Friday, August 19, 2011

Ray Anderson's Sustainable Legacy: Interface, Inc. Part Two

When Interface first began its Mission Zero® journey, they started by focusing on waste, adopting aggressive zero waste goals. To drive progress toward these goals, they created programs that defined, measured and communicated their efforts.

At Interface, they define waste as any cost that does not produce value to customers. This includes everything from scrap materials and defective product to misdirected shipments or incorrect invoices. As their waste reduction efforts evolved, they extended their definition of waste to consider their entire supply chain. Waste reduction has been a powerful motivator at the factory level and many of their early successes came from enterprising employees

Interface looks at all aspects of their business for opportunities to reduce and eliminate waste, including product design, packaging and transportation.

In 1995 Interface began a program to drive waste reduction efforts at their factories known as Quality Utilizing Employee Suggestions and Teamwork (QUEST). It’s an employee-led system to define and eliminate waste and communicate their accomplishments, recognizing efforts and measuring progress to let employees know that their contributions matter. Using cross-functional teams of employees with shared goals allows for different perspectives and ideas to surface. Inviting new thinking and allowing permission to fail creates an abundance of positive risk takers.

A great example of a QUEST program success is the “portable creel” system invented by Billy Ingram in their West Point, Georgia factory. The innovative system allows for more optimal yarn usage and significantly less waste. It is estimated that the portable creels reduce scrap yarn up to 54%.

As a result of their employees’ contributions, Interface has achieved a 41% reduction in waste cost per unit, resulting in $438 million in calculated avoided waste costs since they began in 1994.

Product samples are a necessary reality in the carpet business, but they are finding innovative ways to reduce the need for physical samples and, therefore, reduce waste. Their global businesses are shifting from physical samples, leveraging Simulated Sample Technology (SIMS) to create virtual pictures of room

With ten factories on four continents, hundreds of showrooms and dozens of office spaces around the world, Interface recognizes that they can’t just manufacture products with reduced impacts, they have to reduce the impacts of their physical locations as well. They are adopting best in class green building and operational standards to reduce their building footprint.

Interface has several facilities around the world certified by U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC). Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system, a third-party certification

All of their global factories have been certified to conform to ISO 14001, the international standard for environmental management systems. ISO 14001 helps them to minimize the environmental impacts of their operations while working toward continuous improvement.

Interface has drastically reduced its water use through process changes and fixture replacement. The water intensity of their manufacturing process is relatively low, particularly for their modular carpet operations. While their broadloom manufacturing operations consume the largest amount of water at Interface, the facility has been shifting to a less water intensive yarn dyeing process, resulting in significant reductions.

Mapping and reducing their global transportation footprint has led them to create and partner with innovative programs that address transportation-related impacts from product shipping to business travel and more. Interface businesses have developed innovative strategies for reducing their transportation emissions from internal policies and guidance on shipping to incentives for choosing more efficient alternatives.

Interface utilizes innovative methods in the design process to move them closer to their goal of designing and manufacturing sustainable closed loop products.

New thinking, like Biomimicry, offers a fresh perspective on product design, while analysis tools like Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) provide valuable information on their products’ impacts. They have also developed strategies for dematerialization and the use of recycled materials to reach their goal of sustainable products.

Biomimicry, using nature as a model to develop sustainable solutions, was introduced to Interface early on in their journey by Janine Benyus. Working with the Biomimicry Institute, Interface has applied biomimicry thinking in product development, resulting in several successful innovations:

i2™ Products – By asking how nature designs a floor, InterfaceFLOR developed the i2 line of products, including Entropy, one of their most specified products, inspired by the “organized chaos” of the forest floor

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool used to evaluate the environmental aspects associated with a product or process. It captures the materials, energy and wastes involved in each phase of the product’s life cycle, from raw materials extraction to recycling or final disposal. LCAs measure key environmental impacts including global warming potential, toxicity and resource depletion. The results allow for the identification of areas with the most significant impacts, and determining which products processes have the lowest environmental impact.

Interface is a leader in dematerialization, the process of making the same quality product using less material. It can be achieved by using existing materials more efficiently or by substituting with alternative materials. Dematerializing not only allows for savings on materials costs, but it can also reduce raw material extraction, energy use, emissions, transportation costs and waste.

Interface is more than half way to meeting its 2020 "Mission Zero" sustainbility goals, the company has already amassed a list of impressive statistics including:

Net greenhouse gases down 89%
Sales increased by 2/3rds
Profits doubled
Water usage down 75%
Renewable and recyclable material up 25%
Renewable energy 27% of their total usage
Produced and sold 85 mil. square yards of climate neutral carpet since 2007
Saved over $400,000,000 in avoided costs since the decision to revolutionize

These are significant achievements that are a model for businesses around the world.

© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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