Nigel Stansfield, Interface: The flooring innovators

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Nigel Stansfield, Interface: The flooring innovators
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Nigel Stansfield, Interface: The flooring innovators

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Nigel Stansfield, Interface: The flooring innovators
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As we aim to ‘do good’, we often wrestle with what to buy. Which materials are less harmful to the planet? But can a product also be net positive? Could manufacturing help reverse global warming?

One maker has built its reputation chasing such conundrums. In this episode, chief innovation and sustainability officer Nigel Stansfield walks back the captivating journey of Interface, a major leader in commercial flooring solutions that TIME has singled out this year as one of the ‘100 Most Influential Companies’ in the world.

It was founded in 1973 by Ray Anderson on the premise of bringing carpet tiles to America. Fifty years on, Interface is today the first global flooring manufacturer to sell all its products as carbon neutral across their full life cycle. It now aims to be a carbon-negative powerhouse by 2040.

Episode outline

00:06:23 Ray Anderson and the Interface journey
00:10:43 “Obviously, if you are a manufacturer and you sell product, customers are super important. And Ray always recognised that. He always used to say the next order is the next heartbeat of the company.”
00:13:14 “And halfway through the book, he read a chapter on the death of birth, talking about species elimination and the impact that human beings were having on the planet. And it profoundly changed his point of view — and he referred to that subsequently as his ‘spear in the chest’ moment.”
00:14:23 “And we took the next two years — from ‘94 to ‘96 — to, what I would say, design the early roadmap — which became Mission Zero — and ultimately our commitment to have zero footprint by the year 2020.”
00:25:49 “And our 2040 commitment is to be a carbon-negative enterprise. And to do that — if you think about the Loving Carbon strategy of our Climate Take Back strategy — one of the things that we are now pioneering is carbon sequestration and capturing into our products.”
00:28:03 Making a better carpet
00:28:54 “So, we have the investor community as one of our key stakeholders. We also have our customers as a second key stakeholder. And then the other two key stakeholders are our employees and the environment.”
00:34:27 “And I would argue that there’s a symbiotic relationship between sustainability and design because good design, from an environmental perspective, drives the right sustainable outcome.”
00:47:58 A business perspective
00:48:33 “And in any goods and service provider, there will be competitors that will undercut you on price — and that’s the nature of commercial business. And, Interface, we price products across a wide plethora of pricing structures.”
00:51:04 Becoming Nigel
00:54:40 “I think when he passed, after a period of mourning and sadness, the business was able to galvanise and rejuvenate itself — and recommit to the Mission Zero journey and recommit to Ray Anderson’s legacy.”

 

Summary

A true-blue capitalist, Ray Anderson dedicated himself to steering Interface toward market dominance during the company’s first two decades.

But as 1993 rolled in, a shifting tide started to emerge. New enquiries from end users about Interface’s environmental stance prompted him to delve into the uncharted realm of sustainability. What was once unfamiliar terrain suddenly beckoned him.

Ray Anderson unleashed the potential of commercial flooring with carpet tiles in America.
© Karin Koser/Interface

Fortune led Ray to a decisive mind shift when he picked up Paul Hawken’s seminal book, ‘The Ecology of Commerce’. Often referred to as his ‘spear in the chest’ moment, the discovery would spark his sustainability ambitions and place Interface on the road to zero impact through its Mission Zero initiative.

Not all stakeholders, however, were eager to embark on this green odyssey. The allure of rapidly burgeoning economies like India and China enticed many to prioritise profit over planetary concerns.

Ray defied staggering resistance with resolve. He likened the pursuit of sustainability to scaling a summit loftier than Everest. To succeed, he believed, Interface would need an altered DNA: trailblazing solutions, unwavering thinkers, and a gutsy workforce.

The Eco Dream Team included authors, activists, scientists, and entrepreneurs who helped draft the Interface roadmap to sustainability.
© Interface

The audacious goals of Mission Zero — zero waste to landfill, zero fossil fuel energy, zero greenhouse gas emissions, zero wastewater discharge — were finally met in 2019.

By this point, Ray had passed away but his legacy lived on. Through ingenuity and sheer perseverance, old carpets found new life, renewable energy sources were harnessed, and production processes underwent a radical transformation.

Still, Interface’s pioneering spirit remained unquenched. Answering a plea to do more from the Eco Dream Team who had masterminded Mission Zero, the leadership pushed forward with a brand new mandate: Climate Take Back. Instead of merely neutralising carbon, Interface would now vie to reverse global warming.

