Talking Architecture & Design

Episode 58: Aidan Mullan from Interface talks about floors, floor design, building waste, sustainability and is there such a thing as smart flooring?

October 23, 2020 Architecture & Design Season 4 Episode 58
Talking Architecture & Design
Episode 58: Aidan Mullan from Interface talks about floors, floor design, building waste, sustainability and is there such a thing as smart flooring?
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Talking Architecture & Design
Episode 58: Aidan Mullan from Interface talks about floors, floor design, building waste, sustainability and is there such a thing as smart flooring?
Oct 23, 2020 Season 4 Episode 58
Architecture & Design

Aidan Mullan, the Interface Engineering and Sustainability Manager about company initiatives, processes and methods, and where the evolution of technology is headed. 

With sustainability being at the core of everything that Interfacer does, Mullan describes how flooring manufacture is key to achieving sustainability across our built environment.

Show Notes Transcript

Aidan Mullan, the Interface Engineering and Sustainability Manager about company initiatives, processes and methods, and where the evolution of technology is headed. 

With sustainability being at the core of everything that Interfacer does, Mullan describes how flooring manufacture is key to achieving sustainability across our built environment.

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] I'm Branca melodic . Thanks for listening to talking architecture and design brought you in association with the architecture and design network. The ind network proudly presents the sustainability awards. Now in their 14th year, you can find more [email protected] .

Speaker 2:

Today we are speaking with ed Mullin , the interface engineering and sustainability manager about company initiatives, processes methods, and where the evolution of technology for flooring is headed into phase . Of course , I had global flooring company specializing in , uh , carbon neutral, tall and resilient flooring, including luxury volatile , tall and Nora rubber flooring. So welcome. I'm Molly . Uh , can you tell me a bit about interface yourself and of course your role there?

Speaker 3:

Well, of course, interface is a global company , uh, very much specializing in the manufacturer and supply of resilient flooring Statuspage to the commercial markets, but here in Australia, we we've segmented much more we're in hospitality, education , uh, et cetera , et cetera. Um, and of course, interface has been around for a long time. I mean, initially started up by Rams and back in , uh , 73. Um, and then you had Ray as a, me as a spear in the chest epiphany in 84, where he had sort of a mid-course correction and she has the whole direction of the company regarding giving it a purpose. In other words, that we would do no harm to the environment, to our business activity. And, you know, I joined the company myself , uh, about 10 years ago, August, 2010. And initially I was a bit skeptical about the score that the green credentials that interferes health. Um, but within months of joining the company, I realized that this was a company with purpose. And for me, you know what I love the design we sell. Um, what I love the people in the company, just really, what gets me out of bed in the morning is purpose that underpins everything we do. And that's, that's key. I'm a mechanical engineer. I effectively, my career started in the petrochemical industry. Interestingly enough, one of the key tenants of Ray's mission was to cut that umbilical cord to petrochemicals. Uh , and that suited me fine because I moved from petrochemicals into phyto medicines, and now I'm in the carpet industry. Uh , so, you know, it's great to be here and it's great to be work with a company that has a sense of purpose and a sense of doing the right thing.

Speaker 2:

Interesting. EO Raul says sustainability manager. I mean, normally ironically, even Faiza has come across people that would that a name on their business card. Um, did the role exist before you arrived at a device and, and , and you know, how long has it, has it been as that role been focused within the company? Oh, look very

Speaker 3:

Much so within interferes, we've had sustainability managers really, I say very early on in our sort of journey into mission zero. So for mid nineties onwards, we were looking at sustainability might have been called something different back then. I'm not sure of what the , certainly there was a sustainability manager here at mental previous to my arrival. I took up the reins from him and initially my, my whole input was about maintaining that culture that we actually have around mission zero and our own sustainability within the organization. You know, people often talk about also scalability is in our DNA and really, I understand what I've been quoted as saying that, but when you look at what it means, and when you look at what purpose means, it's in everybody's DNA, it's a question of just being the catalyst to tap into that, the spark that ignites it, everybody's in the same boat here, we're on the same planet. So it's true to say that sustainability is in everyone's DNA, but certainly within interference , we've copped into that and being a part of our culture.

Speaker 2:

Okay. Well, let's say that . So let's say in the time that you've been in business, let's talk about the , the whole industry for a moment. Have you signed the cop at all or the flooring industry develop a move towards a sustainable sort of outcome or is it always a little bit more sporadic and not industry wide?

