Nigel Stansfield, President at Interface EMEA, tells Inex how we can start to close the manufacturing loop

Nigel Stansfield, President at Interface EMEA, explains how recycling and reclaiming interior furnishings is crucial to help us achieve a more sustainable built environment.

Around the world, we’re consuming more raw materials than the planet can produce. In fact, people internationally have begun marking ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ – an annual date when humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. Earth Overshoot Day is taking place earlier and earlier every year, as we consume more and more limited resources – in 2016, it fell on 3rd August, while in 2010 it was marked on 9th August and in 2000 it occurred on September 23rd.

Manufacturers are becoming increasingly concerned about this issue, and the scarcity of resources needed to keep up with the demand for goods. This has led to a surge in such companies adopting sustainable procurement strategies.

For many organisations, the key to creating these kinds of strategies is to increase the use of reclaimed or recycled materials. Doing so is vital to help reduce the reliance of manufacturers on virgin raw materials and minimise their impact on the wider environment.

Positive steps are already being made within our existing manufacturing infrastructure, but without radical change to the supply chains feeding companies’ production lines, the impact of such measures will be limited. What more can manufacturers do to optimise their use of recycled materials and close the production loop?

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Strive for genuine innovation

If manufacturers – and, indeed architects and designers – are to become truly sustainable, genuine innovation is crucial. This means striving to implement radical change and transformative thinking across their operations.

For Interface, genuine innovation is about spearheading more sustainable ways of working, challenging long-held perceptions and breaking traditions that are held as the norm. This begins with a commitment to measuring the environmental impact of all of our products from the raw materials through to end use, and to using such lifecycle assessments (LCAs) to communicate our flooring’s sustainability to the wider industry.

LCAs are vital to identify exactly where in the supply chain changes can be made to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing processes. However, such changes cannot be achieved by any one company in isolation. When implementing an idea – regardless of how ambitious it may be – getting support from like-minded partners can make it much more effective.

By collaborating with partners, businesses up and down the supply chain can pool resources and share insight and knowledge to overcome a wide range of manufacturing and supply chain challenges, with minimised risk. Such collaboration can come in many forms, from partnership between research bodies and businesses, to forward-thinking companies cooperating with each other to achieve a common goal. A great example is when IKEA partnered with design studio, Form Us With Love, to create a new kitchen range – Kungsbacka – made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. Not only has the partnership helped to create a stylish, yet affordable kitchen collection for the furniture retailer’s customers, it also provides a new, more sustainable source of raw materials for future products.

Partnering to close the loop

More than just improving the sustainability of end products, such partnerships can also help to significantly boost the use of recycled materials and reduce the environmental impact of entire manufacturing operations. Indeed, by working with like-minded partners Interface has been able to achieve a number of breakthrough developments to significantly reduce the reliance on virgin raw materials in the modular flooring supply chain.

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PVB (polyvinyl butyral), for example, is a laminate material found in car windscreen glass that prevents it from shattering, and is a common waste element from the automotive industry. Interface worked with Shark Solutions – a company that specialises in recycling the product – to explore potential uses for the substance in the flooring industry. The result was the development of a solution that extracts PVB from glass, refines it into dispersion, and can act as a precoat to fix yarn to the backing compound when manufacturing Interface flooring.

In 2011, the company developed Fotosfera, the first carpet tile made from biobased yarn. Made from 63% biobased content, the collection utilises oil which comes from the seeds of the castor bean plants. Two years ago, Interface piloted a biobased formaldehyde-free glass fleece for backing and is progressively switching its entire European portfolio to incorporate this new material.

These are just a few examples of how collaboration can help significantly reduce manufacturers’ reliance on virgin raw materials. We at Interface have learnt that, by collaborating with others in our sector and beyond, we can share knowledge and encourage others to find ways to maximise the use of recycled and reclaimed materials in their operations as well.

Innovation for a more sustainable future

To close the production loop, it is crucial that all companies strive to fundamentally rethink how they source raw materials for their products. By looking beyond their own company and sector, and exploring sometimes radical new opportunities, organisations can find previously untapped sources of recycled materials to harness. By doing this, businesses can work together to revolutionise the existing industrial landscape, bringing us even closer to our ultimate goal – to build a more sustainable future for everyone.

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