Interface – A Company Walking the Talk of Sustainability

Since “sustainability” became a buzzword in the nineties, many companies have “dipped their toes into the water” to varying degrees, to proclaim their commitment to achieving sustainable business practices. However, very few have been really successful and are committed wholeheartedly and completely to the philosophy…and then been able to show the results. One of the few exceptions is global carpet tile manufacturer, Interface.

Interface, Inc. began life in 1973 when founder, Ray C. Anderson, recognised the need for flexible floorcoverings in the modern office environment. In response to the needs of the commercial office sector, Anderson led a joint venture between British company, Carpets International Plc. (CI), and a group of American investors to produce and market modular soft-surfaced floorcoverings and, with this, Interface was born.

On its first day in business, the new company had only 15 employees, and was immediately faced with the challenge of the sharply rising cost of petrochemicals, which were key raw materials in the carpet industry at the time.

CI’s advanced cutting and bonding technology helped sustain the company and enabled it to meet the demand created by the office building boom of the mid-1970s. Modular carpet tiles continued to grow in popularity and by 1978 Interface sales had reached $11 million. The company went public in 1983.

Through acquisition, Interface entered the European and Middle Eastern markets, and the core business extended to include woven broadloom carpet products, specialty carpet-related chemical operations and other associated office furnishings industries.

In 1987, the company’s name was changed to Interface, Inc. With its acquisition of Heuga Holdings B.V. – one of the world’s oldest manufacturers of carpet tiles – Interface became the undisputed world leader in modular flooring.

A short time later, Interface invested in Prince Street Technologies, Ltd., a producer of upper-end broadloom carpet now known as Bentley Prince Street, Inc. It entered the residential market in 2003 with the introduction of FLOR. Over the years, the company’s growth has been augmented by more than 50 acquisitions.

In the mid-1990s, Anderson took the decision to completely shift the company’s strategy, aiming to redirect its industrial practices to include a focus on sustainability without sacrificing its business goals.

This shift in corporate strategy was to ultimately result in achievements such as a reduction in energy usage of 40% per unit of production, water usage reduction of 77% per unit of production and zero waste to landfill. The company’s impressive list of “Firsts” include:- First carpet tile, first take-back scheme for carpet tiles, first carpet tile with recycled content in the yard and backing, first carpet manufacturer to make use of life cycle assessment as a decision making tool, first to launch a carbon neutral carpet, first glue-free carpet tile, and first carpet tile with 100% recycled nylon.

He wrote his first book, entitled Mid-Course Correction, in which he discussed his own awakening to environmental concerns and presented a model of how Interface would become truly sustainable by 2010. He called this Mission Zero.

Anderson then wrote his second book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, in 2009, in which he continued to build on his vision of how businesses can alter their past ways to operate in a more sustainable way in the future.

In February 2014, a report entitled “The New Industrial Model: Greater profits, more jobs and reduced environmental impact”, was prepared by Lavery/Pennell for Interface, which documents the practicalities of the company’s sustainability journey and charts the lessons that others can learn from and implement themselves.

Two powerful documents, Let’s be Clear – Go beyond labels and claims, and Just the facts – How to choose the most sustainable products, demonstrate how powerful using the sustainability successes can be as a marketing tool. However, don’t just look at these documents, explore the Sustainability page and see what else the company has covered in its sustainability journey!


Posted 7th May 2014