Speaker 3:

No , I think actually because of Ray, Anderson's initial as a spear in the chest with Tiffany and this initiative to change from a technique we're smaller to one that's cyclical. I emulate nature, we become as food. Um, he took the leadership in that and really within the flooring industry, I think it just interferes a set, basically the gold standard and the flooring industry itself is way ahead of most industries when it comes to sustainability. And I think that's all done to raise leadership in the early sort of , uh , 19 or 2019 or 19 losing track of time here. And we're in an Alex Cedric 29 , uh , 1984 onwards. Um, and I think having that leadership, all other companies, competitors with ourselves , uh , have followed suit and, and really the influence that interferes has gone way beyond the boundaries of the faculty itself. So I would say, you know, when you actually look at it, I mean , you look at what's out there at the moment when you're riding interiors flooring is right out of the front when it comes to sustainability.

Speaker 2:

Okay. So getting back to interfacing , um, let's talk about , um, considerations for materials , selection. Uh, what does carbon neutral mean actually in times of a flooring company? Um, and also I've noticed a lot of flooring has liable certifications, yada yada, you know , there's onto , along with the carbon positive roadmap. How does , um , that'll fit in with wanting to face? Does

Speaker 3:

Look , I suppose, first and foremost, your certifications aside and labels and standards, not interface has always taken the role of first of all, leadership, what are we, what are we doing here? So we were very much aware that we're working with limited resources that we have to change the way we do things. And then we look at the materials we use in our product. We basically look at it through three lenses, green chemistry. Is it healthy for human and environment? Secondly, embodied carbon. This is so important to us now because obviously climate change is the biggest impact on human health. It's the biggest factory fierce. So therefore embodied carbon within the product is so important. And thirdly, circular economy, you know, if you are working with limited resources, you really actually have to cut that umbilical cord to the petrochemicals. As I said earlier, and start working on materials that already exist. So with those three lenses, we have developed our processes and our products, and I think that's what important. And of course, along the way to have them accepted , uh , you must be transparent in what you do. So we have certifications, you know, you've got your type one type two type three equals the others . We have all the table and equally, and they're really good. They're , they're very, very vital in our industry to make sure that when someone's selecting a product that no was fit for purpose, it's not toxic as healthy for human health and environmental health. That's important. I think for us, the key is the tape three equally about really the environmental product declaration, which basically puts up front. We work with a badge as a badge of honor, what our environmental impacts are for our product. Not saying whether it's good , bad , or different, but it says, these are the impacts from our product. The emissions at every stage of that product , life cycle are detailed within that document. And they're published and it's for public access. And I think this is a weird thing because it gives the person who are selecting materials for other , their building or their project was an interior or whatever. They can look at the raw materials and go, yeah, look, these are the impacts of this material. It's third party verified scientific data, and it's comparing apples with apples.

Speaker 2:

It's great . Is it unique to interface?

Speaker 3:

Not really. Although having said that, I believe we were the first company in North America flooring company , North America to actually put EPDs out there. And this is back in 2011. So I used to refer to the sort of trapping with one hand. We had our potential. So front, we're not at the compare with now. It is ubiquitous. EPDs are everywhere. And if you look at anyone who is serious about heading for a net zero future, as particularly within the build environment, then EPDs are lightened to that. So anyone who doesn't have an EPD for their product probably won't get that product accepted by a , um , discerning builders, architects, and designers.

Speaker 2:

Um, you talk about emission as being a climate take back . I believe that's that's the terminology use. What does this entail? And can you provide more detail about this , this, this sustainability strategy? And does it also extend beyond just manufacturing and then post disposal or post use dispose robber ?

Speaker 3:

