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An Interface with Carpet

The early 1980’s is when I met my first carpet tile.  Now nearly every job I do is carpet tile.   People replace carpet tile not because it wears out but because it “uglies” out!  The stuff won’t die.  I even know of a university dining hall where they cleaned the carpet tile by running it through the commercial dishwasher.  YIKES!!

The manufacture of carpet is not very sustainable since it is made of nylon which is made from petroleum.  In addition, the backing of carpet tile is also petroleum based.  It took a visionary and founder of Interface carpet, Ray Anderson, to question the long term sustainability of carpet tile.  After reading The Ecology of Commerce, Ray transformed his business from a linear model where carpet is made, used, and goes to the landfill, to a circular model.  The carpet goes from manufacture, used, and back to manufacture without any petroleum needed.

This sustainable paradigm required innovation.  There were no machines to take old carpet tile and separate the yarn from the backing so Interface built machines.  Nylon manufacturers partnered and figured out how to take harvested yarn and turn it into liquid nylon and spin new yarn.  As a result of this kind of thinking, last year over 350 million pounds of post-consumer carpet was diverted from the landfills and over 80% was recycled.  

Now recycling centers are sprouting up to get the recycled product back to manufacturers.  Many times the cost of recycling is cheaper than landfill fees.  In fact, companies like Interface are working with municipalities to increase landfill fees for carpet to ensure the circular model does not run out of product.

What’s in the future?  Already Interface uses no virgin raw materials in the manufacture of the carpet tile backing.  Their 2020 goal is to use no virgin raw materials in any part of the entire carpet tile, just recycled or bio based material.

Sustainable design is really about changing our paradigms and asking pretty simple questions.  Ray Anderson asked if there was another way for his business to make a product and not contribute to depleting a virgin material like petroleum.  He found a way and Interface is now the leading carpet company in the world.


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