Recognizing Green Carpet

May 06, 2007
May/June 2007
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2007 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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    With its inclusion on a 2006 list of the top ten green companies in the world, the carpet and fabric company Interface continues to lead the fi eld in terms of environmental business standards. The list was generated by Portfolio 21, a global equity mutual fund investing in companies that design ecologically superior products using renewable energy, and that develop efficient production methods. Specifically, Portfolio 21 seeks companies that understand environmental constraints and risks, such as climate change, and are changing the way they design products and develop business models to reduce their exposure to these constraints and risks, thereby ensuring greater long-term competitiveness.

    “Smart corporate leaders and savvy investors agree that paying attention to ecological trends and how they affect the bottom line may be an intelligent investment strategy,” says Carsten Henningsen, cofounder of Portfolio 21. “Global warming could have an enormous impact on the world economy in the coming years; companies that are already addressing the risks and opportunities presented by climate change may have a big head start.”

    Interface has also established its Mission Zero promise to eliminate any negative impact that it may have on the environment by 2020. As part of this promise, Interface has joined food companies ClifBar and Stonyfield Farm to sponsor a report by Trexler Climate+Energy Services (TC+ES), of Seattle. The report, entitled A Consumers’ Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers, was commissioned by Clean Air-Cool Planet, a carbon offset company.

    Other green commitments and awards include Interface’s placement on the Sustainable Business list of 20 companies changing the world, InterfaceFLOR Europe’s Business in the Community award and Business Commitment to the Environment award, ranking in the top 25 on the Business Ethics Top 100 Corporate Citizens List, and a Climate Action Champion award.

Interface Products
    The percentage of recycled or biobased content in Interface products worldwide has increased from 0.5% in 1996 to 15.9% in 2005. One popular Interface product, Flor, is a modular tile carpet that can be used to create rugs or can be installed as wall-to-wall carpet. Flor is engineered to hug the floor and also has four peel-and-stick adhesive tabs to secure it in place. Most of the carpets have face constructions made of either nylon or natural fibers, such as hemp or wool. The backings are a composite, made up of some recycled materials, and all carpets have the lowest volatile organic compound content of any carpet in the industry.

    Inferface’s Terratex brand fabrics are made from 100% recyclable or renewable bio-based fibers or products. For example, fabric composed of polylactide polymers (PLAs) is derived from corn, rice, or beets. The fabric is manufactured using increasingly sustainable processes, is made to meet or exceed industry standards for quality and performance, and is recyclable or compostable at the end of its useful life.

Environmental Guideposts
    Interface began its journey to sustainability by focusing on the elimination of waste (see Figure 1). Interface’s definition of waste includes traditional forms of waste such as off-quality and scrap, as well as nontraditional forms of waste such as overuse of materials and inventory losses. The cumulative avoided costs from waste elimination activities since 1995 have totaled more than $299 million. Total manufacturing waste sent to landfills has decreased by 63% since 1996.

    Interface has two simple goals related to energy: to decrease total energy use, especially the use of nonrenewable energy, and to increase the use of renewable energy. Total energy used at InterfaceFABRIC manufacturing facilities has been reduced overall since 1996. New acquisitions, bringing previously outsourced processes in-house, and changes in product mix temporarily contributed to an increase in energy use per unit of output since 2000. However, an emphasis on initiatives that improve efficiency and conserve energy has reduced the total energy used at Interface carpet manufacturing facilities (per unit of product). It is down 45% since 1996.

    Interface’s renewable energy use also increased from 11% to 13% in 2005 (see Figure 2). Interface started using landfill gas in the fourth quarter of 2005 in its LaGrange, Georgia, facility. Green electricity is used as part of Interface’s overall strategy to increase the use of renewable energy. Three facilities currently have PV arrays on site, and seven facilities purchase certified green electricity. Five of those seven facilities have achieved 100% renewable electricity, through a combination of on-site generation, the purchase of renewable energy credits, and the purchase of green electricity through the grid, where this option is available.

    Interface calculated its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an international GHG accounting tool. Greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 35% from its baseline through improved efficiencies and direct renewable energy purchases. Interface has further reduced its GHG emissions by 8% through the purchase of Green-e-certified renewable energy credits (green tags) and another 13% from the LaGrange, Georgia, landfill gas project. This results in a net absolute GHG reduction of 56%.

    Water consumption per square meter of carpet was reduced by 81% in modular carpet facilities and by 52% in broadloom facilities since 1996. These reductions were due to conservation efforts and process changes, such as eliminating the printing processes at some locations.

    Each of Interface’s facilities provides detailed metrics, specific to its portion of the business. Interface’s product reclamation program, ReEntry, diverted 85 million pounds of material from landfill between 1995 and 2005. In 2005, 18 million lb was diverted from landfill and used in recycling (71%) and energy capture and conversion (28%), or was repurposed (1%).
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