Sure. Look, we started with mission zero and this was really raised , uh, initiative and his, his , his journey to bring the company to a position where it's doing no harm to the environment. Now he sat at the , at , at 2020 on that. And we were sat . We celebrate the success and achieving our mission zero goals last year, November, 2019. So, but back in 2016, we had a new CEO on board and he basically asked the employee the questions where we're getting to the stage where, you know, we're coming close to getting our mission zero goals. What are we going to do next? And doing a survey globally to all our companies, two responses come back. One, it must be an audacious goal, like mission zero, you know, negative impact on the environment. Secondly , um, it has to be restorative because at that stage we saw that duty , no harm was not good enough. We really had to become restorative. And if you look at architects that Claremont , they look at regenerative design, we're talking the same thing. So repairing the damage that we've done. So we came to that realization and that's where we kicked off the next stage of our journey. And we call that claim of tip back. Um, and it is a plan and it's the plan that requires a lot more collaboration than mission zero mission zero. We could achieve 80% of it really on our own and working with our suppliers. But we are looking at climate, a carpet company, even one interface. It's not going to change the world in that respect, it's going to require radical collaboration. So there are four real elements to train the tape back first, live zero. That means eliminate your waste , get your circular economy going, doing no harm. That's what that's about. The next one, we call it low carbon. And this is really seen carbon , uh, not as a challenge, which it is at the mall, but we see it as an opportunity. So carbon is a fundamental building block of life. If we can actually look at the carbon that is accumulating in our atmosphere, due to our activities and actions, we believe we can take that back and we can actually get that into durable materials that we can then make products with. And that's exactly what we're doing with the new product launch that we're having later this year in the U S and next year here in Australia, or it could introduce a carbon negative tie , third one left nature. Could we have to stop deforestation, polluting our oceans. We have to give nature the ability to breathe more. I mean, it's that simple , uh, to all our activities , uh , we've actually overloaded nature. Nature has a natural cycle for removing carbon from the atmosphere. We call it a photosynthesis through the oceans, to our forests, and we really have to be able to get back to loving nature. Cool. So we can have a biosphere that's fit for life. And the fourth one, which is very important is leading the industrial revolution. And that really is about radical collaboration. That's about going beyond the boundaries of our manufacturing facilities are flowing companies. That's involving stakeholders and government education community. That's what it's about. And we firmly believe that there's a precedent for taking climate black, holding the ozone layer as a real example. And we believe that we've changed claimant by accident. We can change it back with intent has to be at the issue the manufacturers go . Now it's not CFC. So it's a bit like the tobacco industry. No, it's not the tobacco industry. It's a bit know that the fossil fuel industry, no us , not us. We are not doing this. This is natural event, you know , and carbon is good for you. Um, but at the time it was real leadership there. Uh, not two of my favorite people, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, my God didn't, they do a good job in regulating CFCs and pushing regulation to , to , to , to a point where the , the, the Montreal protocol, hundreds of chemicals with them banned and reduced. So, you know, I think it's just the proof is in the action and the leadership. That's really the analogy I draw . We need leadership .

Speaker 2:

It's interesting that that sort of politics was on the forefront or leadership for the , or , you know , pushing the Montreal protocol. Now within two decades, they actually flipped them and became the, you know, the, the, the nice size of climate change, which is really an interesting change in perspective. But I think,

Speaker 3:

Yes, and I think, you know, again, it's similar comparisons with the present COVID , uh , crisis , um, believes the Santas work off the data, you know, it's about measurement and it's about coming to conclusion scientific conclusions about root cause analysis. What's , what's the cause of this. Then you can do something about it rather than wringing your hands or denial. I think that's exactly the point I'd make.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Um, I've got to say that I sort of , uh , price book nine just recently that the climate change and COVID are caused by fat in cows. Well , what we talk about that being the global thing. So overall, what does, what role does flooring fly in the level of waste generated by the building? So all the building construction design, you know , the industry Rollo and yeah , I mean, that sicker apparently itself is a 25 to 35% of all land toys . Does it not all there abouts roughly? Um, what is, is there a figure for how much flooring takes up over it or contribute ?

Speaker 3:

Again, it's very, very hard sometimes to get the , the , the data. Um , and again, you know, I'm not sure it's been , uh , um, analyzed that close to here in Australia, but it's probably not gonna , you know, 30 million square meters a year going to landfill that's I figured that I've heard quota , um, which is now you could argue that, okay, that material is a nerd . You're going to put it in a hole in the ground. It's not what I do, no harm, super that's fine. But how do you replace that material? You extract more oil and you manufacture more polymers to produce more carpet or whatever. And that really is the issue. So I , and it's morally wrong to have that amount we asked that could be actually we used, and I think interface always had this vision. And again, you know, ransom was excellent putting it in perspective. He saw a future where you take materials that already exist and using the sunshine, renewable energy, you could create new products. And that was what spurred him on to thinking, right? We've got all our carpet. Landfills will be the mines of the future. You be going to landfills, if you know where the stuff has gone and digging up the raw materials that you can actually reuse if you've been developed a process, but rather than we have , then the key is to stop a bull in there in the first place. Yeah. Yep . And, and we , we, we have a number of , of , of , of operations that we use here. We have our factories to zero and we're eliminating the waste first and foremost, is that the priority? So it's okay to say, Oh, we've just this weird spot we recycle it . So even recycling for me is we as , because we shouldn't have to reduce that waste in the first place, but then what happens to your , your product on this end of life ? Um , that's a valuable raw material and really what you should do for a , to circular economy has been T and ownership of that. So get it back in the sand of life and reuse it. And that's exactly what we've done with our re-entry process. And we're scaling that up since we developed that in the early two thousands to the point where we've actually got our own system here in us , three to take Harvard back

