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25 Years On:
Lessons Learned from Interface’s Ongoing Sustainability Journey

Why are lessons learned by a flooring company relevant? Many of the challenges we had to solve are the same that companies are struggling with as they pursue sustainability. Our accomplishments are significant because they show it is possible to transform a business and put sustainability at the core.

This year, Interface celebrated a significant milestone in our sustainability journey. It’s been 25 years since our founder, Ray Anderson, challenged our company to become a sustainable enterprise with a goal to have zero negative impact on the environment. Mission Zero® made us a pioneer, learning how to define and implement sustainability at a time when few companies were pursuing it.

This milestone gave us an opportunity to reflect on our progress and our accomplishments, and we did two important things — we declared success on our Mission Zero; and we set a new mission, embracing and launching Climate Take Back. By focusing on Mission Zero, we significantly reduced the impacts of our company and transformed our products. We helped change our supply chain; and we inspired others along the way to implement more sustainable business practices, creating ripple effects that helped us extend Mission Zero far beyond our original intentions. Based on our 25 years of effort and accomplishments, we published our Lessons for the Future report to provide a roadmap for others working to implement sustainability in their organizations.

Mission Zero progress

After Ray Anderson’s famous spear-in-the-chest moment in 1994, we created aggressive sustainability targets. We worked quickly to develop a plan to reduce our business’s impact on the environment. We focused on three key areas of the business: our factories, our products and our raw materials. Over the last 25 years, we’ve made remarkable progress, with results including:

  • a 92 percent reduction of waste to landfill across our global factory locations;

  • The continued evolution of circularity

    Hear about the latest progress in advancing a global circular economy from practitioners and experts in a variety of industries — at Sustainable Brands 2020.

    an 89 percent water use reduction in factories globally;

  • and a shift to 89 percent of our global energy coming from renewable sources, with 100 percent of our electricity globally covered by renewable sources.

We’ve also decarbonized our business and our products, achieving a 96 percent reduction in carbon emissions globally and a 69 percent reduction in the carbon footprint of our carpet tile products. In January 2019, we celebrated a significant accomplishment: Every flooring product that we sell — carpet tile, LVT, rubber tile and sheets — became carbon neutral across the full lifecycle of the products.

Our Lessons for the Future report covers nine lessons we’ve learned as we’ve transformed the business to achieve Mission Zero. These include shooting for the moon — setting bold, uncomfortable goals for your business and thinking beyond incremental targets; being transparent — and talking about challenges and successes; and taking a circular approach — creating a circular system for materials and products to become a more sustainable company.

Why are lessons learned by a flooring company relevant? Many of the challenges we had to solve at Interface are the same challenges that companies are struggling with as they pursue sustainability. The need to set the right ambition level for sustainability targets and the need to engage employees at all levels are universal challenges. Our accomplishments are significant because they show it is possible to transform a business and put sustainability at the core. While every lesson might not apply to every organization, some key tenets must be addressed for any successful sustainability strategy. Lastly, we hope we can shorten the learning curve of other organizations just getting started on their own sustainability efforts.

Creating a ripple effect

But along this journey to zero, we have done much more than reduce our own environmental footprint. Through sharing our progress and mentoring others, we have enabled them to create change within their businesses. We’ve sought to measure and share these ripple effects using the Handprint Methodology. In Lessons for The Future, we measured two important projects on raw materials and renewable energy, the ripple effects of which created positive impacts well outside of our business.

As sustainability moves away from its historical definition of reducing the negative impacts of one business or its supply chain and into a new era focused on creating positive impacts, learning how to influence others will become critical. Understanding how to design strategies that not only positively impact a company, but can scale to engage other businesses and create impacts well beyond one company or one industry, will help us solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Looking forward

The most important lesson we’ve learned on our zero mission to zero is to raise the bar. When confronted with the potential end to our sustainability journey, we embraced the next step: We set our sights even higher with our new mission, Climate Take Back — which aims not just to transform our business, but also create a movement to reverse global warming. We are working to develop processes and products that create a positive impact on the world, with a goal to become a carbon-negative enterprise by 2040. But importantly, we’re also making investments to fund transformation within our built environment space, enabling our customers to act to reduce carbon — by funding the creation of open-source tools, such as the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), that allow for comparisons of the carbon footprint of products; and through collaborative partnerships such as MaterialsCAN.

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