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Laying the foundations for a sustainable future

THE climate conversation has never been more intense. Extreme weather and regular natural disasters are no longer just threats – they’re a reality now. To add greater urgency, a recent report from the Climate Change Committee warned that the UK is ‘woefully unprepared’ to deal with the effects expected. It’s clear we need to take action now before it’s too late – a fact that is driving the agenda of the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

With the built environment estimated to be responsible for almost 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions, our industry has a big role to play in helping to reverse the effects of climate change. As companies continue to make net zero carbon pledges, there is an increasing demand to create sustainable spaces and build responsibly. This means choosing flooring that has a low environmental impact, taking into account the materials used to make the products, the end of life options and the carbon footprint itself.

Progress to date
Historically, the manufacture of flooring has been carbon intensive and wasteful. As the pressure to deliver green buildings has increased, manufacturers have had to look at how they can reduce the carbon footprint of production, including reducing electricity and water consumption, using more accurate cutting techniques to minimise waste and finding alternative raw materials to reduce the reliance on virgin petrochemicals.

At Interface, we’re proud to have made great progress in reducing our carbon footprint. S

ince 1996, we’ve reduced factory Greenhouse Gas emissions by 96% and our EMEA carpet manufacturing plants use 100% renewable energy. Following the introduction of our Carbon Neutral Floors programme in 2018, our carpet tiles, LVT and nora rubber products are also now all carbon neutral across their entire lifecycle.

Innovative materials
One area where the industry has made good progress is the use of recycled materials in product development, with many manufacturers now using recycled and biobased content. This is crucial for reducing the carbon footprint of flooring products. However, it’s important the industry pushes for further innovation in this area.

At Interface, we first introduced recycled content into our carpet tiles in 1998 and have continued to innovate since then. In recent years, we have focused on biobased content, which led to the introduction of our CQuestBio carbon negative backing. The backing, which now comes as standard on all Interface carpets, reduces each product’s carbon footprint by a third and brings our average recycled and biobased content up to 88%.

Taking this technology one step further, this year we launched Embodied Beauty, our first collection to feature carpet tiles that are carbon negative from cradle-to-gate.
All of this helps businesses to make sustainable flooring choices without sacrificing on style, with no extra cost or added complication to the installation process.

ReUse, RePurpose, ReCycle
Unsurprisingly, end of life recycling has moved up the industry’s agenda in recent times. However, there is still progress to be made, and it is crucial contractors continue to make use of circular recycling routes to reduce the volume of product sent to landfill or incinerated. In addition to lowering carbon emissions, these schemes have significant social impacts, as carpets are often donated to housing associations, schools and charities, the benefits of which were highlighted in a report investigating the provision of appropriate flooring in social housing.

One such scheme is Interface’s ReEntry programme, which allows contractors to easily donate uplifted carpet for reuse by offering collection from its original location. Interface then works with specialised social enterprises to give the flooring a new home. Between 2016 and 2020 alone, ReEntry recovered 22,000 tonnes of post-consumer carpet, with around 60% of this being given a new life in a different setting.

Pledging for change
Ahead of the COP26 climate change conference, companies across all industries have made bold pledges to not only achieve goals set out by the government, but to reach targets that will impress and attract a wide range of stakeholders. For example, Microsoft has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030, IKEA aims to be 100% powered by renewable energy across its entire value chain, and Morgan Sindall has committed to becoming net zero carbon by 2030.

As part of this, companies are now heavily focused on ensuring their offices and commercial spaces align with these climate pledges, meaning the demand for carbon-friendly floorcoverings and end of life solutions is booming.

Contractors can therefore expect to install more and more carbon neutral and carbon negative floor coverings over the next few years.

Next steps
As demand grows for more sustainable flooring solutions, manufacturers need to create more products that are built for a longer, more sustainable lifecycle. There are already a lot of innovative products and programmes available on the market that the industry can take advantage of, but to really create change we need every company within the built environment to push manufacturers to do more and ask the difficult questions.

The starting point is simple: ask for low carbon, ask for carbon neutral, ask for high proportions of recycled and biobased content, and ask for end of life reuse and recycling programmes. The measures will drive down the carbon footprint of construction.
www.interface.com
Becky Gordon is regional sustainability manager UKIME at Interface

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