Industry for Zero Waste
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:20:50 -0500

Carpet firm aims for ultimate reduction goal: zero dumping

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
June 19, 1996
Rebecca McCarthy

Since launching a program to trim all waste from its manufacture of carpet
tiles 15 months ago, Atlanta-based Interface Inc. has saved $ 13 million and
diverted more than half its garbage from landfills.

The 23-year-old Interface is an industry leader, selling more than $ 800
million a year of carpet tiles for commercial buildings in 110 countries. But
CEO Ray Anderson wants it to become a world leader in "industrial ecology" as
well, generating no pollution or waste.

"The only acceptable waste is zero waste, " he said.

Interface recently helped sponsor a forum to introduce other Georgia
businesses to the possibilities of adopting "the Natural Step," a system
originated in Sweden for reducing garbage, waste and pollution. In November, the
company will sponsor a four-day environmental summit for businesses at Lake
Placid, N.Y., and will donate proceeds to a trust fund for the environment.

Making carpet tiles is an energy-intensive process with two-thirds of the
company's raw materials derived from petroleum-based chemicals. Anderson wants
the company to move toward recycling all materials used in production and help
other manufacturers do the same.

In a customer's 45,000-square-foot building in California, the company has
installed carpet tiles that it will replace and recycle.

The company also is working on a way to separate a nylon carpet face from its
polyvinyl backing. It's working with fiber suppliers to produce recycled nylon
indistinguishable from that made from petroleum products. At the plant in
LaGrange, workers remove the carpet backing and ship the separated materials to
other plants to be reused.

"We're very conscious of what we're taking from the Earth, and what we're
doing to the earth with what we make," said Anderson, 62.

Anderson wasn't always an industrial environmentalist. His views changed in
1994 when he read "The Ecology of Commerce" by Paul Hawken, a book that contends
that current business practices are decimating forests, depleting water
resources and eroding topsoil.

"I read that book and it was like a spear in my chest and I couldn't get it
out," Anderson said. "The hard stuff is still ahead, like designing processes
that don't rely on virgin petrochemicals and processes that don't emit anything
that harms the atmosphere or the groundwater. We want to do well by doing good."

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