Interface, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
A Natural Step Network Case Study
Interface was founded in 1973 to produce the first free-lay carpet tiles in America. Now the world's largest producer of commercial floor coverings, Interface manufactures and sells 40 percent of all the carpet tiles used in commercial buildings in the world. The company has expanded into specialty fabrics, architectural products such as raised access flooring, and chemicals used in commercial office installations. Interface is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. It has 25 production facilities in six countries, sales offices in 110 countries and 6,300 employees. Annual sales are approximately $1 billion (U.S.).
Introduction of The Natural Step
In August 1994, Chairman and CEO Ray Anderson was asked by a research division task force to give a keynote address about the company's environmental vision. His words describe the situation best:
" Frankly, I didn't have a vision, except 'comply, comply, comply.' I sweated for three weeks over what to say to that group. Then, through what seemed like pure serendipity, somebody sent me a book, Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce. I read it, and it changed my life. It was an epiphany. I wasn't halfway through it before the vision I sought became clear, along with a powerful sense of urgency to do something. ... I agreed with his central thesis. ... Business is the largest, wealthiest, most pervasive institution on Earth, and responsible for most of the damage. It must take the lead in directing the Earth away from collapse, and toward sustainability. ... "
As a result, Anderson decided that his mission should be making Interface the first name in industrial ecology worldwide.
Fortunately, Interface already had a mechanism to help implement this vision. QUEST (Quality Utilizing Employee Suggestions and Teamwork) had been initiated earlier that year as a vehicle for improvement. As the Interface group of companies grew, new management wanted to create a single program that would integrate each company's efficiency and quality programs and unify all employees. QUEST did so.
Under QUEST, Interface focused on eliminating waste, which it defined as anything that goes into a product that doesn't come out as value to the customer. It set a three-year goal of 50 percent waste cost reduction. Cross-functional teams of 15 to 18 people brainstormed ways to conserve time and materials. Bonuses reflected the unit's waste reduction performance.
Anderson's address inspired the task force. It established a program called EcoSense within the research division to carry out sustainability initiatives, and chose a vice president to head it. The research division helps Interface businesses examine all manufacturing processes--analyzing the impact of each step on product quality, process efficiency and the environment. It developed a list of objectives and a point system to reward business units when they reach each objective. In February 1996 Interface merged QUEST and EcoSense. It formed 18 teams with an assigned scope of investigation and implementation. Every six months about 80 people from these teams meet for three days.
Meanwhile, Anderson asked experts in the area of sustainability to join his "Dream Team" to guide the company. Paul Hawken, chair of TNS US, joined this team in the fall of 1995 and interested Anderson in TNS as a conceptual framework for EcoSense. In January 1996 several executives went to Stockholm to learn more about TNS.
In June of 1996, Anderson declared his intention to redesign Interface's business practices to conform to TNS's four system conditions. He announced the decision at a gala event in Atlanta, co-sponsored by Georgia Institute of Technology and The Georgia Conservancy. The audience included 400 individuals representing a broad range of companies and organizations.
In April 1996, Anderson hired Hawken to lead a two-day workshop about TNS for about 50 managers. In June TNS founder Karl-Henrik Robèrt spent a day with the group. In August Hawken gave them an in-depth two-day training. As a result, Interface decided to train all employees in TNS.
A group of Interface employees, guided by the Southeast TNS coordinator, Georgia Tech, and TNS US trainers, began to develop a curriculum. In 1997 Interface bought the consulting company that had been training its employees in "Play to Win," an experiential, risk-taking, team-building program. This company, One World Learning, integrated "Play to Win" with the TNS materials to develop an one-day training program.
In May 1997, 14 key executives attended a one-week TNS US training session led by Robèrt and Hawken. In June, One World Learning began conducting trainings for all employees, in groups of 75 to 400. In addition to the formal training, the company increases awareness through its EcoSense Net Letter on the World Wide Web, information kiosks, and an employee survey designed to monitor progress.
Sustainability Goals & Targets
· Organic Nutrient Carpet: Invent a product of completely organic material.
· Recycled Fiber: Identify recyclable fibers and develop incentives for suppliers to "get hooked" on sustainability.
· Emissions: Move beyond compliance by identifying ways to achieve zero emissions.
· Energy Efficiency: Decrease dependence on petrochemical energy sources.
· EcoMetrics: Under the slogan, "what gets measured gets done," Interface gauges the ecological impact of its business practices and provides quick feedback for decision-making.
· Toxics Elimination: Reduce Interface's toxic-materials-disposal responsibility and financial liability and look for alternatives to toxic inputs.
· Education and Communications: Increase awareness among employees and customers about the mission and progress of Interface's sustainability initiatives, including information about the company's environmental and business impacts.
· Scrap and Waste Reduction: Identify sources of and reduce scrap through production improvements, decreased packaging and accurate measurement.
· Yarn Waste: Achieve zero yarn waste by limiting scrap, overages and errors.
· PVC Paste Reduction: Minimize the use of PVC paste on products.
· Solvent Reduction: Measure and reduce effects of solvent emissions by modifying equipment and procedures.
Today Interface has over 400 sustainability initiatives. Eighty Interface task force members meet for three days twice a year to share progress, discuss challenges and increase their understanding of sustainability.
