Interface: 50th Anniversary: Interface started by making carpet tile and ended up rewriting the book on manufacturing – Aug/Sept 2023

Introduction by Kemp Harr

Interface has had the courage to be different from the very beginning. Fifty years ago, it was started by entrepreneur Ray Anderson, who was so passionate about the carpet tile concept then new to the market, that he invested his life savings building his factory in LaGrange, Georgia.

Ten years out of the gate, recognizing that his vision of $1 billion in sales was going to require a sizeable investment in both talent and equipment, Ray decided to take the company public.

Ten years after that, Ray attracted three Collins and Aikman (C&A) execs and a Shaw sales leader to round out the core team, which shared his vision about the viability of carpet tile. From C&A came Charlie Eitel, Gordon Whitener and David Oakey, and from Shaw came John Wells. A year later, Joyce LaValle gave Ray The Ecology of Commerce, the book by Paul Hawken that led to the epiphany that pivoted Interface in a groundbreaking new direction. Ray assembled an Eco Dream Team of progressive scientists, authors and entrepreneurs to keep the firm on the front edge of minimizing its environmental footprint. While Ray shifted his focus to driving sustainability, Charlie worked to build out the company culture, using team building consultants like Pecos River.

In 2001, for its CEO position, the board tapped Dan Hendrix, who had been serving as the company’s CFO for 16 years and was initially exposed to Interface when it went public. A decade later, following the death of Ray Anderson, Dan was named chairman.

Last year, Laurel Hurd was recruited to become CEO and Hendrix remains chairman.

A big part of Interface’s success has been driven by products designed by David Oakey’s team and its unique biomimicry-driven process where aesthetics, performance and sustainability are interwoven, coupled with a tradition of working closely with and listening to the client.

Today, Interface is a $1.3 billion flooring manufacturer with six factories on four continents. While its focus is still on carpet tile, it also manufactures rubber flooring in Germany and offers LVT through a Korean partnership. Its Atlanta headquarters, named Base Camp, designed by Perkins&Will, a green building that reflects the firm’s “Factory as a Forest” philosophy, is one more example of Interface’s courage to be different.

A lot has been written about Interface over the years, including in this magazine, but when it comes to the firm’s big moments and its reverberating influence on the built environment, it feels like it’s a story best told by its leaders and partners.

From idea to identity, DAN HENDRIX discusses the evolution of Interface
• Interview by Kemp Harr
Q: Tell us what made Interface unique and how the foundation Ray Anderson built continues to differentiate Interface today.
Ray was unique because he was an entrepreneur, but he was also a businessman. He doesn’t often get credit for that, but he had vision around carpet tile, which he felt was a better mousetrap than broadloom carpet.

Heuga invented carpet tile in the 1950s, but the product didn’t come to the United States until Ray and Roger Milliken began pushing it here as an alternative to broadloom. What drove that with Ray was the open-plan office and the flexibility on the floor. People don’t know why Interface is called Interface, and that is because Ray wanted to offer a product that would interface with modular furniture.

What put carpet tile on the map in 1972 was when it was specified for the John Hancock building in Boston. Milliken was awarded that project, and it was the first time carpet tile was used on a really big project. And it failed. It failed miserably. I think it was 100% replaced.

But Ray would never take “no” for an answer. He was the hardest boss I ever had by a lot. People think of him as a patriarch, a father figure, but he was the hardest entrepreneur businessman I’ve ever met. He was a really tough guy, and in the early days, for Interface to survive, he had to be a tough guy. To this day, Ray’s still the best salesperson Interface has ever had. He loved being in the factory. He loved product cost. He was an engineer [by trade], but he was also a salesman, a Southern gentleman. He could sell anything.

Q: What did Ray mean by, “Your next order is your next heartbeat”?
In 1974, we were relying on dealers to sell this new concept called carpet tile. We didn’t have our own sales force. We had spent one-third of our capital building the plant, and we didn’t have an order on the books. And Ray Anderson said to Don Russell, the company’s first vice president of sales and marketing, “We have to go figure out how to sell this ourselves.” In his mind, the next order was what kept Interface alive. He had faced the fact that we were going to fail if we didn’t go out and sell it ourselves, and that’s when we began building our own sales team.

Ray always kept a Dictaphone by his bed, and when he couldn’t sleep, he would dictate notes to people. We called them “gray notes,” and I would get at least 20 notes a week out of that Dictaphone. He had a lot of intensity, and he was very studious.

One of the best things about Ray was that he listened to his customers and tried to solve their problems. He sold his customers what they needed, not what he had made.

Q: Ray took Interface public in 1983 when it was doing $52 million in sales. He predicted it would be a billion-dollar company within ten years. How was he so sure the company would grow to that size?
His rationale was that the whole world needed carpet tile. He believed it was going to take tremendous share from broadloom carpet, and we were in the catbird seat. At the time, we were growing 20% a year. He took the business public so that we could internationalize Interface.

Acquisitions were not part of his calculation; it was all based on organic growth.

Q: How did Interface’s global manufacturing landscape develop?
We opened the LaGrange factory in 1974. In 1982, there was a bitumen carpet tile plant in Northern Ireland, and Interface ended up buying that business. And then in 1984, we bought a company called Illingworth in Northern England, Carpets International’s structured back selling division, and we acquired Guilford in 1986. In 1988, we acquired Heuga, which had a plant in Australia. In the late ’90s, we built a carpet tile plant in Thailand, and in the 2000s, we built a plant in China.

