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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Shaw Pivots to Fulfill Its Purpose During the Pandemic

When business as usual ground to a halt this year, companies such as Shaw saw the opportunity to innovate to find new ways to help communities and the spaces in which they live and work.

We recently spoke with Carrie Edwards Isaac, VP of Marketing and Consumer Strategy for the Residential Division at Shaw Industries, about how unexpected circumstances can drive or accelerate innovation.

How has COVID-19 impacted Shaw’s focus on sustainability?

Carrie Edwards Isaac: At an enterprise level, Shaw focuses on what we call sustain[HUMAN]ability® — recognizing the importance of people and the planet. Prior to COVID-19, we were developing a healthy home focus to tap into this emerging priority area within sustainability. What had been a key topic in the builder/multifamily segment for some time already was increasingly popping up in our specialty retailer and home center business, and consumer trends and interest were pointing to a growing emphasis on the impacts of our indoor environments on our wellbeing.

While we were in the midst of those efforts, the pandemic hit and accelerated our efforts. We already spent 90 percent of our time indoors — about 70 percent of that at home, pre-COVID. Now that many of us are spending so much time at home for even longer periods of our days, we’ve become even more conscious of how the design of a space makes us feel, the things we’re surrounding ourselves with, what they’re made out of; and in particular, in the midst of heightened virus awareness, how easy is it to clean?

Our Made Smarter. Live Better. program, which launched this fall, centers on the importance of “healthy home” trends where our products can have an impact.

Tell us more about Made Smarter, Live Better.

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CEI: The program incorporates five attributes, all of which are underscored by our focus on design. The first attribute is material — which means that we carefully evaluate our products’ ingredients. We intentionally design products with a focus on material health. This aligns with Shaw’s commitment to the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy that began in 1999. The second is designing to combat moisture issues. The third attribute is sound, with a focus on acoustics — realizing that excessive noise can impact everything from health to psychology. The fourth attribute is a belief that the air in your home should be clean and free of pollutants. And finally, products that fall under our Made Smarter. Live Better. program are designed for cleanability.

How did you arrive at a focus on healthy homes?

CEI: Our approach is driven by insights from people throughout the organization — including those in innovation, sustainability, marketing, quality, product care, technical development teams and countless others. The pillars highlighted in our program are based on common themes in numerous healthy home standards and their importance has been validated by our own consumer research in recent months.

The world’s current focus on cleanability presents a critical moment for us to promote the attributes of our products and the cleaning intelligence we already have. We’ve long offered cleaning tips and instruction for our products; but the reality is, they were often overlooked and simply not that important to retailers or buyers. But amid COVID, people understandably wanted to clean everything as thoroughly as possible — and with the “strongest” cleaning agents. However, those harsh chemicals stood to discolor flooring (and other furnishings), damage surfaces; and most importantly, weren’t proven to be any more effective than the cleaning methods we had long recommended. We saw that we needed to elevate our cleaning education and make it as simple as the “wash your hands” message that has become so prevalent in our lives.

Further, it presents the opportunity to accelerate innovation that advances our products and services related to the increased frequency of cleaning and the use or misuse of harsh chemicals like bleach.

How has this extended across the entire company?

CEI: People are at the center of our sustainability efforts. While our business sectors and customer base vary, it all comes down to people — and how our products, our operations, our community engagement, everything we do impacts people.

How all of our lives we're shifting as a result of the pandemic became a frequent topic of conversation. How were we living, working and schooling differently? What implications did that have on the spaces where those activities were taking place and how we shop, as many of us converted our living spaces to make-shift offices and schools? How did we help our customers navigate these unprecedented times? Whether that was a retailer whose business was temporarily closed or one that was seeing an influx because of home-improvement projects, a school administrator that wanted to expedite an already-funded project while students weren't in the classroom, or a commercial interior designer who was now storing samples in his home or her car.

Amid these trying times, Shaw teams have worked diligently to make and deliver flooring products for critical shelter and infrastructure needs, including meeting tight deadlines for flooring needed for temporary medical facilities in Reno and New York.

We've offered solutions well beyond our products. That cross-pollination of information across the enterprise was instrumental in helping to shape our thinking. While our businesses may be different, there’s so much we can learn from idea-sharing and thoughtful conversation.

You mentioned community engagement. How has that changed this year?

CEI: As you might imagine, the global pandemic and all the events of 2020 have caused us to carefully evaluate our community engagement activities to ensure they are aligned with what the communities in which we operate need most at this time.

Certainly, much of what we could offer was in response to new needs amidst the pandemic. So, we made 3D-printed face shields for healthcare providers in northwest Georgia, Rochester, New York; and São Paulo, Brazil. We made our own hand sanitizer and disinfectant for use in our north Georgia facilities — relieving some pressure in the supply chain for others seeking similar materials. In addition to our own donations, we connected medical facilities with Shaw suppliers for more rapid access to needed supplies (such as masks) — to allow them to tap into a different supply chain than normal, where their typical supplies are strained to meet growing needs.

To meet the needs of the local community, Shaw donated Chromebook tablets to local school systems to provide remote sessions for speech and occupational therapy for students in need of devices.

We supported local farmers whose businesses have been impacted by restaurant closures through the Georgia Grown to Go program, while simultaneously offering Shaw associates fresh fruits and vegetables at a discounted rate. And we rolled out the red carpet (literally) for healthcare workers, helping local communities celebrate the healthcare heroes on the frontlines.

As community needs evolve, so do our efforts. It's all part of how we sustain[HUMAN]ability.