Goal: To create zero waste.
· Engineers in one Interface factory found 25 different waste streams and calculated that by eliminating them, they could save $70 million in disposal costs.
· In 1996 solid waste was reduced company-wide by 2,874 tons. For example, due to construction changes and thousands of small steps to reduce waste, Interface Flooring Systems didn't have to buy 2.5 million pounds of nylon. And by converting to a metric sizing system, it reduced trim waste by 20,000 square yards.
· The Prince Street business unit recycled 480 tons of construction waste in one year, saving
Goal: To eliminate all harmful emissions into the ecosphere.
· Bentley Mills replaced its flat goods dryer with a high-efficiency dryer, reducing NOx emissions by approximately 50 percent.
· By redesigning its printing process, Interface Flooring Systems Canada eliminated all sources of water pollution.
· Interface Europe has reduced or completely eliminated dyestuffs containing heavy metals.
· Interface Architectural Resources eliminated all toxics by refining the adhesive system in its panel assembly and finish lines.
Fossil Fuel Reduction
Goal: To run the company on benign energy sources so, as Anderson puts it, "we never have to take another drop of oil from the ground." Interface worked with Rocky Mountain Institute, Georgia Tech and Georgia Power to develop the strategic plan for this objective.
Strategy 1: Reducing demand for power by increasing efficiency.
· Interface Flooring Systems Canada reduced consumption of electricity and natural gas per unit of production by 16 percent and 47 percent respectively.
· Interface Flooring Systems discovered an energy savings opportunity of 61 percent by conducting an energy audit and correcting improperly-installed fans.
· Bentley Mills and Interface Europe installed high-efficiency dryers, reducing gas consumption by 25 percent and 30 percent respectively.
Strategy 2: Investing in renewable energy technologies.
· Interface Flooring Systems Canada is the first customer of wind-generated "green power" from Ontario Hydro.
Resource Recovery and Reuse
Goal: To align its practices with cyclical principles of biological systems wherein "waste equals food" and resource use is highly efficient. One key is a shift from thinking of products as things to understanding products as a means to deliver a service.
· Interface has established a perpetual carpet lease; the customer uses the carpet, but Interface owns it and is responsible for replacing worn pieces and taking back the product at the end of its useful life. Instead of buying the carpet and paying for its installation and disposal, customers pay only a monthly fee and receive fresh-looking and functional carpeting.
· Interface's research unit is experimenting with ways to recycle the carpet fiber and backing. Interface Europe has produced the first fusion-bonded carpet made of 100 percent postconsumer recycled yarn. Its US counterpart is working to achieve the same product. The company also challenges its suppliers to develop 100 percent natural fiber products using industrial hemp, flax and natural dyes.
Goal: To eliminate the use of petrochemicals for transportation and reduce transportation-related emissions.
· Interface Research Corporation is experimenting with natural gas-powered fleet cars.
· The company also joined a "Trees for Travel" program that plants trees in the tropics. It is hoped that these trees will absorb carbon dioxide in sufficient quantity to offset the emissions from company-related air travel.
Applying TNS Outside the Workplace
Goal: To encourage employees to continue their commitment to sustainability at home.
· Interface Flooring Systems Canada subsidizes employees' home energy audits and retrofits to conserve energy.
· Several Interface companies have joined local "Adopt-A-Stream" programs, taking responsibility for the waterways that border their properties.
· Interface Europe in Northern Ireland established a challenge program to fund winning environmental proposals from local schools.
· Interface Flooring Systems Canada is working with local community leaders to promote TNS in local government, industries and institutions.
Benefits and Lessons Learned
Employees are enthusiastic about the importance of sustainability and what they can do to achieve it. They especially like hands-on activities. For example, Anderson turned a week-long company retreat at a luxurious Hawaiian resort into an exercise to encourage employees to reduce their environmental impacts. His Dream Team acted as consultants. They measured consumption patterns on the first day of the retreat to establish baseline metrics. After that, attendees received daily reports about their use of energy, water and other resources. Between plenary sessions, attendees heard presentations about the implications of their resource use and how they could reduce it. By the end of the week, the group was using 21 percent less electricity, 48 percent less propane and 48 percent less water while producing 34 percent less solid waste. Interface has learned which implementation techniques are effective:
· What propels Interface's sustainability initiatives is Ray Anderson's passion and commitment. If it weren't for this, it would be easy for employees to push environmental objectives aside under pressure to "get my work done."
· Broad directives from management such as "We've joined EPA's Green Lights program; carry it out." don't work well. As Interface has discovered, monetary and recognition incentives are much more effective. Employees compete informally to complete sustainability projects so they can receive recognition at the company's semi-annual task force meetings.
· Good PR always helps. The company promotes its successes through its Sustainability Report.
These many efforts are paying off for Interface. In 1996 company sales increased by $200 million even though Interface used no more raw material than in 1995. This saved the company $29 million (US). In this way, Interface expects to save $76 million between 1994 and 1998.
1. Telephone interviews with Jenier DuBose, EcoSense Program Manager and Sue Wooten,
Interface Research Corp., December 1997.
2. Telephone interview with Bryan Basham, V.P. of Customer Service and Quest, December, 1997.
3. Interface Sustainability Report, 1997.