These Carpets Take Aim at Global Warming

Along with green manufacturing and carbon offsets, the global carpet-maker Interface hopes a carbon-negative carpet tile can be the future of low embodied carbon building products.

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Interface is not only looking at its own product development but also to the industry at large to emphasize the importance of embodied carbon in sustainable building practices. Photo courtesy of Interface

“When we look to the future as a company, we know we have to be bold,” says Erin Meezan, vice president and chief sustainability officer at the global carpet manufacturer Interface.

The company is building on a long tradition of sustainability practices, dating back to 1994, when it first made carbon efficiency a strategic goal. Since then, the firm has reduced greenhouse gas emissions at its manufacturing sites by 96%, and its global sites are operated using 89% renewable energy. But there is more to be done, “Our long-term vision is reversing global warming,” Meezan says.

To that end, the company is reimagining itself as a firm that goes beyond net-zero, Meezan tells Metropolis. As a part of its larger mission, Interface is leveraging its product development prowess to create products that are carbon negative, meaning that their production reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, having a net-positive impact on the environment. By introducing products that store more carbon than they emit, Interface hopes to catalyze a wider movement around sustainability in the built environment.

Having reached a benchmark of producing 100% carbon neutral products globally in 2018, the company is uninterested in resting on its laurels.

Interface’s Proof Positive carpet tile prototype was developed to prove that a carpet tile could do more than be carbon neutral, and in fact have a net-positive impact on the environment. Photo courtesy of Interface

“Product innovation is at the heart of everything we do,” says Meezan, “and achieving carbon negativity is the next step. It’s the biggest way we can make an impact.” By carefully working with suppliers and rethinking the materials used in its products, she is confident Interface can lead the way. She points to Proof Positive™, a carbon-negative carpet tile the company created as a prototype in 2017.

Made with a plant-derived material, the tile stores the carbon for at least a generation. At the end of the product’s useful life, the material can be recycled, ensuring that the carbon stays in a closed technical loop instead of the atmosphere.

The idea behind carbon-negative products like Proof Positive™, says Lisa King, PhD., the company’s vice president of innovation, is to think of the built environment as a potential carbon sink, like an ocean or a forest.

By learning from natural carbon sequestration processes, she believes that Interface can engineer their products to remove carbon from the atmosphere during their production process and lock it away in the built environment for generations to come as the material is reused and recycled. King sees building materials as an attractive way to store carbon because of the ubiquity of buildings and the scale of the problem. That’s where low-embodied carbon products, or carbon-negative products come in.

CircuitBac Green, currently only available in Europe, is Interface’s most sustainable carpet backing material, made from a combination of natural oils and mineral filler. The material is carbon negative, meaning its production results in carbon being taken out of the atmosphere and stored. Photo courtesy of Interface

The next step, Meezan adds, is making these products more commercially viable.

To achieve this, Interface has partnered with architects, engineers and building firms, including Gensler and Skanska, as a founding member of materialsCAN (the Carbon Action Network), which launched at Greenbuild last year. The group appeals directly to clients, aiming to provide the building and real estate industries with the education and tools to better understand the carbon footprints of their projects.

According to Lisa Conway, Interface’s vice president of sustainability, the biggest benefit of materialsCAN has been the output of the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool. “This offers specifiers the opportunity to easily compare the carbon footprint of a variety of building products, including carpet tile, ceiling tile, gypsum and steel,” she explains.

It’s an extremely helpful tool for architects and designers looking to make serious reductions to their buildings’ carbon footprints. “For a long time, our sector has focused on operational carbon—or the carbon dioxide emitted during the life of a building,” explains Conway, “and we’ve done a great job reducing operational carbon through the development of LEED and other green building standards. Despite that progress, research shows that a building’s embodied carbon, or the carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture, transport and construction of materials, is just as important. That’s now our focus.”


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