While phrases such as ‘carbon neutral’ may sound straightforward, they can be easily misunderstood and misused – which is when ‘greenwashing’ (the act of claiming green credentials without the science or certification to back them up) can creep in.
Here, Interface’s Sustainability Manager for ANZ – and resident environmental expert – Aidan Mullan, gives us his take on what it truly means to be carbon neutral.
Understanding carbon footprint
“Carbon runs through every aspect of sustainability”, Mullan explains. “Excess carbon in our atmosphere is the greatest threat to human life. Reducing our carbon footprint is imperative. To do that, you must understand the environmental impacts of your products across the full lifecycle. Extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, customer use and end of life all contribute.”
Measuring a product’s carbon footprint is often far more complex than organisations realise. “When you look across the full lifecycle, you start to see where the biggest impacts are being made and, for us, that’s at the raw materials and extraction stages”, Mullan reveals.
The lifecycle assessment
Having committed to becoming carbon neutral more than 25 years ago, Interface analyses every step of its product lifecycle in minute detail. It has introduced initiatives to get its factories to zero environmental footprint. Today it has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 96% since 1996, reduced water use to one litre per square metre of carpet produced and sends 92% less waste to landfills. 74% of the energy it uses to power its operations is renewable. “While we’re very proud of all these achievements, manufacturing only contributes towards about 10% of the total carbon footprint, so we’re always looking for the next big reduction opportunity”, Mullan reveals. “This is key to becoming carbon neutral. Offsetting alone is not sufficient and must be accompanied by a rigorous action plan with timelines to reduce absolute emissions.”
Over the past 25 years, the company has reduced the carbon footprint of an average carpet tile by an impressive 74%, an achievement that has come from many different approaches, including ‘dematerialisation’ and emerging renewable energy sources, such as renewable gas. “We’re already using 100% green electricity, but we also plan to be the first company in Australia to use renewable gas in 2021”.
Neutral to negative
Having achieved a carbon neutral product and its Mission Zero™ goal in 2019, Interface is already focused on the next objective. “We’ve reduced our carpets’ carbon footprint by 74%, we then offset the remainder – but this is a stepping stone to achieving our new goal: to be carbon negative by 2040”, Mullan reveals. “It’s been a long journey to get to where we are today, and it’s taken strong leadership and a big vision from our CEO to drive the change. Investing time and money in innovations like the first carbon negative tiles in the industry. That is what’s possible when you think big and design for life, rather than settling for being a carpet manufacturer”.
View more from Interface here.