Interface's QUEST to Reduce Waste

By Chris Ryan
March 5, 2013
Corporate Citizenship Center

What makes a company an environmental leader? There are many characteristics to consider. Vision and commitment from a company’s leadership, particularly the CEO, is imperative. As is a willingness to make big, audacious goals that prioritize long-term value over transient short-term gains. But without buy-in from a company’s employees, otherwise sterling sustainability strategies often fail to meet their full potential.

This idea is one that Interface, one of America’s leading carpet companies and sustainability trailblazers, has embraced and integrated throughout the organization. The company is well known for its iconic founder and former CEO, the late Ray Anderson, as well as its bold Mount Sustainability Mission Zero goals.

Since Ray Anderson pioneered the company’s sustainability goals in 1996, the company has reduced its energy use by 43%, its greenhouse gases by 44%, and increased the amount of renewable energy used by 30%. Much of this success is derived from the fact that employees feel empowered to contribute to the success of Interface’s sustainability goals and have ways to make contributions in their daily jobs.

A great example of Interface’s success in achieving employee engagement around its environmental initiatives is described in Ray Anderson’s book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. When sharing how he came to prioritize sustainability at Interface and how he created the concept of Mount Sustainability Ray stated:

“The desire to climb Mount Sustainability is not limited to the corner office; it is not just another management thing… the person closest to the problem – whether they’re on the factory floor or the loading dock, or in an office ordering supplies – will be your best source of ideas”.

With that spirit in mind, the company created a unique and incredibly effective program to tackle waste: QUEST (Quality Utilizing Employees’ Suggestions and Teamwork). The QUEST program gave pragmatic incentives to employees to find ways to make their daily jobs less wasteful. Employees’ bonuses were tied to sustainability metrics and each QUEST team was encouraged to cut waste by 10% every year.

Interface’s employees responded enthusiastically to the challenge presented by the QUEST program, finding innovative ways to save materials in the manufacturing process and methods to reuse or repurpose materials. In the first 14 years of the QUEST program (through 2008), the company saved a cumulative total of $405 million in costs associated with waste, and reduced the total amount by 77%.

Another important aspect of Interface’s success is its continued dedication to its sustainability vision. Erin Meezan, the Vice President of Sustainability at the company, will speak about Interface’s approach to sustainability and how it keeps its employees engaged and enthusiastic about Mount Sustainability on an upcoming BCLC webinar.

The webinar will be taking place on Tuesday, March 12th, from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. ET. To register for the webinar, please click here.