How Interface Makes the Circular Economy Come to Life

Executive Training on Circular Economy in Barcelona on 10-11 October
How Interface Makes the Circular Economy Come to Life
Publ. date 20 Sep 2017
As one of the world’s sustainable business pioneers, Interface knows what it’s like to change a company’s strategy from a traditional approach towards a focus on sustainability without sacrificing business goals. In the mid 1990’s, the company pivoted away from the traditional industrial model of modular carpet production towards a business model focused on sustainability. By 2017, Interface focuses on innovation in circular business models by closing the loops in its business operations. High time to take a closer look.


Setting common ground for sustainability

In 1994, after twenty years of “business as usual”, Interface’s legendary founder and former chairman Ray Anderson set the company towards a direction in which the business focused on sustainability and the creation of additional value, not only for economic purposes, but also for society and the environment.

The vision of Interface is “to be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits – by 2020 – and in doing so we will become restorative though the power of influence”. This is reflected in Mission Zero – the company’s commitment to eliminate any negative impact Interface may have on the environment by 2020. Interface has implemented its sustainability strategy by working as an ecosystem and closing both technological and biological cycles in a circular economy model.

Making circular design methods come to life

For this purpose, Interface has developed new products and applications – often in partnerships with others. Looking at the Circular Design Guide created by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDEO, we can identify at least three of the Design Guide’s methods being applied by Interface.

1. Learn from nature: using biomimicry to close the loop

To close the loops, Interface has followed the principles of biomimicry – using cyclical models that mimic nature. In concrete terms this meant that the company asked itself the question: If nature designed an industrial process, what might it look like? Using lessons of nature, Interface started to adapt business practices that mimic the fundamentals of nature: using renewable energy, eliminating waste and recycling and reusing materials.

Inspired by the gecko, Interface employees came up with an innovation to eliminate toxic glues used in carpet installation. TacTiles use adhesive stickers that fix carpet tiles to the floor. Making use of stickers instead of traditional tiles is more durable and faster to install. Furthermore, it makes replacements and recycling easier, leading to less waste and costs. Since 2006, more than 40 million square meters of carpet has been installed with TacTiles.

2. Smart material choices: renewable and recyclable raw materials

Based on lifecycle assessments, it becomes clear that 68% of the environmental impact of a carpet tile during its lifecycle comes from the raw materials. To get to Mission Zero, renewable or recyclable raw materials are therefore a priority for Interface.

Recycling of car windscreens is encouraged by the EU, but the laminate material (PVB) that prevents the windows from shattering has not been given a second life, until recently. Interface partnered with Shark Solutions in the glass recycling supply chain to process the laminate and use it in the production of carpet tiles. The resulting polymers from the PVB act as an alternative for the latex precoat.

Another example of raw materials from an unexpected source is Net-Works. Interface partners with the Zoological Society of London and Aquafil, an Italian yarn supplier, to tackle the issue of fishing nets being discarded in the ocean in poor regions of the world. Net-Works has the potential to deliver both social and commercial benefits, by improving the livelihood of local fishers while providing Interface with recycled materials as input for carpet tiles.

3. Regenerative thinking: workplaces that work

Creating value for every player in the wider ecosystem will help that system thrive in the long term. Nurturing the people (users, employees or partners) and natural systems that directly draw from or support the organization can be a source of growth, creativity, and innovation.

By using biophilic design (inspired by nature), Interface aims to nurture its customers by bringing elements of the natural world in to the built environment. Workplaces that incorporate natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, report better well-being, higher productive employees and more creativity. Biophilic work environments increase productivity rates and therefore long-term company profits.

Interested to learn more about the Interface example?

Finch & Beak has been hosting an executive training in Barcelona to develop skills for the circular economy in 2017. During the training, Geanne van Arkel, Head of Sustainable Development at Interface, has presented the company’s approach to circular economy and explained its business case.

The attached download provides the flow of the training program in the form of a booklet, including information on the circular economy, Value Proposition Design, circular business models and the Business Model Canvas.

If you would like to accelerate circular economy programs within your company, Finch & Beak has developed the Circular Economy Sprint. For more information, please contact Jan van der Kaaij, Managing Partner, at or call +31 6 28 02 18 80.

About Jan van der Kaaij

Sustainability expert in strategy development, DJSI and sustainable innovation, with a hands-on approach and always committed to go for the max. | 

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