Interface: Eliminate pollution, waste and carbon dioxide – one square metre at a time


photo of the interior of Interface's Atlanta headquarters

If you want to take a giant leap into sustainable interiors Interface® could be a perfect fit: a company that’s proud of its tradition to go the extra mile for the planet.

Interface is a global flooring company specialising in Carbon Neutral Floors including carpet tile, luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and nora® rubber flooring.

Its sustainability credentials are now world renowned. It’s had impressive success in reducing its carbon footprint, eliminating waste, using recycled and bio-based raw materials and through its ReEntry program taking back its carpet at end of life for recycling into new product.

But it was not always so.

In 1994 the founder of Interface carpet tiles, the late Ray Anderson, had what he called a “spear in the chest” epiphany.

He shook the foundations of the petroleum intensive carpet manufacturing industry and declared that Interface would cut its dependence on non-renewable raw materials and fossil fuels to become the world’s first environmentally sustainable – and ultimately restorative – company.

He described himself as a “recovering plunderer” of the earth and established Interface’s Mission Zero® promise to eliminate any negative environmental impact from its operations by 2020.

Aidan Mullan engineering and sustainability manager Interface Australia & New-Zealand says Ray Anderson’s dream is becoming a reality.

“Interface is proud to be well on our way to achieving our Mission Zero goal and to be the first company to sell all Carbon Neutral Floors,” he said.

Mission Zero inspires ambitious environmental goals

Interface has set in place Mission Zero initiatives at all its factories around the world, including its NSW operations at Minto. Key goals include:

  • eliminating waste
  • using 100 per cent renewable energy
  • closed loop processing
  • using recycled and bio-based raw materials
  • striving for zero water use by monitoring usage and harvesting water from factory roofs.

The EcoMetrics™ measurement system tracks raw material use, waste, energy and water use on all global sites to quantify the “metabolism” of the operation and track progress against goals.

Biomimicry inspired design

Interface uses biomimicry, the science around learning from the nature, in its design aesthetic to reduce waste. The “leaf strewn patterns” you might see on a forest floor, for instance, are used in product design so that individual tiles can be placed and replaced in any order and still blend seamlessly.

Bio-based and recycled materials

Interface carpets have high recycled content (the company is well known for its reuse of old fishing nets) and according to Aidan, while that costs a bit more than virgin yarn, we don’t pass on these costs to our customers.

Climate Take Back™ – another leap forward

Interface wants to go further. Its Climate Take Back™ mission is exploring ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and replace the petroleum-based carbon in products with bio-based carbon.

“We’re moving closer to a solution with our CircuitBac™ green backing,

This is an innovative backing that effectively stores more carbon during its life cycle than it emits, Aidan says.

“It offers up to 87 per cent total recycled and bio-based content and performs to the highest standards. It’s also installed with our TacTiles® glue-free installation system.”

CircuitBac™ is currently manufactured in Europe and available on select products.

The “Proof Positive” carbon negative carpet tile

In 2017 Interface also unveiled the prototype “Proof Positive” carbon negative carpet tile, the tile which showed it was possible to make a product that showed that after the tile was made, there was less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than if it had not been manufactured in the first place.

“The Proof Positive Tile was our creation, a way to address Climate Take Back,” Aidan says.

“It is a proof of concept that demonstrates how we can reduce and ultimately reverse global warming. It was designed to inspire not only our customers but also our industry and the world to think about carbon not as a challenge but as an opportunity.

Interface envisions a future for cross sector transformation where architects, designers and business collaborate to create spaces with climate the focus for choosing materials that will reverse global warming.”

ReEntry – a program that’s part of the circular economy

In addition to striving to eliminate waste in the production process, Interface is working to eliminate waste from the disposal of obsolete product. In the US, it’s been taking back carpet at the end of its life for re-use and recycling.

Since 2017 the company has been recycling carpet in Australia, and is believed to be the only manufacturer to ensure the spent carpets actually re-enter the circular economy as a viable product, (not just sending them to a waste-to-energy scheme as some manufacturers do.)

According to Aidan, “Every day, tonnes of carpet and LVT [luxury vinyl flooring] are discarded, with most of it ending up in landfill – or going into waste to energy.

“We’re not only trying to eliminate waste in the production process, but designing ways to keep carpet out of landfill by being responsible for our products at the end of their life.

“In 2016 and 2017 alone we prevented 2 million square metres of carpet going into landfill around the world with our ReEntry program.”

A hand up with corporate sustainability goals

Interface believes these practices help property owners and their corporate – and smaller – tenants meet their sustainability goals, which are growing by the day as institutional investors and consumers alike demand a more environmentally responsible profile from the corporates they deal with.”

Spreading the word and inspiring others

To make sure it could do the best it could, Interface in August 2018 conducted a Climate Take Back roundtable event in Sydney, with leading investors, banks, entrepreneurs and local government attendees.

The objective was to identify climate-positive initiatives and discuss how to create conditions for more pioneering action. A key focus of attention was the company’s Mission Zero program, which has reduced the company’s footprint by 66 per cent, with the balance offset to manufacture products that are carbon neutral across the whole life cycle not just manufacturing.

By redesigning its products and processes, seeking out sustainable suppliers and power sources, and the judicious use of carbon credits, Interface has achieved carbon neutral flooring.

Interface is an ethical employer

Social sustainability is important too: when Interface’s Picton factory burned down in 2012, all the employees were kept in work or placed on worthwhile volunteer programs.

Worker commitment and waste elimination are at the core, Aidan says.

“It is one of our corporate values and we call it Design a Better Way.”

That’s a legacy from Ray Anderson who was able to connect the boardroom to the shop floor, he says.

Giving back – Interface has the vision and the plan

The company’s next ambition is “not to take what we cannot put back, to be restorative – carbon negative by 2040,” Aidan says.

The big question is how to start to create a climate fit for life?

“One of the biggest barriers to driving change is our inability to imagine how we get there,” Aidan says.

“We need new ideas and approaches. We need a plan. At Interface, we’re optimistic and we’ve started on a path toward change.”

Ray Anderson believed that it was industry – the source of pollution – that could fix the problem. And that’s certainly what the company this visionary man founded is determined to see through.


Products | Global