Interface’s Climate Take Back Initiative Aims to Reverse Global Warming, One Tile at a Time

Sponsored: Interface’s Climate Take Back Initiative Aims to Reverse Global Warming, One Tile at a Time


Fall 2018 | Written by Kiley Jacques

Interface, maker of recyclable modular flooring, has been a leader in corporate sustainability for more than 20 years. The notion, “design with climate in mind,” informs every process, every product. Recently, the company has made its Climate Take Back™ mission a major priority. It is the successor to the Mission Zero® initiative, established in 1997 and intended to demonstrate how businesses can push sustainability on all fronts by 2020—from people to process to product, place, and profit. At the core of the new mission is the climate crisis. The plan is to go beyond carbon neutrality to reach a point where the company is actually helping to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, thereby reversing global warming.

Interface, modular flooring manufacturer, is headquartered in Atlanta, GA

“For 24 years, our mindset was on lowering carbon emissions in the business,” says vice president and chief sustainability officer Erin Meezan. “But our mindset has really changed over the last two decades—from sustainability being about reducing harm to thinking that an innovative sustainable business is one that goes beyond just not harming people to one that actively pursues positives.”

To call Climate Take Back ambitious is an understatement, particularly given the company employs just 4,000 people. Yet already they are making strides toward reducing—not just stabilizing—atmospheric gases. Innovations like CircuitBac Green™, a carpet backing made of a mix of bioplastics and recycled limestone filler, prove the feasibility of their goal. The product, currently on the market in Europe, absorbs more carbon than it emits during its production, which means there is less carbon in the atmosphere due to the making of it. “People are chomping at the bit for it to be available here,” says Lisa Conway, vice president of sustainability, Americas. “It is our mission, Climate Take Back, manifested in a product. They love the fact that it is carbon-storing which is wildly innovative and also meets a lot of other check boxes around green chemistry.”

CircuitBac Green™ tile backing innovation

CircuitBac Green™ backing innovation on a carpet tile.

The development of CircuitBac Green marks an exciting advance for a small but growing movement interested in using carbon as a commercial building block—one that locks the gas in place and prohibits its release into the atmosphere. It is evidence that buildings can be part of the solution to the problem of global warming. Conway makes the point that for decades, the focus has been on energy used in the operating of buildings and that our attention needs to shift. “If we look at a deadline of 2050, which climate specialists agree is the year that carbon emissions need to peak and start reversing, then we have to concentrate on the fact that 90 percent of carbon emissions in a new building comes from the manufacturing of materials, not from the operation of the building itself.”

Interface also believes that making industry professionals aware of the embodied carbon of products being specified for projects is a vital step toward lowering emissions. “We can create carbon-negative products,” says Meezan. “We can make products that store CO2. And we can run our factories in a way that does that. But then we have to get everyone else in our industry, in our supply chain, and in the built environment on board.” She points to efforts like Project Drawdown as helpful tools but also stresses the importance of helping manufacturers, real estate developers, designers, building owners and operators, and others invested in the built environment to understand their responsibilities when it comes to global warming. While Interface is quickly working toward the commercialization of carbon-negative products, it already offsets the emissions associated with all products sold around the world through its Carbon Neutral Floors™ program.

If saving the planet is not compelling enough, notes Meezan, there is growing evidence of commercial success and financial gain to be had by taking steps to reduce carbon emissions. The University of Michigan’s Global CO2 Initiative demonstrates that new technologies aimed at carbon sequestration represent trillions of dollars of business opportunity. Some companies are already joining the effort. Gensler, an integrated architecture, design, planning, and consulting firm, recognizes its ability to either contribute to or help solve the problem of global warming. Principal Kirsten Ritchie sees it this way: “If we specify materials with reduced carbon footprints, select locally sourced materials that don’t require much energy to transport, use resilient materials with longer lifespans, and consider each material’s life beyond its present use, then we significantly lessen the environmental impact of the places we design before occupancy even begins. . . . This has become a point of emphasis in our portfolio.”

Design with the climate in mind—all Interface flooring products are made from recycled materials, 100% recyclable and carbon neutral.

Interface LVT and carpet tiles work seamlessly together to create floors that are 100% carbon neutral.

Another of Interface’s projects is a partnership known as materialsCAN—Materials Carbon Action Network—whose work centers on a proactive approach to embodied carbon. Interface has partnered with Armstrong, Skanska, USG, CertainTEED, and Gensler to (1) drive embodied carbon awareness via client, industry, and external partnerships, (2) create a methodology for how to prioritize embodied carbon in specifications and how to share them externally, (3) highlight case studies on low-carbon, carbon-neutral, and carbon-sequestering interiors, and (4) increase memberships and partnerships.

Combined, the companies provide Carbon Neutral Floors—which offset greenhouse gas emissions— insulation, ceilings, walls, wood, and design strategies to the worldwide building industry. They want to illustrate the role each component of a building can play in lowering carbon emissions. Outreach efforts include case studies and pilot projects, such as the one happening at Microsoft, the first large corporate user of Skanska’s Embodied Carbon Calculator for Construction (EC3), a new tool used to track carbon emissions from raw building materials. In addition to educating building professionals, their efforts include getting other manufacturers to consider a similar approach to their own products.

Whatever a business’s motivation for helping to reverse global warming, Interface is offering a science-backed roadmap.

Four Steps to Climate Take Back

The four key components of Interface’s new sustainability mission, Climate Take Back.™

Case Study: Improving Performance Through Embodied Carbon Drawdown

Kirsten Ritchie, principal of Gensler, demonstrates how informing industry experts of the carbon footprint of the materials they specify can help to drastically cut embodied energy.

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