positive and ecological impact

19 April 2022

Interface: inspiring spaces with a positive and ecological impact on both people and planet

“Our journey towards a company with positive and ecological impact started thanks to our customers”, says Jon Khoo

Interviewing Jon Khoo, Head of Sustainability (EAAA) at Interface. Interface is a global commercial flooring company whose focus on design and sustainability helps its customers create inspiring spaces which have a positive and ecological impact on both people and planet.

Interface EU and US are working with the Cradle to Cradle Certified(R) Products Program in order to improve and assess many of their products. EIG is glad to walk this path with Interface since 2015. Since then, Interface has been one of the companies that voluntarily participated in the pilot implementation of C2C Certified v4.0.

  • Why do you have a Net 0 strategy? 

“At Interface, we understand that we are in the midst of Climate Crisis and as a business we have a responsibility to run our business in a way that helps society to embrace a net zero future. Our journey towards building a company proud of its positive and ecological impact on our planet and society started back in 1994, when our late founder Ray Anderson heard that some of our customers were asking ‘what is your company doing for the environment?’ in the same way many are asking today ‘what is your company doing on Climate Change?’. So in the early days it was a question from our customers that sparked our journey.”

“This question led to Ray Anderson talking to scientists and leading sustainable thinkers, such as the ecologist Paul Hawken and biomimicry expert Dr Janine Benyus, who were another key influence. I think we see the corporate world increasingly start to root sustainability and net zero targets in science (with Science-Based Targets), so pretty similar to our approach back in the 1990s.”

“In the last decade or so, we have seen our competitors seek to become more sustainable. This has, in part, helped make a more sustainable industry, but it’s also shown where many parts of an industry lead and others choose profit over responsibility and purpose.”

“Investor demand on net zero is a trend we’ve seen in recent years. It’s great to hear questions on net zero or the positive and ecological impact of the products during investor calls, and it’s certainly an area that is becoming more important year on year.”

  • What is exactly your strategy (decarbonization stage, stretch, reach) to guarantee a positive and ecological impact in all of your products? Do you have it completely defined? 

“At Interface, our mission is called Climate Take Back. We seek to run our business in a way that reverses global warming. Ultimately, net zero for us is about going beyond mitigation and finding ways to be restorative. Our ultimate goal is to be a carbon negative enterprise by 2040.”

“As a stepping stone toward that, our recently ratified Science Based Target commits us to finding a way to halve our absolute Scope 1&2 emissions by 2030. Whilst also reducing Scope 3 emissions related to purchased goods and services by 50% by 2030, and business travel and employee commuting to be reduced by 30% within the same timeframe.”

  • How are you working to implement it? 

“In terms of implementing Climate Take Back, our first step was to work toward ensuring that all our products are carbon neutral – as it is in our products and supply chain that the majority of our impact is as a manufacturer. For over two decades, we’ve focussed on reducing the carbon footprint of our products. To guarantee its positive and ecological impact, we redesigned them and worked with suppliers to use more recycled materials and embrace the use of renewable energy.”

“The result has been a 76% reduction in the carbon footprint of our carpet tiles. We then use verified carbon offsets for the remaining carbon impact. Since 2019, all of our products have been carbon neutral whether carpet tile, LVT or nora® rubber flooring. In 2020, we retired 425,000 metric tons of offsets through the program, which is the equivalent of taking 92,400 cars off the road or the energy used for 51,000 homes (both for a year).”

“But we wanted to do more, and look beyond carbon neutral products. So in recent years we’ve been exploring the use of carbon negative materials to reduce the embodied carbon footprint of our products. These reduce the carbon footprint by reducing reliance on virgin oil, and replacing them with materials that naturally are efficient at storing carbon. In 2021, we switched all our standard carpet tiles in Europe to be on CQuestBio backing – which combines recycled and biobased content (incorporating carbon negative materials) into a bio-composite that has led to an average reduction in the carbon footprint of 33% across our entire carpet tile portfolio compared to products on our older backing system. With our Embodied Beauty collection, we have even been able to create our first carbon negative styles (cradle to gate).”

“In our own facilities, we have been able to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 96%, compared to the 1990s. And our European carpet tile manufacturing sites run on 100% renewable electricity.”

  • Do you take into account your upstream supply chain and downstream distributing and using your products? 

“Absolutely, when we consider our Scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions we are aware that our operations only account for 3% of our emissions, whereas our supply chain, customer use and other indirect emissions represent 97%. Which is why our Science Based Target includes a focus on supplied goods and services with a goal to reduce this by 50% by 2030. In relation to influencing our customers and stakeholders downstream, we consider our impact as part of a life cycle assessment for our products. We have less influence with this group, but we do look to promote sustainable transport, efficient maintenance and take back options to help our customers reduce their impact and achieve their net zero and carbon goals.”

  • What strategies do you use to foster your supply chain to be low in carbon? Penalization, incentives, and supporting transformation? 

“Influencing and collaborating with your supply chain is key to achieving carbon and net zero goals. We have found that you have influence at a procurement stage – where it makes sense to have a preference for materials that help lower your products carbon footprint. But it does need to be an ongoing dialogue, and to have a willingness to discuss and support suppliers’ plans and/or roadmaps to improve. We do work to support a number of our suppliers through inspiring them to see how they could improve through platforms such as Manufacturing 2030 and convening supplier summits with leading experts such as through the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership. As we look to realise our Science Based Targets, the supply chain discussions will be crucial.

  • What barriers or risks do you see in the process to achieve Interface’s goal to have a positive and ecological impact on the planet? 

“One of the most significant risks is industry inertia. That industry and governments will move too slowly to force laggards who don’t want to change to be more sustainable and benefit from the status quo. The result being that the market does not change to support the net zero targets to support the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the outcomes of COP26. The sustainable choice often remains the minority choice and that has to change.”

  • How did you change or how are you going to change to achieve Net Zero? What is the impact you think it will have in your company and your company in the whole ecosystem?

“At Interface, we’ve had a long track record in sustainability since 1994. A global drive toward net zero and carbon neutral, has been a catalyst for us to raise our level of ambition – to go from focussing on mitigation, to striving toward restoration. We will continue to demonstrate that there is a better way – for example, if you can create carbon neutral products, why wouldn’t you? If you can lower the embodied carbon footprint of products by using more recycled and bio-based materials whilst turning off the tap to virgin oil – why wouldn’t you? In fact, surely this should become the new normal. We will continue to aim high, influence others and collaborate both upstream and downstream to be the change we want to see in the world.”

Our vision of Net Zero plans is to do no harm to other systems in a way that can be replicable and scalable based on a fundamentally good design and effective Implementation strategy. This is what EIG can offer when putting together Design for Circularity and the Implementation of a Positive Impact roadmap.

The ultimate goal is to go from Net Zero strategies to Positive Impact. In the end we all aspire to be Net Positive, don’t we?

In future articles we will share the experience of Solitek, and Crescent Bahuman, among others.