Collaborating for sustainable manufacturing excellence

Posted on 13 Apr 2018 by The Manufacturer

The Manufacturer MX Award for Sustainable Manufacturing 2017 was won by a manufacturer who fosters collaboration between sites, customers & suppliers to achieve the highest standards.

Steven Barr talked with Adrian Marks, site manager at Interface’s Craigavon facility, about vision, investment, collaboration, sustainable manufacturing and payback.

sustainable manufacturing - Interface is a truly global manufacturer of nylon and vinyl carpet tiles, with sites in the UK and Netherlands, North & South America, Asia, Australia & New Zealand – image courtesy of Interface.
Interface is a truly global manufacturer of nylon and vinyl carpet tiles, with sites in the UK and Netherlands, North & South America, Asia, Australia & New Zealand – image courtesy of Interface.

Sustainable manufacturing is a broad subject covering all aspects of environmental impact, energy use and waste reduction; and this is examined by The Manufacturer MX Award judges in all dimensions of the business – from leadership to products and production, to facilities, suppliers and customers, and to wider society.

Environmental performance has to work alongside return on investment in the bottom line of a sustainable manufacturing business. I put it to Adrian that although winning this award is tough, is it so hard to balance costs and benefits?

“The Manufacturer MX Award interview process was challenging. Even before that, creating and delivering our Mission Zero plan was a big effort,” said Adrian.

“We set ourselves the goal of zero negative effects from our operations by 2020, a huge challenge, and we have achieved so much”.

The result of all this effort is that Interface factories send no waste to landfill at all. Greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 98% over 20 years, and use of renewable energies is up to 95%.

Continuous improvement

The values of Mission Zero are built into Interface’s kaizen culture. That means the company’s staff are focused on continuous improvement in a wide range of business performance measures, including impact, energy and waste.

Their efforts have resulted in key changes that are moving Interface swiftly towards its goal of zero impact.

Interface works closely with its materials suppliers at first, second and third tiers to make use of more sustainable bio-based materials. And here we can see the vision of zero net impact on the environment taken to its (zoo)logical conclusion.

Interface has partnered with the London Zoological Society and fishermen in the Philippines to collect and recycle old nylon fishing nets. Recycled and bio-based materials now make up half of the raw materials used by Interface.

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The Manufacturer MX Award 2018 TMMX Entry Promo

The effect on profit and loss

I talked to Adrian about the bottom line. Surely all the new equipment Interface has invested in to reduce energy consumption and improve recycling has increased costs? And what about all the effort inside the business and with partners? How can that be financially as well as environmentally sustainable in a highly competitive industry?

It is true that in some markets the cost drivers will always dominate. The consistent answer was that Interface’s aim was always to differentiate itself in the more advanced economies, where sustainable products and production are valued.

“Interface has invested over £1m per year in biogas and renewable energy, in electric factory vehicles and many other changes – a lot for a textiles company,” said Adrian.

“In Europe, North America and the Middle East, where legislation requires the environment to be taken seriously, we have gone much further than mere compliance. We differentiate by setting the bar at the highest possible level, and judging by our market share our customers value this.

“At the same time, we have reduced running costs dramatically, and overall the return on our investments have been very positive,” he continued.

It seems Interface’s P&L is as healthy as they would like the environment to be. How did they keep the cash-flow balance positive?

Interface at The Manufacturer MX Awards 2017 - image courtesy of The Manufacturer.
Interface celebrating at The Manufacturer MX Awards 2017 – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

“The Mission Zero vision was a revolution for Interface when it first came in 20 years ago”, Adrian explained, “And it forced us to be much more joined up between our three European sites”.

These large units at Craigavon, Halifax and Scherpenzeel in the Netherlands had to set aside healthy competition and share experiences of environmental and energy savings in order to drive improvements quickly across the business.

Advice for other companies

I finished by asking what tips and tricks could Interface share with other companies in other industries? What does it take for a manufacturer to be truly sustainable?

“Having an inspiring vision comes first,” said Adrian. “Everyone here shares the aim of improving the environment as the main way of securing the future of the company.

“We’ve had to be tenacious to keep going, although the risks did look considerable, and keeping an eye on the cumulative benefits really helped. The third thing I would say is that effective communications are so important, at all levels and in all activities.

“And as part of that open approach our bonus structure incentivises everyone to make a difference.”

As if Mission Zero were not enough, Interface is moving on to look at schemes for carbon sequestration and other ways of giving back whatever they take from the earth.

‘Climate Take Back’ is bigger than Interface’s own business and immediate stakeholders. The journey has started – with a consultation with climate experts and business leaders and a new vision for what could be achieved.

We wish them well and look forward to an even more inspiring story of sustainable manufacturing in years to come.

Dr Steven Barr is a chartered engineer and expert in manufacturing business strategy  and performance. He is the managing director of Hennik Edge, The Manufacturer’s networked expert advisory team, and is an active contributor to university research on collaborative decision-making. Steven is a member of several industry panels promoting the adoption of digital technologies and new business models in manufacturing.