Carbon-neutral enterprises: How to get out of the ‘doing less bad’ mindset

As part of Net-Zero November, edie speaks to Interface’s sustainability manager Becky Gordon to find out how the company became a “carbon neutral enterprise” and what type of mindset sustainability leaders need to adopt to respond to the climate crisis.

Carbon-neutral enterprises: How to get out of the ‘doing less bad’ mindset

Interface has long been an innovator when it comes to corporate sustainability leadership. The company’s Climate Take Back strategy takes on a whole new mindset regarding climate action at outlines how businesses can “rethink carbon as a resource”. It paints a vision of dispersing materials into “products and goodness”, developing “factories that sequester carbon like forests” and supply chains that have a net-positive impact on people and the planet.

As part of its Climate Take Back vision, Interface is now third-party certified as a Carbon Neutral Enterprise. Interface is a Carbon Neutral Enterprise according to the PAS 2060 standard, the leading international carbon neutrality standard created by the British Standards Institution (BSI).

For the company’s sustainability manager Becky Gordon, the certification showcases Interface’s commitment to not just embrace sustainability, but use it as a driver and mechanism to transform the entire value chain.

“Being a carbon-neutral enterprise means that we are a carbon-neutral company selling carbon-neutral products. Everything we touch in the business in terms of our carbon footprint, we’re covering with this. We’re not just focusing on Scope one and two, we’re not just looking at our company but also our products,” Gordon told edie. “We wanted to make sure this is holistic and that we really took responsibility for everything that we do as a company today.

“We’ve done an awful lot of work since we first started working towards becoming more sustainable in the mid-90s, and there have been lots of key steps along the way in terms of what we’ve achieved…but the world in which we operate now is different, so the need for a new mission really reignited us and that’s what Climate Take Back sprung from.”

Through Climate Take Back, Interface has committed to reduce absolute scope 1 and 2 emissions 50% by 2030 from a 2019 base year, to reduce absolute scope 3 emissions from purchased goods and services 50% and to reduce Scope 3 emissions from business travel and employee commuting 30% within the same timeframe.

This has been driven by science-based targets aligned with the limits of the Paris Agreement and has seen the company transform its factories, products and supply chain by using low-carbon technologies and innovative carbon-storing raw materials to reduce emissions.

While innovation is absolutely required to transform a business into a carbon-neutral enterprise, Gordon notes that cultural and mindset shifts are just as important to help get other parts of the business aware of how cutting carbon can also unlock new markets.

“Our science-based targets have really kicked off some great internal conversations as to how we can all work together and collaborate on solutions. Having those public goals has really emphasised sustainability and made it a part of everyone’s job. Because to achieve our goals, we’re all going to have to work towards them, it doesn’t matter what department you’re in, you’re going to have to contribute,” Gordon said.

“We’re trying to help people realise what their scope of influence is. We’re not necessarily asking for people to come up with innovations in our factories, but we want to empower them to make changes and think about change. When you apply this way of thinking across the whole value chain you get some really interesting discussions. It takes a lot of training and development, of course, but its about inspiring those internally to act.”

Doing less bad

One such area where this mindset shift is evident is in Interface’s products.

In 2021, in a major step towards its vision to become a carbon-negative business by 2040, modular flooring firm Interface has launched its first carbon-negative certified products in the UK.

The firm has launched a range of carpet tiles called ‘Embodied Beauty’, three of which are certified as carbon-negative on a cradle-to-gate basis, as well as a separate tufted tile model called ‘Flash Line’, which has the same certification.

Flash Line tiles are made using 100% recycled yarn for the upper and a backing made using 86% recycled and bio-based content. Each tile sequesters and offsets more CO2 than it generates – largely because of the carbon sequestration properties of the bio-materials prior to their processing. The tufting process is also energy and resource-efficient.

Interface’s entire range has been certified as carbon neutral since 2018, following long-term work on natural and recycled materials, efficient manufacturing and carbon offsetting. The launch of carbon-negative products builds on this progress, on the company’s journey to overall carbon negativity by 2040.

Products, Gordon claims, is the biggest area of impact for Interface’s carbon goals and one that is also the biggest opportunity to embrace a new mindset, notably one that moves away from “less bad” and focuses on truly transformational innovation.

“We’re a manufacturer, so the biggest area of our carbon footprint by far is in our products,” Gordon added. “Around 85% of what we do is in our products, so its our biggest challenge, but also out biggest opportunity when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

“It’s easy as an organisation to think about reducing your impact and emissions. Even getting down to carbon neutrality is doing less bad. But actually, if we could hit our carbon negative goal, that will actually see us having a positive effect on the on the environment, we’ll be doing good as opposed to just doing less bad. I think that is the mentality we need to embrace.”

Offset approach

Carbon neutrality is a milestone on Interface’s journey, but like every organisation, it has had to delve into the offsets market to reach accreditation.

Interface purchases offsets to cover emissions that can’t yet be reduced through available solutions. However, the carbon-negative strategy, notes that the firm “must store more carbon than we emit across our operations, products, and supply chain – without using carbon offsets”.

So, how does a carbon-neutral enterprise view carbon offsets? And what is in store for the future as the company pushes towards its carbon negative goal.

“There’s a lot we can do and have done to reduce our emissions outright,” Gordon said. “We’re switching to renewable energy and looking at the materials we use. But there’s an acknowledgment that even with all that work, there’s an impact that you have today, and there’s an impact that the technology of today can’t necessarily get around that. That remaining carbon footprint has to be offset, which was an obvious solution. But we’re only looking to offset what we can’t get rid of through reductions.

“But we have the advantage of years of innovation and we’ve seen the financial benefits they bring in the long term. There’s confidence within the company when it comes to sustainable innovation because we can see previous successes in our history. So we can look at our remaining emissions and our carbon-negative goal with the right mindset.

“We’re looking to turn our factories into forests, we’re using 100% renewable electricity globally and there are tweaks and innovations on the horizon that we’re ready to look out for. I think raw materials for us is a real key focus because it is such a big part of the remaining footprint of the carpet tiles and the other flooring as well.”

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