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BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 02 Apr '15
Changing the world – one carpet tile at a time
Interface, the world’s largest global manufacturer of modular flooring, is no stranger to innovation. In the mid-nineties it became one of the first companies to make a public commitment to sustainability, pledging to eliminate its impact on the environment – completely – by 2020. The business has been in a constant cycle of reinvention ever since.
The latest breakthrough goes to show what can be achieved through commitment and constant self-assessment: Interface’s new Microsfera carpet tiles have the smallest carbon footprint of any in history.
‘The magic metric’
A carpet tile’s most significant environmental impact is its carbon footprint, which Interface calls ‘the magic metric’. By conducting its own life cycle assessments, the company found that most of the CO2 emitted by the carpet manufacturing industry comes from the raw materials used – mainly the yarn and the latex in the middle layer, known as the pre-coat.
Nylon yarn helps to ensure carpet tiles wear well and are easy to maintain, which are both essential when you’re kitting out large offices with high footfall. But the processing of virgin, oil-rich yarn is responsible for around 50% of a carpet tile’s total environmental footprint.
Back in 2000 Interface developed a new process that cut the amount of yarn used in its carpet tiles. These ‘Microtuft’ products, such as those in its Elevation III, use 50% less yarn than a conventional carpet – and the yarn that is used is made from 100% recycled nylon, reclaimed from old carpets and commercial fishing nets that have reached the end of their useful life. For three years these carpet tiles held the record for lowest carbon contribution.
Now Interface has found a way to fuse the yarn directly at the back, meaning polypropylene yarn can be used in a Microtuft construction with no need for a latex pre-coat.
The finished product, Microsfera, sets a new low-carbon record for carpet tiles; just 3kg of carbon is released per m2 produced – from the processing of raw materials right through to the finished product. That’s about a quarter of the CO2 released in the production of a typical carpet tile – and less than 5% of the 63kg of CO2/m2 released by an 80/20 wool/nylon broadloom carpet.
Volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions can create indoor air pollution, so Interface has made sure the VOCs in its Microsfera tiles are ultra-low. At 100μg/m³ after three days, they’re less than half of the maximum level outlined in the strict GUT (the Association of
Environmentally Friendly Carpets in Germany) standard for carpet.
The tiles are everything you’d expect from a company that manufactures beautiful, practical products that don’t cost the Earth. You get all the comfort and acoustic benefits of a carpet from a surface that requires no more maintenance than a traditional hard floor.
The colours in the range are bang on trend: industrial greys, denim-inspired blues and corrugated copper tones. They can be combined to transform and enrich spaces with striking designs that last.
Interface provides designs for governments and businesses all over the world and is the largest global manufacturer of commercial modular flooring; eliminating its environmental impact would be a mammoth achievement for both Interface and the planet. The company’s founder, Ray Anderson, likened the challenge of achieving ‘Mission Zero’ to climbing a mountain higher than Everest – but Interface is now more than halfway there.
Life cycle assessments (LCAs) have played a huge role in Interface’s achievements to date; the company studies all the environmental impacts of its carpet tiles, from the initial extraction of raw materials to the transport, use and maintenance of the finished products and their final disposal.
As well as comparing LCA results to identify the most environmentally friendly products and processes, Interface has now started to use LCAs for more proactive assessments of possible alternatives while its products are being developed.
By focusing on ‘dematerialisation’, Interface has been able to reduce the materials used in its products without compromising their quality. The company is constantly seeking new ways to use existing materials more efficiently or substitute them with alternatives that have a lower impact. As well as helping to save on the cost of materials, dematerialisation can also reduce raw material extraction, energy use, emissions, transportation costs and waste.
The bigger picture
You only need to look at the finished products to see how deeply Interface’s operations are inspired by the natural world. The company follows biophilic (‘the love of life’) design principles and uses biomimicry to develop sustainable solutions that are modelled on Nature. The Transformation range expresses the organised chaos of the forest floor, and the glueless TacTiles installation system was the outcome of observing the many clever examples of adhesion without glue in Nature.
From the materials used in manufacturing to the final look and eventual disposal of its products, every step and decision at Interface is geared around achieving Mission Zero. The wider vision is to be the first company that, by its actions, shows the entire industrial world the true, multi-dimensional meaning of sustainability – for people, process, product, place and profits – by 2020.
The company’s progress towards Mission Zero is transparent, and all knowledge and experience is shared openly with other businesses. In this way, Interface hopes to achieve a bigger goal: to become a restorative company by the power of influence. It is through the collective impact of thousands of companies on sustainable journeys that Interface can go beyond being a green company to being a catalyst for change.
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