gb&d: From your perspective, can you tell us how Ray Anderson established an enduring culture of sustainability?
George Bandy Jr.: Ray instilled in all of us the leadership skills to execute his vision and mission. He gave us a compass, which encompasses several fronts of sustainability. They are to eliminate waste, to eliminate benign emissions, to value renewable energy, to close the loop on technical and natural resources, and to be resourceful in transportation.
gb&d: What about customers?
Bandy: We sensitize all stakeholders, including customers, to our comprehensive approach on becoming a sustainable company that just happens to be the world’s largest manufacturer of carpet tiles. A big part of this journey is about recycling old carpets when replacing them. The old model was to buy, use, and dispose. The new model is to buy, use, and then recycle.
gb&d: You are on a campaign called Mission Zero, which means zero waste, zero emissions, and even zero use of petroleum products. How will you achieve that?
Bandy: We use ecometrics as a means of calculating how we move the needle on waste and impact. Since 1996, we have reduced our contributions to landfills by 91 percent. We’ve made good gains on water and energy use, and we offer climate-neutral products by purchasing certified offsets that sequester carbon. In addition, we engage our employees through our internal programs like Cool CO2mmute, Trees for Travel, and Environmental Education Grants.
gb&d: Zero use of petroleum—your primary raw material ingredient? How is that possible?
Bandy: There are 40 years worth of carpet out there waiting to be repurposed, recycled, and reused, which amounts to approximately five billion pounds of carpet that is pulled up annually. We have an opportunity to reduce the cost of disposal fees for our customers and reduce the amount of commercial construction debris in our landfill by using this product for new carpet tiles. This is carpet that would otherwise take 50 years to decompose in a landfill.
gb&d: Which is cheaper, recycled carpet or raw petroleum?
Bandy: The price of oil affects everything. But getting raw materials from the Earth is always a higher cost in many ways. What people don’t always understand is the difference between cost and price.
gb&d: Is there a reason you don’t just use natural materials?
Bandy: We get asked this question a lot. People want to know why we don’t use wool or jute. The fact of the matter is that things designed by nature are also designed to break down. Natural materials wouldn’t last long in commercial applications, and things that last longer tend to be more sustainable. Note, synthetic carpeting is now made in low-VOC selections.
gb&d: But recycling still requires active participation by customers. How do you make that happen?
Bandy: Customers and architects visit our mills almost every week, and we bring in people from various industries to our showrooms all the time. We also participate in organizations—USGBC, GreenBiz, NeoCon—where we connect with the industry and customers in multiple ways. With all these audiences, we get easier cooperation on post-consumer recycling when stakeholders understand its importance.
gb&d: How do you involve the supply chain?
Bandy: All trends in the industry are toward sustainability, so any company that is not moving in this direction is a dinosaur. But our social sustainability goals come together with our environmental objectives in our Net-Works project. Net-Works provides a source of income for small fishing villages in the Philippines while cleaning up discarded fishing nets from their beaches and waters. [The] nets are collected and sold to our trusted yarn supplier and partner, Aquafil.
gb&d: So recycled material from various sources is pretty significant.
Bandy: About 75 percent of our product is now made with post-consumer recycled material.
gb&d: Let’s talk about you and your job. How did you get into this?
Bandy: As an undergraduate I was always very interested in this. When I worked for the University of Texas–Houston after college in the 1990s, we used The Natural Step program [a framework for organizational involvement in sustainability, also embraced by Interface], where I met the leaders of the movement: Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, Janine Benyus, Brian Yeoman, and Ray Anderson among them. That’s when the lightbulb went on for me.
gb&d: From your perspective, what are the biggest opportunities in the near future?
Bandy: We are excited about the innovations, new technologies, and green chemistry. Ray Anderson’s vision has encouraged our exploration into bio-based renewable materials like castor beans that we used in some regional global flooring solutions. Maybe the most exciting things are the innovations that we have not seen yet.
gb&d: And that gets back to having a compass to guide present and future employees toward sustainability?
Bandy: Yes. And we have a process. The Gallup StrengthsFinder helps us identify where people’s talents are and where they would be happiest. Ray said the goal was to take waste out of the organization—one of the most wasteful things is for intelligent people not to be in a position to deliver meaningful work at Interface.