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James Byrne headshot

Interface Raises the Floor on Sustainable Building Materials

Interface has recently unveiled a collection of carbon-neutral flooring products that the company says are inspired by designs found in nature.
By James Byrne

Interface, the global commercial flooring company known most for its popular carpet tiles, recently unveiled a collection of carbon-neutral products called Embodied Beauty.

The new carpet tile collection features designs inspired by nature, which the company manufactures in line with its "Climate Take Back” mission statement. The seven new carpet styles will all be carbon neutral across the entire lifecycle, adding to the company’s carbon-neutral floors product line launched in 2018. Further, three of the new styles will also achieve what the company says is a first: a carbon-negative carpet tile, one example of the company’s cradle-to-gate program Interface announced last week.

Interface states in a video that companies must learn to “love carbon” as a “building block” that gives them a path toward designing and building better products.

These latest developments build on the company’s long sustainability journey, which has enabled Interface to reduce its tiles’ carbon footprint by 74 percent since 1996, in part with its claims that some of its carbon tiles can actually sequester carbon.

Interface turns to Japanese design

Japanese aesthetics of minimalism, restoration and natural organic beauty inspire this new Interface collection, says Kari Pei, vice president of global product design at Interface. The collection’s design evokes feelings of connectedness with nature by embracing the principles of ikigai, the Japanese idea of "having a purpose."

Pei adds that there are elements of another concept, kintsugi, which represents the art of mending broken objects to create new things, which fits with the manufacturer’s closed loop approach to flooring. Finally, the texture of the tiles invokes sahiko, a decorative Japanese form of stitching.

Full of carbon, as well as Zen

The Embodied Beauty collection is currently available in the Americas and will launch globally in 2021. The collection features three styles which combine with the company's new sustainable carpet backing.

This backing, says Interface, uses specialty yarns along with a proprietary tufting process. Tufting builds on an ancient tradition of knitting that allows extra yarn to be looped into a knitted base with “U” shapes, creating a denser knit, which in turn means more material is available to act as a carbon store. The base of the tiles includes bio-based materials as well as content with a high amount of recycled content.

John Bradford, Interface’s chief science and technology officer, says that by capturing carbon in the carpets’ raw materials, these same materials can be used over and over again. He adds that 70 percent of a material’s carbon footprint is attributed to the extraction and processing of raw materials. By reusing materials again and again, the carpet's carbon impact is lowered even further.

The popularity of sustainable is rising

The growth of the sustainable flooring industry reflects wider pressures on designers to specify products that have a lower carbon impact through third-party environmental product declarations (EPDs). Interface, for example, can point to at least two dozen EDPs by which the company measures its products’ environmental performance.

The global building industry is responding to these trends. For instance, over the last five years the nonprofit Climate Bond Initiative has launched over 80 climate certified bonds for low-carbon buildings. These trends reflect growing calls for low-carbon development by international bodies like the United Nations Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. In terms of the global flooring market, a recent market report found a growing emphasis within the industry on research and development for sustainable and recyclable flooring. There are growing markets for supporting the use of sustainable building components and finishes, too.

Interface’s new carbon-focused flooring products are a relatively small, yet crucial element to achieving a net-zero economy. Of course, the red carpet might not be rolled out any time soon to announce a fully sustainable flooring industry, but at least Interface is rolling out the green.

Image credit: Interface corporate website

James Byrne headshot

James has been writing about investing and sustainable finance and development for over ten years. With a background in sustainability consulting, his book 'Green your business now', was used as the basis for a sustainable business accreditation scheme in the U.K. He also helped PepsiCo with branding and investment strategy for its Tropicana product line as part of its Performance with Purpose agenda. His views on sustainable development and responsible investing have been featured in Morningstar magazine and the UKs Urban Design Journal, an organization that promotes sustainable development. He has an active interest in ESG having written for ESG investor platform Curation, where he helped curate content used in environmental risk briefings for FTSE100 companies. Topics James has covered include governance issues, renewable energy adoption, accessible design, sustainability reporting and climate related financial risk disclosures.

Read more stories by James Byrne