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Walking the Talk
Biomimicry 3.8, Interface Demystify the Path to Regenerative Business

In this first post of a series on how businesses can move beyond sustainable to regenerative, B3.8 and Interface outline an accessible, 4-step framework that is flexible enough for any organization to follow but robust enough to generate the breakthrough innovations that our planet demands.

The framework — known as the Positive Performance Methodology (PPM) — is science-informed, data-driven, and the only methodology that de-risks innovation with nature’s 3.8 billion years-tested design strategies. The PPM transforms a philosophical aspiration of moving towards regenerative into a measurable, scalable and actionable strategy.

Biomimicry 3.8 (B3.8), a global leader in bio-intelligent consulting and design, has spent the last 25 years developing biomimicry solutions for a regenerative future. The company’s Positive Performance Methodology takes these solutions to the next level — with a clear, quantitative process to align a company’s financial performance and priorities with the wellbeing of its employees, the environment, and the interests of the community — for the built environment and beyond.

Interface, which has revolutionized the flooring industry with cutting-edge sustainability and carpet tile innovation, successfully integrated biomimicry to inform product innovation and wanted to go further.

Working with B3.8, the Interface leadership team began learning from 3.8 billion years of nature’s time-tested designs and solutions. Biomimicry became tightly embedded in the innovation process at Interface, emerging in the development of the company’s highly successful i2™ design approach (which includes the Entropy® carpet tile) — a pivotal innovation that generated an entirely new source of revenue, as well as influenced research and innovation processes at Interface in the decades that followed.

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For over 25 years, Interface pursued a mission to leave zero environmental footprint. After founder Ray Anderson’s death in 2011, company leaders such as former VP and Chief Sustainability Officer Erin Meezan continued pursuing and advancing Interface’s commitments to the environment. Through internal innovation, efficiency, the use of renewable energy, and the integration of recycled and bio-based materials into its raw materials, Interface deeply reduced the impacts of its business and supply chain.

By 2019, this included a 96% reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (in absolute tonnes), 89% reduced water use in the manufacturing process, 89% of global energy use from renewables (99% in US and Europe), a 92% reduction of waste landfill, and a 69% reduction of the product footprint for carpet tile from 1996 levels through supply chain raw material innovation. These aggressive actions and outcomes have positioned Interface to receive recognition across industries for their accomplishments.

Meezan, realizing they were close to achieving their 2020 Mission Zero sustainability goals, began to wonder, “What’s next? What’s beyond zero?” She turned to B3.8 and others on the advisory team to explore these questions and define Interface’s next steps and aspirations.

In thriving systems, all organisms holistically work synergistically and contribute to ecosystem services (e.g. building healthy soil, filtering water and air, sequestering carbon dioxide, and decomposing waste). To B3.8, this is the guiding principle for a regenerative world for all species. Inspired by this vision and guiding principle, Interface recognized that they could redesign themselves to contribute to the ecosystem by mimicking the ecosystem. This approach required a deeper understanding of locally relevant ecosystem services and processes in the communities in which they operate to build a clear path forward with both quantitative and qualitative goals.

In these early discussions, the team uncovered a key area within Interface’s direct sphere of control: facilities. Focusing on the built environment presented a significant opportunity for positive impact. Currently, buildings — along with the externalities of construction and operations — account for 37% of total global GHG emissions (Global Status Report For Buildings and Construction), with additional negative externalities that impact water, soil, biodiversity, and human health and wellbeing. With the agency to drive change at its facilities, the question became:

“What would a regenerative carpet factory look like? Can a factory function like a forest? And could we create a standard for measuring and operationalizing this?”

An epiphany: Envisioning a plan

Interface now had the vision: to create a “Factory as a Forest” — which would support a regenerative business model, meet bold business targets, and contribute to the wellbeing of the landscape and local community — but where to begin?

“We knew we had to make this process approachable for all types of businesses —even those early in their sustainability journeys — wherever they might be in their evolution towards regenerative.” ~ Nicole Miller, Managing Director of B3.8

Recognizing that new construction and remodeling of existing facilities was within reasonable reach, the project team decided on a pilot project to support crafting a regenerative performance methodology appropriate for all company facilities. B3.8 and Interface set to work on establishing aspirational performance targets for its factory in LaGrange, Georgia, which was in the initial stage of a redesign. The Interface team knew capital investment was allocated to the LaGrange site and, given Interface’s commitment to environmental performance, it would be an ideal opportunity to pilot what would become the Positive Performance Methodology.

