One company’s mission to reverse global warming

Alumni in Action

As a lead up to Sustainable Brands conference SB’18 , students, alumni, and faculty of our MA in Sustainable Design program interviewed selected speakers — leaders in corporate sustainability initiatives.  In this blog we share our interview with Erin Meezan, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Interface.

Erin Meezan, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, leads the company on an audacious bold new mission “Climate Take Back,” which is focused on reversing global warming and not just reducing carbon emissions. So how can businesses go from doing less harm to creating positive impact and social change?

Tell us about  “Factory as a Forest: The Methodology, Measurement and Implementation behind a Move from Zero Footprint to Positive Impact.”

I’m super excited to co-launch a methodology with Biomimicry 3.8 on how factories can become positive contributors to their communities. Nicole Miller, from Biomimicry 3.8, and I discuss how we can transform from zero footprint factory spaces to factory spaces that provide the same benefits as high-performing ecosystems. We leave the audience with tools to take back to their organizations and ask “what if our space acted as a forest – what would we do or change?”

It’s been a 2-year exploration we’ve named Factory as a Forest. It helps us benchmark ourselves against a local ecosystem and challenge our factories to become positive.

Working with Biomimicry 3.8 we’ve measured high-performing local ecosystems near our factory in Georgia, understood their key functions, identified those benefits and asked ourselves if our local factory could provide the same benefits. So, the Biomimicry team has developed a methodology looking at how these ecosystems store carbon, how they manage water distribution and soil enrichment and how the ecosystem protect its inhabitants.

After evaluating those key areas, we set goals for our factory to deliver the same benefits. The last step was implementing design strategies and technology that help our factories operate as the local ecosystem does. We’ll share some of our early thinking on what we could do to become more like a forest and what we are implementing as we progress on this exciting project.   

Interface uses biomimicry as a key sustainable design approach in the design of their carpets. What are 3 lessons that businesses can learn from nature?

  1. There is no waste in nature. Everything has a purpose.
  2. Nature uses, emits and stores carbon. Carbon is emitted into the atmosphere in nature, but it’s also absorbed by carbon sinks. Business should look at how we use carbon as a resource.
  3. No two things are identical in nature. This allows flexibility for imperfection in design, especially with dye lots and pattern, which also helps eliminate waste.

How can companies make design an integral part of their business strategy?

Design is important in every aspect of a business, regardless of whether you’re selling a product or a service, and good design can change our experience and our lives.

We know people in all settings react well to nature-inspired design, or biophilic design. Biophilic design brings naturally-occurring patterns and colors indoors. In fact, employees who work in environments with natural elements report a 15% higher level of well-being, are 6% more productive and 15% more creative overall.

Are there any special programs or initiatives that you’d like the audience at SB Vancouver to take away lessons from?

We hope our conversation inspires the audience to ask how their offices, organizational spaces and factories could become positive contributors to the communities around them with some of our examples and tools. We’d be super excited to see the audience share and react to our ideas on social media and for the  conversation continue after Sustainable Brands.

If you’d like to learn more about how to apply biomimicry and design thinking to the world’s biggest challenges, explore our fully online MA in Sustainable Design program!

Interview by Dawn Keene, MASD 2013

Image courtesy of slideshare/sustainablebrands

Dawn Keene

Dawn Keene is a sustainable design strategist based in Atlanta. She works with a variety of businesses and organizations to create products and services that transforms behavior and processes that create positive environmental and social impact. Dawn serves on the sustainability committee of AIGA, the professional organization for design, Atlanta Chapter. Dawn graduated from MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program in 2013. Dawn is based in Georgia.