Mission Zero: Interface's quest to be carbon neutral
Why set yourself an impossible challenge? For a company that sells $1 billion worth of carpet tiles a year, total elimination of its environmental impact by 2020 is surely beyond the realms of possibility.
Industrial manufacturing processes, heavy use of raw materials and layers of supply chain that are not always possible to influence make it difficult to comprehend how Mission Zero can be achieved.
But this is exactly the point for Interface. What are the realms of possibility, and how close to zero impact can be achieved? In 1994 the company’s founder Ray Anderson signalled a sea change in corporate attitude towards sustainability. Legal compliance, although important, was no longer enough.
“Ray was inspired by the book Ecology of Commerce written by Paul Hawken,” says Sustainability Director Ramon Arratia. “He changed our thinking from the traditional take-make-waste to a circular model. Industry has the power to make a difference, and this is where Mission Zero and our 2020 vision was born.”
It was this ambition and integration of sustainability into every aspect of the Interface business which led Arratia from Vodafone to the seemingly less glamourous world of carpet tiles.
Progress to zero
The setting of such an ambitious target has led to some enormous advances, and in many areas Interface is tantalisingly close to achieving zero impact.
Since 1996, the amount of waste to landfill from carpet factories has been reduced by 91 percent and in Europe this has been reduced to zero. Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 92 percent during the same period, a large part of which is down to huge growth in the use of renewable energy. In Europe, 95 percent of energy used comes from renewable sources. Interface also uses 50 percent recycled or biobased raw materials.
Operations have also become more efficient, again with European production leading the way. Energy usage has gone down by 54 percent since 1996 while the amount of gas and water used has dropped by 40 and 93 percent respectively.
These headline numbers are hugely impressive, and Arratia is certain that much more can be achieved: “Since 2008, our entire environmental footprint of our products, which includes the whole supply chain of suppliers, their suppliers and so on, has been reduced by 39 percent. We have shown it is possible to do it,” he says.
“While we can’t control the entire footprint of a product and the various layers of supply chain, we have calculated that per square foot of tile we can reduce the environmental impact by 80 percent, which is huge.”
The key for Arratia will be flexibility in the manufacturing process. “We need to have production lines which are adaptable to many different kinds of raw material from which we can make carpet tiles,” he adds. “You need to be flexible enough to make yarn from material X or material Y, which can change depending on price and availability, or something new we have found.
“We have installed a new line in our Scherpenzeel factory in the Netherlands which makes the back of our carpets, and hopefully in the next year we will be able to launch new products made from different raw materials.”
The Scherpenzeel site is arguably Interface’s sustainability flagship, producing zero waste to landfill and using 100 percent renewable energy.
Fishing for carpet
Interface’s sustainability drive is being felt socially as well as environmentally, thanks to schemes such as Net-Works which transforms fish nets into nylon for carpet manufacturing.
So far some 93 tonnes of discarded nets have been gathered from some of the poorest coastal communities in the likes of the Philippines and Cameroon, providing welcome income for local fishermen and much-needed waste removal from oceans.
“With this sort of innovation we can create much more of an impact beyond the environmental,” Arratia explains. “This is as much a social programme as environmental, and is about how we can put more income into communities.
“Businesses like Vodafone and other tech companies make their impact with their technology – Vodafone has done great work to get mobiles to people in Africa. For a carpet tile manufacturer we can’t do this, so we make a difference with raw materials.”
Sustainable is profitable
The commercial business case for sustainable investment, beyond simply becoming more efficient and using fewer resources per square foot of carpet, has also been proven by Interface.
“Once you arrive with a new sustainable product or innovation you can expect a premium for it because you have invested in its sustainability – there is a hard business case for investing in it,” Arratia says.
“There are softer business cases too, like the ability to recruit and retain people. At the end of the day, we are a carpet company which, on the face of it, may not sound that exciting. I moved from Vodafone to work in this industry because I was won over by Mission Zero and the ambition.
“We have the ability to recruit people who are looking to work towards a higher purpose, and this is not just us saying nice things, it drives right to the core of the company. We are trying to be the first, trying to show the world that this is possible. This is not something dreamy and us just doing the right thing, it is also about us being cleverer than the rest.”
Aim high, face reality
Asked what advice he would give to businesses looking to develop their own sustainability strategy, Arratia identified three key messages based on his experiences at Interface.
“First, understand the true impact of your product,” he says. “That is hard, because when you carry out a genuine life cycle assessment of a product it is the elephant in the room, and many people don’t want to accept the results. It is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, but you have to face it because eventually it will give you a competitive advantage.
“Following on from this, you should always look at sustainability from a product perspective. This is the only way to truly embed sustainability, and once we innovate a sustainable product this gives our marketers and sales teams an angle to approach the market.
Finally, and perhaps what has been most influential for Interface, is instilling a mind-set without limitations.
Arratia concludes: “Don’t be afraid to set high targets which you might not reach. I hear so often of targets being revised down just so companies can be sure to meet them, and this is so wrong.
“This goal of Mission Zero pushed us to venture into the unknown. Our people have gone to places they have never seen before and taken innovations from other sectors and applied it to ours. All of the technology is out there, we just need our engineers to find and access it somehow. We need to be ambitious in order to push people out of their comfort zone.”
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Ultium Cells LLC/Li-Cycle: Sustainable Battery Manufacturing
Ultium Cells LLC - a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solutions - has announced its latest collaboration with Li-Cycle. Joining forces the two have set ambitions to expand recycling in North America, recycling up to 100% of the scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing
What is Ultium Cells LLC?
Announcing their partnership in December 2019, General Motors (GM) and LG Energy Solutions established Ultium Cells LLC with a mission to “ensure excellence of Battery Cell Manufacturing through implementation of best practices from each company to contribute [to the] expansion of a Zero Emission propulsion on a global scale.”
Who is Li-Cycle?
Founded in 2016, Li-Cycle leverages innovative solutions to address emerging and urgent challenges around the world.
As the use of Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in automotive, industrial energy storage, and consumer electronic applications rises, Li-Cycle believes that “the world needs improved technology and supply chain innovations to better recycle these batteries, while also meeting the rapidly growing demand for critical and scarce battery-grade materials.”
Why are Ultium Cells LLC and Li-Cycle join forces?
By joining forces to expand the recycling of scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing in North America, the new recycling process will allow Ultium Cells LLC to recycle cobalt, nickel, lithium, graphite, copper, manganese and aluminum.
“95% of these materials can be used in the production of new batteries or for adjacent industries,” says GM, who explains that the new hydrometallurgical process emits 30% less greenhouse gases (GHGs) than traditional processes, minimising the environmental impact. Use of this process will begin later in the year (2021).
"Our combined efforts with Ultium Cells will be instrumental in redirecting battery manufacturing scrap from landfills and returning a substantial amount of valuable battery-grade materials back into the battery supply chain. This partnership is a critical step forward in advancing our proven lithium-ion resource recovery technology as a more sustainable alternative to mining, " said Ajay Kochhar, President, CEO and co-founder of Li-Cycle.
"GM's zero-waste initiative aims to divert more than 90% of its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration globally by 2025. Now, we're going to work closely with Ultium Cells and Li-Cycle to help the industry get even better use out of the materials,” added Ken Morris, Vice President of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles, GM.
Since 2013, GM has recycled or reused 100% of the battery packs it has received from customers, with most current GM EVs repaired with refurbished packs.
"We strive to make more with less waste and energy expended. This is a crucial step in improving the sustainability of our components and manufacturing processes,” concluded Thomas Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer, Ultium Cells LLC.