Product, Service & Design Innovation
Q&A:
Continuous Improvement the Engine of Innovation at Shaw

Shaw Industries, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer and a leading floorcovering provider, has also become a leader in sustainability — in August, Shaw announced that 85 percent of its products are now Cradle to Cradle Certified™; and earlier this month, it achieved carbon neutrality in its commercial carpet manufacturing operations.

We spoke with Troy Virgo, Director of Sustainability and Product Stewardship, to learn more about what drives the company’s efforts.

Last year, Shaw announced that 85 percent of its products, based on sales unit volume, are now Cradle to Cradle Certified™ (C2C), with a goal of 100 percent by 2030. Will this be achieved by re-conceiving existing products or shifting to new ones?

Troy Virgo: We fundamentally believe that everyone should have access to safe, sustainable products for their homes and workspaces. It’s why we’re proud that 88 percent of the products we manufacture are now Cradle to Cradle Certified and have undergone a rigorous material health assessment. It’s not just our high-end products, it’s across the board: We’ve implemented new Sustainable Sourcing processes to apply that same thinking to our sourced products and ingredients, and we’re aiming for 100 percent Cradle to Cradle Certification on the products we manufacture by 2030. It will require a combination of continually re-conceiving existing products and shifting to new ones.

The Cradle to Cradle Products Program requires a re-assessment every two years, and in that time the standard and requirements evolve as new information is available about chemical ingredients, for example. And companies are expected to improve their products and operations over time across all categories — material health, recyclability, energy, water and social responsibility — even if the standard doesn’t change.

We’re also introducing new products to our portfolio. The hard surface flooring market has exploded in the past few years with LVT (luxury vinyl tile)/resilient in particular. For products that aren’t Cradle to Cradle Certified, we still apply the same thinking and methodology to continuously look for ways to improve.

In addition to our LVT/resilient products, we are also actively working on vinyl alternatives, both through our own manufacturing operations and our sourcing model. These products can be recycled more readily while meeting our stringent performance standards. We have a few products introduced over the past year that exemplify our progress in that realm.

The hard work never stops. Sustainability is an engine for innovation at Shaw.

C2C is obviously central to Shaw’s product work – what other frameworks and processes help guide Shaw’s product/operational strategy?

TV: Shaw has had public, company-wide goals related to water, waste, energy, greenhouse gases and associate safety for more than a decade. Those are periodically reviewed and adjusted as necessary to ensure we’re driving ourselves forward. When they were updated five or six years ago to drive toward 2030, we added the Cradle to Cradle product goal to that mix.

That has led to additional steps over the past year to codify not only elements of our operations but what we expect of suppliers. Regardless of where or by whom a product or ingredient is made, everyone is held to the same high standards.

In 2017, Shaw signed the UN Global Compact and incorporated the Ten Principles throughout our supply chain with updates to our sustainable sourcing policy and related terms and conditions for all our suppliers.

Our sourcing policy also advances efforts to improve material health. We require transparency and disclosure around identified chemicals of concern in alignment with our commitment to Cradle to Cradle principles.

Changes that result from these steps forward stand to not only benefit Shaw and its customers, but others in the building industry as new options for safer chemistry become available from suppliers who source to myriad companies.

As the demand for transparency around product ingredients permeates more and more consumer-facing industries, how can companies satisfy their customers’ need to understand the makeup of products? Beyond certifications such as C2C and the ILFI Declare label, what else can Shaw — and other companies — do in this area?

TV: Honestly, it’s a challenge we face every day. How do you convey such complex information in a simple, easy-to-understand and credible way when our customers have such a wide range of priorities and level of understanding?

Transparency is key. We start with a broad message about our shared values and a focus on people and helping people achieve their best possible lives — whatever that means for them, whether they’re Shaw associates, suppliers, retailers selling our products, building owners buying our products or the people who live and work on our products every day.

We try to connect emotionally and find the common ground before getting incrementally deeper based upon their interest level. We use third-party certifications for additional credibility and transparency.

We know we’re not the only one facing this challenge, and it’s where forums like Sustainable Brands are so valuable to us — to share experiences and learn from others across a wide variety of industries that are looking to achieve similar objectives.

What advice does Shaw have for companies just discovering the idea of “Redesigning the Good Life,” and looking to engage and equip their teams with the tools they need to innovate with this in mind?

TV: There’s plenty of evidence that points to our being amidst the second wave of sustainability — where focus is shifting beyond the initial environmental, ecological, planetary concerns to one intrinsically focused on people. What impact do our decisions as a company and on individuals have on the people who inhabit this planet? How do we create a better future for people — for our associates, our customers and our communities? It’s never been an either/or (planet or people), but there’s certainly a shift toward a greater focus on wellbeing, happiness and Redesigning the Good Life as we all learn more about what that means.

So, the first step is to understand what the Good Life means or looks like, then find some quick wins to demonstrate value to the skeptics and how you can use a focus on the Good Life to achieve company or department objectives. Clearly communicate the “why.” Be open to the idea that you don’t have all the answers and that there is power in collaboration across departments, with other businesses, suppliers, NGOs, academics and other partners to solve a shared problem. And be patient. Don’t expect it to be easy, for it to be quick or even to get it right the first time. But, together, the steps we take will make a difference to create a better and more sustainable future, to redesign the Good Life.

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