VP & Chief Innovation Officer at Interface
How can manufacturing innovation help to improve sustainable business practices?
Last month’s COP21 climate change summit in Paris resulted in the first ever agreement by nearly 200 countries to cut carbon emissions, indicating a new perspective on how we tackle global warming.
Now more than ever, embedding sustainable practices into a business is therefore essential for the manufacturing industry. We’re in an age where contractors and architects demand flooring solutions that do more than simply meet their design objectives. They are looking for innovative products that go a long way to meeting their sustainability targets too.
In fact, for many of the projects that Interface is involved in, sustainability is just as important as the visual impact of the end result. Clearly, design excellence and sustainable business practices now go hand-in-hand. If manufacturers are to ensure their success in a competitive marketplace, they need to incorporate new technologies and processes to reduce their environmental footprint.
For Interface, sustainability is embedded into the very core of the business. It’s what pushes us to use radical technologies and break limits with new product inventions. Our vision is to reduce our carbon emissions to zero, and we can only achieve this by embracing true innovation.
“Ultimately, the first stage in producing a genuinely sustainable product means ensuring that we understand whereabouts in the life cycle the biggest impact is”
By actively encouraging people to share new ideas we’ve been able to inject creative thinking into our research and development and find resourceful solutions to the sustainability challenges we face.
This idea of ‘co-Innovation’ brings together regions, departments and teams at all levels to put forward suggestions and ideas. But collaboration shouldn’t be limited to the boundaries inside a company, by reaching out and working with others we’ve been able to develop truly innovative practices and products.
As an example, Interface is the first carpet company to use waste PVB (poly-vinyl-butyral) in the intermediate layer between the carpet tile backing and face known as the ‘precoat’. This recycled polymer reduces the carbon footprint of this component in the carpet tile by 80 per cent.
PVB is a laminate material found in car windscreen glass that prevents it from shattering and, as such, is a common waste product from the automotive industry. After ten years of research alongside Shark Solutions, we found a way to extract PVB from glass and use it to make the precoat that fixes yarn to the backing compound in our flooring. This project shows how, by championing radical innovation, manufacturers can make a real impact on the world’s efforts to cut carbon emissions.
Ultimately, the first stage in producing a genuinely sustainable product means ensuring that we understand whereabouts in the life cycle the biggest impact is – from the raw materials used it it’s manufacture, the product’s usage, through to the end of its useful life. In doing this, we can ensure that the impact of any innovation will be significant.
Our manufacturing facilities in Europe, for example, operate with 100 per cent renewable energy. In Scherpenzeel, the Netherlands, by purchasing directed biogas from a local anaerobic digestion plant that uses digested fish waste to create biogas, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions significantly. We’ve also reduced the amount of water used in the manufacturing process by 95 per cent by installing a closed loop recirculation system.
Manufacturers need to push their limits and incorporate new ideas and technologies in their supply chain. By effectively doing this, businesses can reduce their environmental footprint – something that is growing more important every day.
Failing to incorporate sustainability into a business puts companies at risk of falling behind in a competitive marketplace, as designers, architects and contractors choose more environmentally viable products. If we apply fresh thinking to traditional research and development, it’s possible to create economic value while also decreasing a business’s negative environmental impact at the same time.