Interface carpet tiles can be cut to shape, mixed and matched to fit any space requirements.
© Interface

A daring step in that new direction is Interface’s ‘Factory as a Forest’ concept which fuses biophilia and biomimicry as a core methodology. The manufacturer’s facilities, re-imagined as ecosystems, not only buttress its carpet production but also attempt to mirror Nature’s equilibrium.

The Interface global headquarters in Atlanta, United States, are nestled behind pixelated trees on recyclable polyester sheets that give the building cachet, privacy and shade.
© Interface

The Interface story is a prime example of the mutual benefits industry and ecology can reap when attunement is the relationship’s guiding force. This corporate ethos is the reason why the environment is held at the helm as a key shareholder, alongside investors, customers, and employees.

It’s a blueprint that redefines the bounds of possibility through exceptional leadership, tenacious teamwork, and an insatiable commitment to sustainable corporate innovation.

Gallery

Images

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Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:09:09 “…He announced Mission Zero…”
Mission Zero®” | Interface Brand Standards
00:12:41 “…A book crossed his desk called ‘The Ecology of Commerce’…”
The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability” | Environment & Society Portal
00:14:54 “…So we had a very take-make-waste process…”
HOW BAD DESIGN IS DRIVING THE ‘TAKE-MAKE-WASTE’ ECONOMY: A CLOSER LOOK AT ALL THE WAYS THAT WE CAN DO BETTER” | What Design Can Do (WDCD)
00:17:43 “…when we started to understand things like embodied carbon and life cycle analysis…”
Bringing embodied carbon upfront” | World Green Building Council
00:17:43 “…when we started to understand things like embodied carbon and life cycle analysis…”
Life Cycle Analysis” | ScienceDirect
00:19:02 “…our significant reduction in carbon footprint…”
carbon footprint” | Britannica
00:20:24 “…Interface reassembles the Eco Dream Team…”
A Look Back: Interface’s Sustainability Journey” | Interface
00:20:47 “…So 2019 Interface announces Climate Take Back…”
Our Mission” | Interface
00:23:35 “…And that led to our initiative we call Factories as a Forest…”
Factory as a Forest” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:26:03 “…one of the things we are now pioneering is carbon sequestration…”
Carbon Sequestration” | ScienceDirect
00:32:38 “…carpet products are produced with ideas like biophilia and biomimicry at heart…”
Biophilia hypothesis” | Wikipedia
00:32:38 “…carpet products are produced with ideas like biophilia and biomimicry at heart…”
Explaining Biomimicry and Applying Biophilia in Industrial Design” | Liva Flora
00:02:54 “…stretching back to when the founder, the late Ray Anderson…”
Ray C. Anderson (1934-2011)” | The Ray C. Anderson Foundation
00:12:45 “…and it was written by a thought leader called Paul Hawken…”
Paul Hawken
00:22:41 “…And we recognised this when we talked with Benyus — Janine Benyus…”
Janine Benyus” | The Ray C. Anderson Foundation
00:51:34 “…The Eco Dream Team was there — so Janine and Bill Browning…”
Bill Browning, Terrapin Bright Green: Crafting biophilic solutions” | Ecogradia
00:04:08 “…a weaving firm in the Yorkshire Dales…”
Yorkshire Dales” (Yorkshire, England) | Wikipedia
00:07:07 “…we had an office in Atlanta…”
Atlanta” (Georgia, United States) | Britannica
00:15:34 “…being a mountain higher than Everest…”
Mount Everest” (Nepal/Tibet) | Britannica
00:42:32 “…So the changes we need to make to our factory in Minto, outside Sydney…”
Minto, New South Wales” (Australia) | Wikipedia
00:42:32 “…So the changes we need to make to our factory in Minto, outside Sydney…”
Sydney” (New South Wales, Australia) | Britannica
00:42:37 “…are very different than our factory in Scherpenzeel, for instance…”
Scherpenzeel, Gelderland” (Netherlands) | Wikipedia
00:48:08 “…in an emerging market, say India, the city of Mumbai…”
Mumbai” (Maharashtra, India) | Britannica
00:51:24 “…we held an innovation summit in LaGrange, Georgia…”
LaGrange, Georgia” (United States) | Wikipedia
00:51:24 “…we held an innovation summit in LaGrange, Georgia…”
Georgia” (United States) | Britannica

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

00:26:29 “…So we launched our Embodied Beauty products across the world…”
Embodied Beauty” | Interface
00:34:56 “…the product was called Entropy…”
ENTROPY®: NON-DIRECTIONAL CARPET TILES” | The Biomimicry Institute

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Managing editor
Kruti Choksi

Communications executive
Sana Gupta

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown | Phlogiston

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