When designing an environmentally friendly office space, you may not think about the impact of what’s under your feet. Maybe you’re more concerned about the air-conditioning system or lighting, but the carbon footprint of flooring, with lots of square feet to cover, can add up.
Interface, the largest global carpet tile manufacturer, has long thought about the carbon footprint of its carpet tiles, and since 2018 all of the company’s products have been carbon neutral, through both manufacturing processes and carbon offsets. Not accounting for offsets, Interface’s carpet tiles have had an average carbon footprint of 5.2 kilograms of CO2 per square meter, says Erin Meezan, the Atlanta-based company’s chief sustainability officer.
Interface’s competitors, she adds, have carbon footprints that range from 8 to 21 kilograms per square meter. Those calculations are Environmental Product Declarations, verified by a third party, and are “cradle to gate,” meaning they take into account everything from how the raw materials of the yarn and carpet backing are sourced, to the manufacturing process, up to when the carpet is ready to be sent to a customer. Now the company is launching a carbon-negative tile, which sequesters more carbon than its production requires.
It’s necessary because yards and yards of carpet—even carpet with a small footprint—can have a big environmental impact. One recent Interface project, for example, required 135,000 square yards of carpet, which amounts to 1,000 metric tons of CO2 (the equivalent of driving an average passenger vehicle more than 2.4 million miles). Through four projects for one customer over the course of a year, Interface installed more than 378,000 square yards of carpet, equivalent to 2,925 metric tons of carbon dioxide. “So imagine if you’re thinking about something like Salesforce Tower, or how much carpet gets bought in the city of San Francisco and you multiply that out, it has the potential to be really significant in the built environment space,” Meezan says.
Interface’s new carbon-negative carpet tile—part of the Embodied Beauty collection, and which comes in three styles—is made of recycled yarn and carpet tile backing, uses a more sustainable manufacturing process, and includes the use of new biomaterials that themselves store carbon. The specific biomaterials are proprietary, Meezan says, but she notes that they are plant-based and “rapidly renewable.” Together, those changes bring the cradle-to-gate carbon footprint down to -0.4 kilograms per meter squared, without the use of carbon offsets. But Interface will also purchase carbon offsets to cover the carbon impact of shipping the tiles and customer maintenance like vacuuming.
Meezan sees this carbon-negative carpet appealing to companies that are looking to meet their carbon goals, universities that are trying to have a lower carbon footprint, and governments that are thinking more about the environmental impact of their purchases. The Buy Clean California Act, for example, requires the state to consider the carbon cost of the materials used in infrastructure projects, from steel and glass to insulation and flooring.
She also hopes it can inspire more companies to consider the carbon footprint of all the products within our buildings. Building materials and construction account for 11% of global CO2 emissions; building operations like heating and lighting account for another 28%. “If we want to decarbonize as quickly as possible, we need carbon-negative products, and not just from Interface,” she says. “We need paints, we need ceiling tiles, we need everything that goes into the built environment.”