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Monday, May 12, 2008

Interface Carpets: Leading the Second Industrial Revolution

Did you know that nearly 5 million tons of carpet (about 1.9 billion square yards) was produced in the United States in 1999 using non-renewable petroleum based synthetic fibers, and in that same year 2.4 million tons of the same fibers were discarded into landfills (enough to carpet New York City,) and that it took on average 10.1 gallons of water to produce 1 square yard of carpet (ultimately becoming toxic waste.)  These numbers would be staggering if 1999 represented an industry anomaly, but they don’t, they are a culmination of an industry that has always been determined to grow.

The first woven carpet mill in the United States opened in 1791, using hand operated machines and cotton and wool as its primary resources.  Then, in 1839, the invention of the power loom mechanized the industry and tripled the production of carpets made in the U.S..  By 1923, 83 million square yards of carpet were being produced in the U.S annually, primarily from wool and cotton.  The 1950’s saw the rise of tufted carpet, a process adopted from the production of bedspreads, where a series of needles are used to insert loops of yarn into a primary backing then boiled to shrink and lock the fibers in place.  The introduction of synthetic materials (nylon, polyester, and polypropylene) also began to appear in the 1950’s and 1960’s, allowing carpet to be produced easier and cheaper.  But this also increased the number of pollutants and waste being created by its manufacturing, not to mention the energy used far exceeded the amount of carpet being produced.  In 1994 Ray Anderson, founder and CEO of Interface Carpets, began to challenge the commercial floor covering industry norms by voluntarily changing its production and waste disposal practises.  Interface Carpets began production in 1974 in Atlanta Georgia and twenty years later were one the worlds largest manufactures of commercial floor coverings, utilizing manufacturing locations on four continents and offices in a hundred countries.  But all of their success became secondary in 1994 after Ray Anderson read “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawkins and discovered the environmental impact that carpet manufacturing was having on the environment.  Interface calculated that, in that year alone, they had accumulated 10,447 tons of solid waste, 605.3 million gallons of contaminated water, 704 tons of toxic gases and 62,800 tons of carbon dioxide; plus they were one of the leading contributor’s to the 920 million square yards of used carpets dumped in Americas landfills each year.  It was at this time that Ray Anderson and his company became committed environmentalists. 

How have they done? Since 1996, their green house gas emissions have been cut by 82%, but so has their energy use per unit of output, (down 45%) which means they are making more carpet but using less energy, equaling less emissions and pollution.  In 2007, twenty-five percent of raw materials used in production and manufacturing came from recycled and bio-based raw materials; since 1996 133 million pounds of used carpet, backing, and face fiber have been diverted from landfills and placed into their ReEntry Program saving $67 million by reducing scrap.  In 1999 they converted one of its plants to run off solar energy.  20% of their employees carpool or utilize public transportation, and the company founded the program, CO2mmute which has planted over 7,000 trees in American forest and over 500 in Canada. Ray Anderson calls this change in production practises a “Second Industrial Revolution,” where resource efficiency is more important than labor efficiency. And his company’s new goal, “becoming the world’s first environmentally restorative company by 2020,” thus eliminating the negative environmental effects of the manufacturing of flooring and fabrics.

Sources:
eh.net
Treehugger.com

Posted by chris on 05/12 at 10:25 AM
BuildingFlooring & Floorcoverings

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