Closing the loop

Ecobuild is taking place this month
and I’ll be at the UK-GBC Big Tent on Tuesday 20 March taking part in a lively
discussion on closing the loop- or construction in a Circular Economy. This the
latest sustainability buzzword on everyone’s lips, but what’s The Circular
Economy all about?

In a nutshell, it’s about the
dwindling supply of raw materials and the dramatic affect that this is having
on the industry. It’s about moving away from the linear model of ‘take, make,
and waste’ to a sustainable and circular model of material flows.

So why is the Circular Economy
important? Ernst & Young has warned that the rising cost of commodities is
hitting business hard, with skyrocketing costs of resources blamed for 29% of
profit warnings issued by UK-listed companies in 2011. Yet 2.7 billion tonnes of
waste is nevertheless thrown away each year in the EU alone.

The EU Resource Efficiency
Strategy warns that our current pattern of resource use cannot continue and we
need a four to ten fold increase in resource efficiency by 2050, with
significant improvements required by 2020 to achieve sustainable growth.

In its latest report, environmental
think tank Green Alliance has made the case for the circular use of resources
“…as a way of avoiding at least some of the impacts of ever more extraction of
natural resources, and to avoid the worst impacts of generating waste”. However, to achieve a circular economy, we at
InterfaceFLOR believe that industry thinking needs to change so that end of
life responsibility is considered and ‘designed in’ at a product’s conception.

At InterfaceFLOR, the rising cost
of materials and our ambitious ‘Mission Zero’ commitment for zero environmental
impact by 2020, have inspired us to look at new ways to develop our products.  We know from conducting Lifecycle Analysis
that 70% of the environmental impacts of our carpet tiles occur from extracting
and using raw materials, particularly oil-rich yarn.  We took this problem to the design table and considered
how we could use materials more efficiently and in turn reduce our
environmental impact.  

In doing so, we inadvertently
discovered a new type of flooring. We adapted our tufting processes to produce
Microtuft carpet tiles, which contain up to 50% less oil-based yarn than other
products year maintain high performance.  With the look of a hard floor but the
acoustics and feel of soft carpet, Microtuft is currently among our highest
growth products.

Another crucial step is to
collaborate with suppliers. Most supplier programmes focus purely on the
supplier’s own operations, usually a factory. But as lifecycle assessments
continually show, the largest impacts are frequently outside that boundary, in
the supplier’s own supply chain.

We know that in order to achieve
Mission Zero, we needed to harness our supplier’s creativity. This meant
rejecting the usual supplier engagement process of ‘code, questionnaire, audit’
and seeking an alternative that would ‘inspire, measure and innovate’.  One of our biggest sustainability hurdles was
our reliance on Nylon yarn, which we were told, was impossible to recycle. Yet asking
our suppliers for help innovative thinking enabled us to dispel this myth.

The result was Biosfera I, our most
sustainable products to date. It has half the carbon footprint of a typical
carpet tile and is manufactured using the minimum amount of yarn possible.
Furthermore, it includes 100% recycled yarn and recycled backing. Rather than
limiting ourselves to recycling nylon from our own products, which we collect
from customers and either reuse or recycle through our breakthrough ReEnty 2.0
process, we looked further afield. Biosfera I includes 100% recycled yarn and
recycled backing made from materials as diverse as fishing nets, limestone and
our own manufacturing waste. 

We believe that the key to achieving
a circular economy is to go beyond traditional models and designing to make use
of waste from other industries and businesses, just like in nature, where waste
from one organism becomes food for another. We are also continually impressed
by what can be achieved when suppliers are encouraged to innovate and are
rewarded for solving our problems
instead of us trying to solve theirs.

The EU Resource Efficiency Strategy
suggests that improving the reuse of raw materials through businesses across
the EU and using the waste from others as a resource could save €1.4bn a year
and generate €1.6bn in sales. Figures like these are hard to ignore and we urge
others to push the boundaries of design to close the loop and ensure a
sustainable future for all.

Arratia is the Sustainability Director for InterfaceFLOR, Europe, Middle East,
Africa & India

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Author: Ramon Arratia

Added: 09/03/2012

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