Interface's radical transparency
In what Interface chairman and founder Ray Anderson labeled “a call to industrialists everywhere,” the world’s largest modular carpet company said Tuesday it will disclose the cradle-to-grave environmental impacts of all its products by 2012.
The company plans to do so by providing environmental product declarations for all the goods it manufactures worldwide. Environmental product declarations are third-party verified accountings of a product’s environmental impacts. That includes everything from material sourcing to disposal and recycling, based on a lifecycle assessment that conforms to guidelines from the International Organization for Standardization.
The information offers a “warts and all” look at what goes into making a product, Anderson said, including how much energy and water is used, and how much waste is generated.
“It’s all about transparency to overcome the tsunami of greenwashing,” said Deborah Dunning, president and chief executive of The Green Standard, a North Carolina-based nonprofit through which companies register their product declarations.
Calculating, verifying and disclosing a product's full environmental impacts is essential for providing objectivity and transparency in the marketplace, she said.
Interface posted its first verified product declaration in 2009 for one of its product lines, making it the first North American company to do so, according the The Green Standard.
Ultimately, such data is most useful when providing comparisons between products for purchasers and Interface is urging other manufactures to follow suit.
“Anyone in the manufacturing business can develop environmental product declarations,” Anderson told reporters during a press conference Tuesday. “They just have to submit data. Sometimes it will be unpleasant, but that’s where it begins."
The U.S. trails Europe in the number of companies providing verified product declarations, though new regulations, including the update of the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, will likely provide incentives for companies to assess and disclose their environmental impacts, Dunning said. Interface’s announcement could spur companies to action, as well, she added.
“Interface is putting a big stake in the ground,” Dunning said. “I believe that the leadership position Interface has taken is going to result in other manufacturers realizing they have to provide equivalent, science-based, transparent information.”
Atlanta-based Interface made the announcement as part of a progress report on Mission Zero, the company’s initiative to eliminate its negative environmental impacts by 2020. Interface executives say that commitment has increased the company's sales, as well as its environmental performance.
“Mission Zero has delivered significant returns to Interface,” said Daniel Hendrix, Interface's chief executive, by driving costs down by reducing materials and energy use and “fostering goodwill in the marketplace.” Since 1995, the company -- which reported $859.9 million in sales in 2009 -- has saved $433 million in avoided waste costs.
Interface has also reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 94 percent over the past 15 years, though that figure includes emissions reductions the company has achieved by purchasing carbon offsets. The company obtains 30 percent of its energy from its own renewable sources, and says it would like to rely more on green energy than on offsets.
“Energy is the piece we’re grappling with the most,” Hendrix said.