Speaker 1:

[inaudible]

Speaker 2:

Do you think that perhaps the pandemic is actually helping lower the amount of Weiss because that's a low , low, and Nate, I first I should ask, are you seeing a lower need for flow ?

Speaker 3:

That's a very leading question and I'm just really happy to answer sort of chomping at the bit here. We, matter of fact, you're here in Australia and I have to say this to Franco. We've been running pretty flat out here in our , uh, in our operation here in manufacturing here in Sydney. Um, and , and w we're we're seeing globally that sort of big drops elsewhere here in Australia because the pandemic has been managed. And I think this is key. Um, there, there, there is a , a lot more confidence out there in the market , uh, and where we are seeing some decreases of gas last year, we're seeing increases in some of the segments decreases in dollar , but in other ways, we're actually motoring along very, very nicely. And in fact, I think, you know, the pandemic has sort of put the focus on Australia manufacturing, you know, how do you get stuff in here? How do you get to fast? And I think we picked up a lot of business because of that, because we're here. Uh , and I think, you know, the pandemic will give us a lot of lessons about how we should live once we start to come out of it, it's probably a bit early to say where the flooring industry will be in a year or two to three years time, you know, given the whole community and thing, you know, people are working from home. What I firmly believe we're social animals. We need to be working together. Um, but some people can work from home. I think there will be a lot of time spent still in the workplace. And I think really that won't affect , I think the commercial aspect of industry moving forward

Speaker 2:

On that point has, has the pandemic and , you know, and the ensuing , you know, sort of social distancing, yada yada audience , as that actually fake to the Y you know, you go back your work, your daily work in your factory .

Speaker 3:

I'll give an example. I do an awful lot of sustainability training with our sales and marketing teams, and I've actually found that it has improved the ability of people to sit there, join a team session , um, and , and, and get more interactive. Whereas when you're sitting around a big table, sometimes people won't put up their hand and ask the question and they'd be reluctant to step out, but when you're on teams, you get your chats not going. That's pretty, pretty cool. It also means the meetings are on time. So st and they finish contacting , you know , um, uh , and, and I think even from a point of time management, you can actually organize it a bit better. You're not sitting in a meeting room, waiting for people to arrive. People tend to be a lot more punctual. I have phoned via zoom in teams, but I still believe you do need that face to face interaction. And a lot of our employees would feel that here in manufacturing, everybody comes to work every day, they plop in, they go through all the routines, managing how we actually avoid , uh , any risk of infection due to the pandemic. We haven't had one kiss, but on the other side , uh , the, the, the commercial teams who are actually out there are very much, particularly in Victoria, restricted the whole . And that's difficult, especially in a business that if you are selling, you really do need to start face to face with clients. So there are horses for courses. Some people can work very well from home. I stay at it probably more than likely even customer service people. They're a voice on a phone and they have access to all the data. So really they do not have to be here. And sometimes working from home means less interference from others or time Steelers walking past your desk. So there's lots of advantages, but I think the big disadvantages, we're social animals, we need human interaction. And I think you'll see that coming back to probably normality as pre pre COVID.

Speaker 2:

Let's talk about the future. So I, you know, in , in w in the magazine and I, over the years now, we've written and heard a lot about smart buildings and smart windows and smart toilets and spot groups, even. Yes . Um, will we ever see a smart floor

Speaker 3:

