Speaking exclusively to edie, Nigel Stansfield said the carpet-tile firm’s Mission Zero sustainability pledge was an important recruiting and retention tool.

“Most people wouldn’t think twice about working for a carpet tile company, but they’ll jump at the opportunity to work for a sustainability leader,” he said. “Particularly now the millennial workforce is coming in, and the generation after that, they’re trying to align personal beliefs with the beliefs of the company they work for.”

Stansfield said that the average service time for an Interface employee in the European business was approaching 15 years. The average time that people stay at any given company is around five years.

He added: “Using this Mission Zero journey we’ve been able to retain people, but we’ve also been able to attract a massive amount of talent into the business. That’s all the way across the business, not just in innovation and sustainability.

“We have sales people, operations guys, senior leaders, who leave good jobs elsewhere to come and work for us, and many of them cite the values and purpose of the business as a key reason for joining us.”

Innovation boost

That reputation – which stems from having a clear target to have no environmental footprint since 1994 – has also helped boost product innovation at Interface.

“We are a magnet for phone calls from the wacky professor, who’s heard about Interface because of how we are acclaimed in environmental circles,” said Stansfield.

For example, a recent Interface project that incorporated broken car windscreens into floor tiles, was started by such a ‘wacky-professor’ phone call back in 2004. In the intervening years, Interface offered research help and seed money where needed rather than a ‘big bag of money’, until the technology was fully commercialised last year.

Stansfield explained that this type of project is run-of-the-mill for Interface. “A key part of our strategy is backing multiple horses,” he said. “It spreads the commercial risk of this cutting edge R&D and means there’s always something coming out of the tunnel.”

Mission Positive?

The 2020 end-point for Mission Zero is fast approaching, but Stansfield said the date and its accompanying target was merely a stepping stone. “We see Mission zero as a significant milestone on the journey,” he said. “The end goal has always been to become a restorative company.”

One Interface project known as Net-Works gives a glimpse into how a restorative company might operate in the future. The project aims to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities.

Net-Works enables local residents to collect discarded nets and sell them back into a global supply chain, where Interserve uses them as key parts of its flooring tiles. To date, Net-Works has achieved the collection of more than 66 metric tonnes of net that is no longer damaging the natural ecosystem, while the villagers that collected it have earnt enough income to buy to 230,552 additional meals.

Stansfield added: “The whole goal of mission zero is to fix yourself and then help others start to fix themselves. That’s a project that brings benefit the whole way through the supply chain, and we’re looking to aggressively expand that.”

Nigel Stansfield at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum

Interface’s chief innovation officer Nigel Stansfield is among the expert speakers at edie’s ninth annual Sustainability Leaders Forum which takes place on 19 November at the Hotel Russel in London. 

Stansfield will be presenting a talk on how industry leaders can influence, engage and “force” other companies to adopt sustainable models.

Find out more about the Forum and register to attend here.

Brad Allen 

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