In parallel, to ensure project support and buy-in across key leadership and stakeholders, the project team took an essential step of learning what else was being prioritized across the company.

This enabled the team to best understand how to introduce the pilot as a way to meet and support existing goals.

“We knew it was important to take time before diving into any project to deeply understand the priorities of key stakeholders within the organization, as well as the organizational dynamics. We needed to get a sense of the existing business objectives, strategies and priorities,” Meezan said.

As a result of this work, the Interface leadership team was able to adopt regenerative performance as a key business objective and integrate it into the key pillars of their strategy.

The team also wanted to ensure that the process was accessible for any organization — and was replicable. It was imperative to take the traditional constraints of modern-day business into consideration (e.g., rigid budgets and timelines, and the need for scalable outcomes that could be leveraged in multiple locations) and seamlessly integrate these challenges into the process.

To achieve this, the PPM focuses on integrating design solutions that help meet existing goals while also evolving toward a regenerative enterprise and approach. Interface was moving from neutral to regenerative, so the “Factory as a Forest” project became part of a broader strategy. For the methodology to be approachable, it needed to be accessible to anyone — independent of their background — while also maintaining the integrity of biomimicry and science-based metrics to effectively yield regenerative outcomes.

The team distilled the process down to four key steps:

  • Identify and understand the ecological and social dynamics of a site, as well as the company’s existing goals and priorities.

  • Determine the performance criteria by quantifying the ecosystem services delivered by a local reference site and comparing that to the performance of the project site(s).

  • Understand the performance gap between the project site and the reference habitats in order to create biomimetic and nature-based design strategies to help close the gap.

  • Iteratively work with the appropriate technical and operations teams to help implement and operationalize strategies and solutions.

“We recognize there are loops within each of these phases — but keeping the process narrative to four simplified steps has been key in supporting change agents as they introduce the Positive Performance Methodology as an actionable pathway towards being a regenerative enterprise,” Miller explains. “We want teams to understand, get excited and see themselves in each one of these steps; and to do that, the primary process description needs to be digestible and straightforward.”

The path to a nature-positive future

More than 1/3 of the 2,000 largest publicly traded companies in the world have committed to a net-zero strategy. Efforts to meet these commitments typically focus on minimizing a company’s negative environmental impacts. But the picture of success for net zero is to be neutral — in other words: surviving, not thriving.

Interface knew that neutrality wasn’t enough. With support from B3.8, Interface created a holistic, actionable plan to make a regenerative impact on the ecosystems and communities where they operate and live — a plan that leads towards the improvement of place, protects and nurtures biodiversity, generates clear air and water, and fosters healthy soils.

“Interface’s journey towards regenerative is underway; and now we have a roadmap of implementation strategies for LaGrange,” Meezan said.

The pathway to regenerative and nature positive serves multiple needs. It supports business leaders and sustainability executives as they navigate the tension between short-term performance and long-term commitments, achieve regulatory environmental, social and governance (ESG) compliance, and earn certifications (i.e. LEED, IWBI, BREEAM, ILFI). It helps operations executives find innovative solutions to gain a competitive advantage and reduce manufacturing costs. It is flexible and scalable; organizations can start the journey by focusing on their products, services or facilities; or they can start from the larger picture — from supply chain, business model or purpose to organizational culture.

“While Interface was the ‘first penguin off the iceberg,’ we’re working with other global corporations to move towards a regenerative approach to business strategy,” Miller says.

Inspired by Interface’s courage, B3.8 has brought together other forward-thinking organizations with a bold, regenerative vision of the future to create Project Positive: a group of change agents dedicated to raising the bar on what acting sustainably should mean — driven by a sense of urgency to move beyond arbitrary reduction goals to science-based targets and actions that are generous to the ecosystems, employees and communities in which they operate. Along with Interface, founding members include Microsoft, Ford, Google, Jacobs, HOK, Kohler and EcoMetrix Solutions Group. The group gathers quarterly to share lessons and explore strategies to meet aspirational targets, working together to actively demonstrate and increase the rate of impact.

To dig deeper into the Positive Performance Methodology and learn more about how your company can begin the shift toward regenerative, read the complete case study here.