Carpet giant Interface shares pointers on being a green innovator

What would you do with tons of discarded fishing nets that clutter the ocean and beaches near fishing towns and villages?

If you were Interface, the international modular carpet manufacturer and industry leader in sustainability, you would turn those nets into carpet tiles -- and provide the fishermen and their families with income while salvaging the debris.

Interface partnered with a fishing community in the Philippines in a pilot program to mark World Oceans Day in June this year. It has also researched various ways in which to increase the recycled content in its carpets, which on average have 40 percent of recycled fiber or yarn. Some products are made up of 100 percent recycled content.

The company released its annual EcoMetrics study in August this year, a report that tracks its advancements in sustainability. The term EcoMetrics was coined by Interface’s visionary founder Ray Anderson when he put the company on the path to sustainability in 1994.

Since then, the company has studied processes at its manufacturing plants worldwide -- all of which it owns -- to see how much material and energy they consume and what comes out in the form of waste.

Interface conducts its research with three main goals in mind: footprint reduction, product innovation and inspired culture (which focuses on how much time and initiative employees commit to philanthropy and volunteering).

Among its milestones, it has reduced the amount of energy it takes to produce a square foot of carpet -- also known as energy intensity -- by nearly 50 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 30 percent, and water usage and landfill waste have been cut by 80 percent since 1996.

It has also shifted to renewable energy sources for one-third of its energy needs and initiated ReEntry, a process that takes back old carpet and recycles it into new raw material. ReEntry diverted 25 million pounds of carpets from landfills in 2011 alone.

Erin Meezan, vice president of sustainability at Interface, spoke to GreenBiz about how the company achieved these milestones and pointers that others can use.

Photo of end-of-life carpet recycled into pellets through ReEntry courtesy of Interface

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