Interface Carpet is a large carpet company. This description is from Natural Capital, p. 139: “Chairman Ray Anderson realized that not throwing more energy and money into holes in the ground (i.e. dumps) represents a major business opportunity. Interface therefore launched a transition from selling carpet to leasing floor covering services. People want to walk on and look at carpet, not own it. They can obtain those services at much lower cost if Interface owns the carpet and remains responsible for keeping it clean and fresh in return for a monthly fee under the company’s Evergreen Lease.”

Note that leasing is not an end in itself. What counts is what is done with leased goods. If the lessor simply takes back his goods and discards them, what benefit does that bring? One thing that Interface did was to move from large carpets to carpet tiles. Breaking up large surfaces into manageable pieces this way is an essential step in covering myriad large surfaces, not just floors. They include walls, concrete pads, roofs etc. It allows the replacement of worn or broken pieces individually and makes it possible to disassemble rather than demolish at the end of life. Imagine if your roof was made of a single piece of ceramic instead of tiles. You could not replace a portion of it as needed. However, that works better on a floor slab which is supported on the ground.

Milliken Carpet in the UK went through a similar development but they managed to take it one step further. They developed a non-adhesive method for securing the tiles to the floor so that they could pull up tiles without leaving a gob of hardened adhesive on the floor.

The next thing I would like to know is whether Interface has found a way to design the fibers and backing that make up the carpet in such a way that they too can be disassembled, or separated. Is there a way to attach the fibers to the backing that allows repair or reuse? Without this, we cannot talk about an optimum zero waste design.

As one suggestion, since we are working with fibers anyway, it seems reasonable to turn to the velcro design for holding the working surface of the carpet to the backing. The more that carpets can be retrieved, renewed and reused, the better off we are. Backings provide the foot-feel of the carpet and it would be easier to make them thicker and more robust and longer lived if one knew that they would be used for a hundred years, even if changes in fashion caused the top surface to become obsolete. A ZW principle is that when lifetimes can be lengthened, the materials and construction of goods can be improved because of the longer period of amortization. Perhaps it would be an improvement if the vertical fibers were attached directly to a lightweight support which was then attached removably to the heavy backing. If nothing better can be found, the fibers at least could be made from polymers capable of being depolymerized into lightweight monomers which could be separated from dirt by distillation into clean monomer.

Here is a new wrinkle on carpet design. It allows for a high tolerance for unusual tile designs, so even worn pieces might look like they fit in.

Unrepeatable Carpets


A collaboration between visual artist Marcel Kronenburg and software engineer Marten Teitsma, Unrepeatable Carpets are the result of a process designed to create unique carpet patterns throughout buildings. A reaction against the repetitive monotony of standard carpet tiles, Unrepeatable Carpets apply randomly generated images and patterns to a variety of carpet materials. Custom-designed software runs a computer-controlled carpet printing machine, and this process generates an endless variety of outcomes using a particular decorative pattern. Due to the universal quality of the pattern, however, tiles may still be easily replaced when necessary.

Click here for more information.


SOME SOBER REFLECTION – It is probably not much of an exaggeration to say that Interface Carpet never truly lived up to its reputation. Anderson introduced carpet leasing and talked a Zero Waste line but he never found a way to really make carpets reusable. Instead, he got a free pass from the environmental movement which often confuses the superficial with the substantial. Confusing leasing with reuse reminds me of the free pass that Bill McDonough got for using plastic pages instead of paper in his book Cradle to Cradle (see bibliography). Neither one makes any environmental sense.


Now in 2014, we learn from the pages of Upstream (Carpet Recycling failure) that the actual amount of carpet recycling in California recently hovers around 5% (all reported recycling numbers are mendaciously large so 1% may be closer). We are told that 2% were incinerated and 93% were tossed into dumps. What else would you expect from a thoughtlessly designed product that indissolubly attaches polyester or nylon fibers to a polyurethane backing with strong glues and then mixes lots of dirt into the product. The article bemoans the carpet industry’s lack of effort toward recycling but of course it gives no examples of how carpets even could be recycled theoretically. It is so much easier to criticize someone else than figure out how things SHOULD be done. 

The failure of carpet recycling points up the hopelessness of many cities trying to reach that unattainable goal of Zero Waste by 100% recycling. There are hundreds of items like carpet that have no identifiable recycling pathway, even if recycling (whatever that might mean) were a desirable goal which it is not.

The plain fact is that there will be no progress in reusing this product until the entire concept of tacking down immovable carpet to a floor is rethought and redesigned. Fortunately there exist other ways of accomplishing more or less the same thing that other cultures have developed. Woven straw mats, wooden squares, ceramic tiles are possibilities. In every mosque in the Muslim world (I may have missed a few) the floors are covered with lovely knotted rugs that can be individually removed and vigorously washed with high pressure hoses, then dried in the sun. If the softness is desirable, hard floors can be covered with throw rugs. A rug industry could arise which creates rugs of just the right size to cover particular floors without being fastened down. Special, very user friendly fasteners could be developed that would hold a rug temporarily but easily release. Velcro anyone?

Paul Palmer



News Flash – August 2011

Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface Carpet, died today. One of my fondest
memories is Mr. Anderson reciting this poem, written by an employee at
Interface who, like Ray, woke up to see that he was making unthinking
choices that would affect his unborn child. /Bill S.

Tomorrow’s Child

Without a name; an unseen face
and knowing not your time nor place
Tomorrow’s Child, though yet unborn,
I met you first last Tuesday morn.

A wise friend introduced us two,
and through his shining point of view
I saw a day that would see;
a day for you, but not for me.

Knowing you has changed my thinking,
for I never had an inkling
That perhaps the things I do
might someday, somehow, threaten you.

Tomorrow’s Child, my daughter-son,
I’m afraid I’ve just begun
To think of you and of your good,
though always having known I should.

Begin I will to weigh the cost
of what I squander; what is lost
If ever I forget that you
will someday come to live here too.

Glen Thomas – employee Interface

A green giant passes: Ray Anderson, sustainable-biz pioneer, dies at 77
Death notice


Way back in the ’90s, before every company under the sun wanted to be seen
as green, Ray Anderson started trying to make his business truly
sustainable. Not we-buy-carbon-offsets sustainable or
look-at-our-recycled-packaging sustainable, but real-deal sustainable.

In 1994, his world was rocked by reading Paul Hawken’s book
(see our bibliography) The Ecology of Commerce, an experience Anderson described as being hit with a “spear in the chest.” The book pinpointed business and industry as the biggest force for environmental destruction, but also the most potentially powerful force for positive change. It forced Anderson to recognize himself as a “plunderer of the earth” and inspired him to embark on a multi-step process to become “a recovering plunderer.”

Under his leadership, the carpet company he founded in the 1970s,
<> Interface, set forth on “Mission Zero” — aiming for zero waste, zero impact, and zero footprint by 2020. For Interface, Anderson said, sustainability meant “eventually operating our petroleum-intensive company in such a way as to take from the earth only what can be renewed by the earth naturally and rapidly, not another fresh drop of oil, and to do no harm to the biosphere. Take nothing. Do no harm.”
In 2009, in a Grist article, he told Grist that his company was halfway there.

Mission Zero, according to Anderson, has been incredibly good for business — bringing costs down, boosting morale up, and attracting a lot of customers. Anderson’s proselytizing — he gave more than 1,000 speeches and wrote first one book, and a second — convinced a lot of other business leaders to take up the sustainability challenge, from mom-and-pop outfits all the way up to Walmart.