By Mike Bertolucci, President, Interface Research Corporation, Emeritus
Sustainable manufacturing: oxymoron or emerging reality? It is a question Interface has been struggling to answer for more than 12 years.
No doubt the linear, Take-Make-Waste model of the prototypical company of the 20th Century based on the assumption of limitless resources and sinks into which to dump wastes and products at the end of their useful lives is a preamble to environmental collapse. And, the engine which is driving atmospheric greenhouse gas increases at an unprecedented rate.
For some “the sky is falling”, for others “the sand is cool around their neck”. For a growing number of companies the opportunity to deliver value to their shareholders and indeed for future generations is at hand.
In 1994, Ray C. Anderson the then founder and CEO of Interface was struck by what he calls “a spear in the chest”, an epiphany of sorts after reading Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce. Ray describes Interface’s climb up the metaphorical Mt. Sustainability in his book, Mid Course Correction published in 1998. I came along in the middle of that time line to help carve out the technical transformation needed to materialize that dream. Ray and I along with a team of others, created a vision of what a truly sustainable company might look like and what the requirements on material sourcing and manufacturing processes would be, in fact what a prototypical manufacturing company of the 21st Century would look like and how it would operate.
First it would generate no more waste or emissions than could be rapidly assimilated in nature and would therefore not create toxic pools doing harm to the biosphere.
It would not be extractive of limited and finite resources for its material and energy demands to produce its products and grow at a rate compatible with the demands of its shareholders and environment within which it operates.
It would be cyclic in all its material flows, recycling its own products and others compatible with its business requirements, and it would drive its manufacturing processes with renewable energy, either directly sourced or supported through green energy offset programs, also called renewable energy credits (REC’s).
This manufacturing company would be sensitive to the needs of its associates and the communities in which it operates.
If done correctly it should be constantly reducing its environmental footprint, driving toward zero, growing market share with its products and reducing all operating costs related to virgin raw materials, energy consumption and transportation. Inescapable corollaries to these objectives are the growth in renewable energy use and the reduction in green house gas emissions over the full life cycle of it products (Creation to Resurrection).
One paradigm from the 1st Industrial Revolution (which we are trying to overthrow) is operative in the Interface Model: “What gets measured gets done”. Our metrics are the backbone supporting our manufacturing teams’ creative charge up the mountain over the last 12 years.
Globally, Interface has cumulatively avoided over $300 million in waste through our QUEST, (Quality Using Employee Suggestions and Teamwork), programs.
Reduced the total energy consumption per square meter of modular carpet tile production by 41 %
Reduced the total absolute tons of green house gas emissions of our world wide operations by 56 %
Diverted over 90 million pounds of carpet from landfills through our ReEntry recycling initiative.
All while increasing the value of our company to its shareholders as its stock price has rebounded from under $2.00 per share in 2003 to over $16.00 in Feb. 2007.
End of story? Of course not. Our drive toward creating a sustainable company and reaching the top of Mt. Sustainability by 2020 is only half over. Wish us luck.