Look , uh, you know, it affects a seven , a lot of kittens or the years was , was with sort of really cute ideas about flooring. Um, I think to design, there's an element there. I mean, for instance, during the present crisis, we have developed where finder tiles that people can pick up a tile from the floor and put in arrows , they're gonna have zones that are CF stones and all the rest of it . So you can actually Mark your floor to show where you should stand, or shouldn't stand to enter that would enhance or support social distance . In at the moment, the floor is very flexible from that point of view. I think the smartest really comes from the materials that are used in it. And the point of view of earlier , uh , you know, we've gone to the point where we're doing no harm. So we've reduced our carbon footprint by 74% of the state since we started the journey 25 years ago. Uh, we, it actually, I'm still impressed by the stats . And I rub shoulders with the sustainability managers from a lot of companies that is an imperative because, you know, we talked earlier about carbon neutral and carbon neutral floors offsets are really useful mechanisms for going above and beyond , uh, your, your, your journey towards reducing your impact on the environment. But they're not a substitute for reducing your emissions. And for us, we introduced carbon neutral floors right across the full life cycle of the product from extraction to end of life. So the a hundred percent travel in Utah , but that's about 25% of our emissions that we actually offset. That's a step installed for us to go to the next stage where we're starting to use some very innovative materials in our carpet to become carbon negative. So we're using nature by OBS campuses to produce a carbon negative carpet tile , which we are launching commercially into the market in the U S this month and next year in Australia. So I think that's where the smartness lays on our product. Um, obviously even ramps and thought of the carpet Taylor , initially, he thought, yeah, this is the office of the future. You drop your tea this tight. I take it up. And I put a new table down another area where it was very smart. I thought , um , was biomimetic design work where we, Emily nature, we went for the first random design and the carpet design from a sustainability point of view, an environmental impact point of view. That was a very successful project because by going to a random design, it meant we used less product to cover a floor. There was less installation of clots , so less waste for installation. So you go from 15% waste down to 2% waste. And that meant that we had to produce less carpet to cover a floor. So just by design, we're reducing our impact. So it's not all technical engineering stuff. Design plays a big part in that. Well, and I'm not sure that answers your question, smartness .

Speaker 2:

It does. Condo does probably more going in down the tech path, but that's, that's, I mean, the word smart has got a lot of connotations and a lot of angles and a lot of meanings . So that that's actually, that's an interesting what you said. So on that point then , would you say that a flooring is kind of like the quiet achiever when it comes to, you know , um , sustainability? I mean, we hear a lot about, you know , you know, lowering out, you know, footprint in terms of our hating , our coal burning out , you know , renewables, whatnot , but no one ever says, you know, we'll have out a flooring and are using perhaps it's the quarter Traver in that respect.

Speaker 3:

I , I think it is not in fact within the built environment. I think it's a well known achiever rather than the quiet achiever, because if you look at the journey towards net zero and the GBCs got , and net zero roadmap salad , and about 2030, so the built environment, we know that 40% of our emissions contributed , but 40% of the missions of which, but 11% of that chunk is upper embodied carbon. So if I'm building a building and I'm trying to reduce the embodied carbon in my building, because once it's built, I can't take that carbon back. It's in the atmosphere. I , ain't going to look for materials with low embodied carbon and in the flooring industry , that's what you start looking for. We'd have we project with , with Landlease some years back land , uh , Brian group project , uh, probably 160,000 square meters, something like that. And that was all carbon neutral that contributed towards their goal of achieving a 20% reduction in embodied carbon versus business as usual operations. And therefore it's like everything, we're a product or a material for the built environment. And under the discerning architects, designers and engineers are now looking at it from an embodied carbon point of view. So it's really important that, you know , um, we are transparent about that and that we can actually stand up and verify the stats. So really there , we're not sort of quiet at all about this. We're very much pushing as it's a badge of honor being transparent and say , Hey, look, we were one of the lowest carbon footprint products you're going to use. You know, there's the , there's the , there's the documentation, there's an environmental product that , uh , document, and, you know, if you're building an Austria, we manufacturing history . So there's lots of all the stuff that goes with that.

Speaker 2:

Do you think that architects and designers and specifies take that into account when they, when they , um, you know , um, specify certain products and or materials,

Speaker 3:

I have to put my hand on heart and say, I feel for those people out there, because if you look at the plethora of certifications, claims and counterclaims that float around out there in the market, it must be very, very confusing. But to answer your question, I believe yes, more and more embodied carbon is becoming a big focus and more and more that are going to an environmental product declarations and more and more that open towards leadership from organizations like green building and architects, the care movement, the South would be focused on that. I am aware of that . I've a lot of practices are no going carbon neutral, which is really a big transformation compared to two , four years ago. Thank you. Thank you

Speaker 1:

Until next time. Thank you very much. I had mountain from interface , um , and , uh , until next time, goodbye.

Speaker 3:

Cheers, Michael pleasure.

Speaker 1:

The ind network proudly presents the sustainability awards. Now in their 14th year, you can find more [email protected] dot a U

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] .