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Sustainability is not part of a company’s DNA until it is embedded in its products

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Many CEOs claim that sustainability is part of their company’s DNA.

What a cliché, what an easy thing to say, impossible to prove or dispute. But how can sustainability be in a company’s DNA until the core product or service of the company has significantly less impact?

The real DNA of companies are their products or services, what they offer to customers, what they sell. The first thing is to understand the true impact of your products.

Product sustainability questions get you to that elephant in the room.

We discovered that around 70% of the overall environmental impacts of their carpet tiles were related to the raw materials used to make them.

Of these, the oil-based nylon yarn, just one single raw material, had the single biggest environmental impact. In fact, nylon production accounts for almost half of the impacts across the full lifecycle of a carpet tile, a hard pill to swallow for a carpet manufacturer (the fibre is what makes carpet a carpet).

Rather than neglecting the elephant in the room, Interface re-focused its efforts where it could make the biggest difference: reducing the amount of yarn used, finding ways to recycle old yarn into new, and looking for bio-based alternatives to nylon. Today the company has products made out of 100% recycled nylon using half the amount of yarn, cutting the overall environmental impact by half.

As a side note, some other carpet manufacturers were marketing wool carpet as a natural and sustainable option but wool has between four and six times more embodied carbon than virgin nylon.

For more on this subject, read ‘Full Product Transparency‘. This book outlines a path towards a more practical era for ‘corporate responsibility’, where companies make real environmental gains based on hard facts, using lifecycle assessment (LCA) and environmental product declarations (EPDs). 

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2 comments

  1. May 3, 2013
    Nadine B Hack said...

    This is such an important piece that I’ve just shared it on FB, G+, LI, Tw, etc. & I signed up for your newsletters. Thanks!

    • May 8, 2013
      Ramon Arratia said...

      Thanks Nadine

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