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The floor beneath our feet can mean so little, or so much. We caught up with Susan Farris, VP of Sustainability Corporate Communications, to learn more about how Shaw’s focus on sustainability is evolving alongside the market.
The floor beneath our feet can mean so little, or so much. While flooring can be
overlooked, it can also set the tone of the room, shaping our experience from an
aesthetic and health perspective. Carpets and laminates, for example, can
contain chemicals and plastics such as PVC — both of which can be harmful to
human health and make flooring difficult to recycle. According to the EPA,
billions of pounds of flooring enter the US waste stream every year. Hardwood
flooring can have its downsides, too — it can raise questions about
and can be covered with paints or sealants that contain formaldehyde or VOCs.
All of this makes flooring a good place to target both health and environmental
Prompted initially by demands from the commercial flooring market,
Shaw has invested
significant time and energy into examining and improving the material health and impact of its flooring
products. It has achieved Cradle to Cradle™
for nearly 90 percent of the products it manufactures — meaning the company has optimized material
health, material reutilization, renewable energy, carbon management, water
stewardship and social fairness in their making.
We caught up with Susan Farris, VP of Sustainability Corporate
Communications and longtime Shaw employee, to learn more about how the company’s
focus on sustainability is evolving alongside the market.
Shaw began as a carpet manufacturer in Northwest Georgia, rising out of
roots in tufted bedspread industry — an industry started by the women of
Northwest Georgia as a way to support their livelihood. We are now a global
company that is not only the world's largest carpet manufacturer, but the
largest engineered hardwood manufacturer in the US, one of the largest modular
resilient manufacturers in the US; and we provide tile, stone, laminate and
synthetic turf to residential and commercial markets worldwide.
Our business today is unrecognizable from its beginnings more than 50 years ago.
Not surprisingly, our focus on sustainability has evolved, as well. We have made
steady progress against goals we set for 2030 focused on water, energy, carbon,
waste and product sustainability. While all of those things are still critically
important, in recent years we have seen a growing shift of focus on the impact
of products and operations on people.
We spend an astounding 90 percent of our time
and as we've become an indoor species, we're increasingly focused on the spaces
and materials we surround ourselves with. Noise, daylight, temperature all
impact how we feel and what our experience is in a space; so do the ingredients
that go into products that we all buy, including flooring.
At Shaw, we have been focused on material health in alignment with Cradle to
Cradle principles for 20 years. What began with our commercial customers is now
becoming important for key segments of our residential customers. The concept of
healthy home and related attributes such as moisture, sound, comfort and
cleanability resonates at a tangible, personal level in a way that planetary
issues have not when it comes to flooring selection. We are focused on
— putting people at the heart of sustainability. As the market has shifted,
we’re continuously evolving our products and working to find the best ways to
simply convey our messages to an increasingly diverse array of audiences.
We are in the midst of constant transformation — just like most companies.
However, our industry and the sustainability landscape has shifted more
significantly than usual over the past three to five years. Seeing these
changes, Shaw recently took even more concerted efforts to better understand and
connect our sustainability priorities to those of our customers and other
Our first step was to survey key internal stakeholders — our associates — to
determine their sustainability priorities and what support they most needed from
the corporate sustainability team to be effective. That led us to a new
articulation of why corporate sustainability exists at Shaw: to leverage market
insights and technical expertise to inform, influence and support business
decisions. By overtly communicating that to our internal partners and tying
activities that may have once been seen as compliance efforts or technical
expertise more closely to innovation and competitive advantage shifted
expectations of the department.
With that foundation, it was natural to then align our sustainability subject
matter experts to the main areas of our business — commercial and residential.
Those customers and influencers have very different needs; and by dedicating
experts to understanding that landscape, we are better able to bring market
insights and support business needs.
Clearly defining the team’s mission and why we exist was instrumental. Another
key ingredient was the explicit acknowledgement of the need for our team to be
agile — to stay true to who Shaw is as a company, but also adapt to changing
market expectations, as well as how technology and access to information shape
what we do. If we let the constant change paralyze us, we will not be
By recognizing that our plans will frequently be adapted, it mitigates potential
individual concern that efforts weren’t successful because they weren’t executed
exactly as originally planned. It has to be seen as the norm to perpetually
evolve tactics while still driving toward our fundamental goals.
The corporate sustainability team is committed to engaging in the outside world
— through deepened partnerships with industry and sustainability groups as well
as building strong relationships that are sustainability focused with our
customers and partners. By keeping a pulse on technical and scientific
advancements, new tools in the marketplace, emerging influencer priorities,
regulatory shifts, and other external forces, we can better anticipate the
future and identify the trends that we need to focus on for ongoing innovation.
The reality is that the world is always changing; and so, forging ahead when we
don’t have all the information, and making the best decision possible, is how we
all operate. An example is our commitment to the Cradle to Cradle Certified™
Products Program. Almost 90 percent of the
products that we manufacture are Cradle to Cradle Certified. Cradle to Cradle
focuses on safe
material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship, and social fairness
— and Cradle to Cradle Certified products are verified to include only chemicals
and components that are safe for people and the planet.
We have to renew that certification every two years — so, there is ongoing work
on our product portfolio to examine product ingredients, production and how the
product functions out in the world. Compliance efforts obviously can’t stop, but
we must also continue to bring value to our customers. It’s a constant triage
and prioritization, as we scrutinize what will bring the most value to our
organization — creating a competitive advantage or mitigating risk.
Throughout the process of transforming and clarifying the role that corporate
sustainability plays within Shaw, we focused on engagement. We wanted to fully
understand what our associates and the company need and expect from our
and at the same time, bring them along with us as we redefined our role.
I think that engagement throughout the process helped break down some
anticipated resistance. Over the years, we evolved our team from one that many
may have seen [to have a] technical, compliance role within the company — to one
that is adding business value, working alongside our main business units to
achieve their business goals. As with any change management
it requires frequent communication to avoid misunderstanding and misaligned
Published Sep 9, 2019 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.