Blog, Context clients 04.07.16

Interface looks beyond zero

Interface picture

The bold ambition of Interface’s renowned Mission Zero is a hard act to follow. Its new Climate Take Back goals do not disappoint.

Pioneering spirit

In 1996, Interface’s Mission Zero propelled the little known carpet tile company onto the world stage – at least among the sustainerati. Such a far-reaching vision – to reduce its environmental impacts to zero – was unprecedented at a time when few corporations were talking about sustainability at all. Twenty years on and most have yet to match this level of ambition.

The late, great Ray Anderson, founder and Chairman of Interface, spearheaded the development of Mission Zero in the face of widespread scepticism – not least from his own management team. Won over by his passion and determination, the business has shown an unrivalled dedication to achieving its sustainability ambitions ever since.

Realising a bold ambition

Anderson’s passing did not mean the end of Mission Zero. Far from it. If anything, his loss has catalysed people throughout the business with a strong feeling that it’s up to them now to fulfil Ray’s dream.

The company has made impressive strides since 1996. The average carbon footprint of an Interface carpet tile has halved. For every tile produced, greenhouse gas emissions are down by a whopping 92%, energy use by 45% and water by 87%. Half its traditionally petro-based raw materials are now from recycled or biobased sources and its production sites use 84% renewable energy – 95% in Europe.

Interface has achieved these impressive results by making sustainability part and parcel of the way it works throughout the business.

A mission for everyone

When I visited an Interface site to interview employees about sustainability a few years back, I was met with blank stares everywhere I went. No one seemed to know what I was talking about and I began to question whether this company really was the sustainability leader it professed to be.

But it soon became clear that sustainability – and Mission Zero – really was part of everything that everyone was doing, from the R&D lab to the factory floor. They didn’t understand why I was asking about sustainability because it wasn’t “sustainability” to them, it was just part of what they did every day.

Many companies talk about embedding sustainability, but nowhere else have I come across this level of integration at every level. This is the key to Interface’s success.

Closing in on zero

Interface Sustainability Director, Ramon Arratia, is keen to stress that getting as close as possible to zero impact by 2020 is still the number one priority.

“We’ve still got four years to go on Mission Zero and we are really determined to get as close to zero as we can,” he says. “We’ve already achieved a lot in our factories, we’re doing a lot in the supply chain and we’re still going for 100% bio-based materials in our products. We think we will achieve close to an 80% reduction in embodied carbon by 2020, which is no mean feat.”

Mission Zero is clearly still a huge driver for the business, but it is also starting to think about what comes next.

From negative to positive

As Interface closes in on its goal to eliminate all negative impacts on the environment, its next mission – no less formidable – is to take back our climate. And this time, it’s not just about Interface.

Climate Take Back calls on the world to look beyond mitigation or adaptation to seek a solution to climate change by making four big changes:

  1. Only take what can be replaced
  2. See carbon as a resource
  3. Restore nature’s proven ability to cool
  4. Revolutionise our industries.

Interface wants to see harmful carbon emissions become useful products, factories run like forests, waste become a resource and supply chains benefit everyone.

The company knows it cannot achieve Climate Take Back alone. As Ramon readily admits: “Others will be in a better position to make business out of carbon as a resource. But by being the first to set a goal like this, we hope to encourage others to follow suit. It’s about showing leadership and setting a new benchmark for others companies to rise to.”

Climate Take Back sounds like an impossible dream. But then again, so did Mission Zero. In 1996, Interface had no idea how it would erase its environmental impacts. It was just determined it would.

Time will tell if that same determination will deliver the innovation and partnership we need to take back our climate. I, for one, certainly hope it does.

← Back to Fresh Thinking
Scarlet McBarnet


Experian, GSK, InterfaceFLOR, Vodafone

Pithy writing

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