon neutral flooring globally, and we have retired approximately 5.7 million tonnes of verified emission reduction credits. As part of the programme, customers also receive a certificate to demonstrate their progress towards reaching their sustainability goals.
Creating impact at scale
To make a real positive change, it’s crucial that flooring manufacturers continuously work to lower the carbon footprint of their products.
We’ve made significant progress in this area with the launch of Embodied Beauty™, our first collection to feature carpet tiles that are carbon negative from cradle to gate. These carpet tiles have a carbon footprint of -0.3kgCO2eq./m2 (cradle to gate), significantly lower than the carbon footprint of an average carpet tile, which stands at 13.2kg CO2eq./m2.
Embodied Beauty™ proves what is possible, but the next step was to create impact at scale. We achieved this through the development of our new carbon negative backing, CQuest™Bio. This innovative backing reduces the carbon footprint of the overall product by a third. CQuest™Bio is now the standard backing on all Interface carpet tiles, bringing the average recycled and biobased content up to 88 per cent across the entire carpet portfolio. This gives specifiers the ability to select products which have a positive impact on the environment and contribute to their customers’ sustainability goals at regardless of design brief and budget.
With climate change taking centre stage at this year’s G7 Summit and COP26 aiming to accelerate the global effort to save our planet, companies across all industries have made bold pledges to not only achieve goals set out by the government, but to reach their own ambitious independent targets – ones that will impress and attract a wide range of stakeholders. For example, all by 2030, Microsoft has pledged to become carbon negative, Willmott Dixon is aiming for its buildings to be net zero carbon in use by 2030, and Morgan Sindall has committed to becoming net zero carbon.
To support companies in achieving these ambitious targets as we transition to a zero carbon economy, more than 1,800 businesses are working with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to reduce their emissions in line with climate science. These targets show companies by how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
This year, we received third-party validation of our 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets as science based, committing us to reduce our Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50 per cent on an absolute basis by 2030. We are also committed to reduce absolute Scope 3 emissions from purchased goods and services by 50 per cent and reduce business travel and employee commuting emissions by 30 per cent.
Re-use and recycle
In addition to raw materials and production process, end-of-life decisions play a huge part in the carbon footprint of a product. Recycling and end-of-life reuse schemes, such as our ReEntry programme, allow customers to easily donate uplifted carpet for reuse by offering collection from its original location. We then work with specialised social enterprises to give the flooring a new home. Between 2016 and 2020 alone, ReEntry recovered 22,000 tonnes of post-consumer carpet, with around 60 per cent of this being given a new life in a different setting.
We want to play a key part in driving real climate action, working together with the industry to reverse climate change.
An important part of this is helping our customers to create spaces that actively support the environment. When it comes to specifying products, as an industry we need to look at solutions that are low carbon, carbon neutral and use high proportions of recycled and biobased content, as well as think about end-of-life reuse and recycling programmes. These measures will help to drive down the carbon footprint of construction.
We’re proud of how far we’ve come in the last two decades, but it doesn’t stop there. And, to have a real impact on the world, we need to work collaboratively, with everyone in the industry playing their part. This includes specifiers, who have a unique opportunity to lower the carbon footprint of the built environment by choosing sustainable and responsible products when designing commercial spaces. Now is the time to take that opportunity.
5 tips for specifying with the climate and carbon in mind
- Look for high levels of recycled and biobased materials
Since 1994, we’ve worked with our suppliers to find materials with higher recycled and biobased content to move away from virgin petrochemicals and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of our products. Selecting products that are made from high levels of sustainable content can help your customers to achieve their carbon goals.
- Investigate carbon offset programmes
Carbon offsetting can be an effective way for manufacturers to address any remaining carbon emissions that are difficult to reduce or remove. You can ensure that offsetting is carried out responsibly by asking manufacturers whether their offset programmes are audited by a third party and cover the full product lifecycle.
- Choose manufacturers with end of life take back schemes
Choosing responsible end of life options for used floor coverings, such as recycling schemes, means you can play a big role in reducing carbon. Interface’s ReEntry™ programme takes back its carpet tile, rubber and LVT products to reuse or recycle the materials to have a positive social and environmental impact.
- Go for low carbon products
There’s now a selection of affordable and stylish low carbon flooring options at your disposal. By choosing these products, you can actively reduce the carbon footprint of your projects. The industry needs to work together to reduce the impact it has on the environment and reverse the damage already done. Choosing low carbon products is a small but important step in achieving this.
- Find tools that help calculate embodied carbon
It is important to understand the carbon footprint of the products you are using to ensure they are meeting your client’s sustainability goals. Embodied carbon has become easier to measure now that there is more transparency within the industry, with an increasing number of manufacturers providing Environmental Product Declarations for their products. Carbon calculators such as the ICE database, EC3 and OneClick LCA allow main contractors, architects, and designers to calculate the total carbon impact of their projects.