Posted 06 june 2011, by Olivia Solon, Wired UK, wired.co.uk
When it comes to becoming more sustainable, it won’t be art or science that leads us there, it will be business, according to Robert Coombs, CEO of InterfaceFlor Asia Pacific, speaking at Creative Sydney.
Coombs described how textiles giant InterfaceFlor has initiated a promise — called Mission Zero — to eliminate any negative impact that the company may have on the environment by the year 2020.
InterfaceFlor is a huge, design-based company operating in the interiors market, which predominantly supplies modular carpeting to offices, schools and other large organisations. With revenues of around $1bn, the textiles company has a significant environmental footprint because it is petrochemical intensive.
Coombs explained: “For the first 25 years we didn’t think a huge amount about environmental impact beyond complying with local regulation.”
But then sixteen years ago, founder Ray Anderson had a “spear-in-the-chest” moment where he realised that the way the company did business was fundamentally out of step with nature. The techniques honed during the industrial revolution were established when resources were plentiful and cheap. Now labour is plentiful but resources are depleted. Furthermore the world does not have the carrying capacity to support the way we consume and produce. Because business is part of the problem it is also accountable to fix it.
As such he laid out a vision for a sustainable company in all of its dimensions, with an aim to eliminate waste, own the entire life cycle of a product, innovate and mimic nature.
Coombs said: “Waste does not appear in nature. Waste from one process is food for the next.” But industry has taken on the “take, make, waste model” whereby we dig substances out of the ground, turn it into products and then put it into landfill.
He added: “We want to close the loop so that the material inputs are actually the waste from the last cycle.”
The company has been aiming to reduce waste by 10 percent every year in every market. This has led to $480m in savings over the years. Furthermore it has employed biomimicry by drawing on the nanostructure of geckos’ feet to find an alternative to carpet glue. The result was Tactiles, small adhesive squares with no Volatile Organic Compounds which stick the carpet tiles to each other and not the floor.
The company argues the business case for sustainability. Being resource efficient reduces cost, lowers waste, lowers energy and input costs, produces better products with better value for money and attracts talent to the business.
Over 16 years, the company has reduced energy consumption by 46 percent and waste and landfill is down by 82 percent. Coombs explained: “We did it through leadership, by putting it on the daily agenda and making sure everyone understood the link between the traditional business imperatives and the new imperatives. We also measure everything and hold people accountable, linking the reward system to that improvement.”