Q: How did you choose these locations?
I picked the Thailand location because we had a pretty good business in Asia that was produced and sold from the U.S., and Heuga had a pretty good business in China that was sourced from Holland, so we had enough critical mass to put a plant in China. We felt that to compete in China, we needed to have a local manufacturing facility.

Ray believed in “think global, act local.” Where the customer is, we are going to be. We were really early in on internationalization because, by 1988, half of Interface’s business was outside of the United States.

Q: Are the plants copies of one another, doing the same operations, or are they doing different things?
That’s one of the things I did as CEO. I said, we are going to be able to make the same product everywhere in the world. That was not the case early on, but it is today.

Q: Tell us about Ray’s spear to the chest in 1994 and how that changed the company’s sustainability focus.
At the time, Ray was CEO of the company, and Charlie Eitel was president of the company. Our customers were asking our salespeople, what is Interface going to do about the environment?

Ray was frustrated by this. He would walk in my office and say, “Aren’t we just supposed to comply with the law around the environment?” But our customer was saying, “Interface needs to do more and lead.” Ray organized a task force to figure out what our answer was going to be.

In the meantime, the book The Ecology of Commerce landed on Ray’s desk; chapter two is called “The Death of Birth,” and what you realize when you are reading it is that the only way we are going to help Mother Earth is if industry takes it on, not government. Industry has to rally around sustainability and the environment. That kicked the whole thing off.

Q: What are a few of Interface’s milestones in sustainability?
We took a wholistic approach to sustainability. In the early days, Ray had the seven fronts of sustainability: do no harm to the environment, greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy, recycled content, transportation and more-seven fronts outlining how we could attack sustainability.

We started with the manufacturing processes. And when I took over the company in 2001, we tagged the line Mission Zero-zero carbon footprint by 2020. We got really close to it through a lot of innovation. And a lot of that was working with our suppliers to give us low carbon footprint raw material inputs-like Aquafil and Universal.

And later, we put the Dream Team, a group of thinkers Ray consulted with, back together and came up with the Beyond Zero story, which is to be carbon negative by 2040.

One of the big things now is that we have a carbon negative product line with a biobased backing.

Q: As Interface grew, it got in the installation business, the access flooring business, the fabric business, and then shifted back to a modular-carpet-only business, before deciding to purchase Nora and source LVT. What makes these strategies a good fit?
Nora is the number one brand in rubber. Rubber has a lot of marketshare in education and healthcare, and we wanted to diversify our resilient business in those markets. We believed that if we could give the product more vision in design and infuse it with some sustainability and recycled content, we could take it into other markets. Resilient has been growing against carpet for some time now, so we had to play in the resilient market as well as the soft market. Nora fit really well with that, and it has been a great acquisition for us.

Q: You make carpet and rubber flooring. How come you aren’t manufacturing LVT?
Two reasons: we have a great supplier in Korea, and the economics of it haven’t made a lot of sense. However, our goal is to build enough critical marketshare that we could actually manufacture.

Q: Interface recently organized into a global structure. Tell us more about what that means.
When Interface started making acquisitions, it was pretty much a holding company. Ray believed that all the action was local, but when I took over, I started moving to a more functional model. I left the selling and supply chain organizations local, and I moved everything else to a corporate-function approach.

When Laurel came along, she made the decision that we should make it all functional. She took the last step of globalizing Interface, and the benefit is that we get efficiency with that. We were 80% there, and Laurel took the next step.

Q: How has the company evolved from Ray’s visionary years to what it is today, and what are the biggest changes?
In Ray’s visionary years, the sales force was the palace guard, and the secret sauce of Interface was the selling organization. We were really focused on carpet tile but then diversified.

I made the decision to get out of all that and shift the focus back to carpet tile. I felt that carpet tile was such a great business, and it had a better profile and better margins than the other businesses. Interface was really highly leveraged at the time, seven-to-one income to debt, and I felt like we needed to ride the carpet tile wave.

Today, we’ve evolved into a much more professional organization from the selling organization than we were. We still have selling and product in our DNA. And our evolution has allowed us to strive to be best-in-class in every aspect.

Through it all, we have not lost that culture that Ray cultivated. We are still that company today.

In addition, innovation is a big part of Interface’s DNA, and that’s something I hope we never lose. We have innovated around carpet tile and backing, and we have a lot of fast followers.

Q: Is Interface always going to be a flooring company?
I would say, no, we’re not. I think we’re going to continue to play in the specified market but not necessarily just in flooring.

Q: Did the Nora acquisition teach you some things?
Yes, it taught us how to get closer to the education, healthcare and transportation markets via a different route. Nora is an extremely technical cell, and I think that brought us back to the basics with Interface and gave us some ideas around the resilient market as well.

Q: In the last ten years, hard surface has been taking share from carpet. Do you expect that trend to continue?
I believe the erosion is slowing today. It’s becoming a blend between hard surface and soft surface. The home is moving into the offices, and you need soft and hard in a home. When I talk to the Genslers and Perkins + Wills, they are saying that soft is here to stay; there just needs to be balance.

Q: What will Interface do next to drive the sustainability movement forward?
We’re going to start driving carbon negative products and taking share with people who prioritize biobased and carbon negative products. Today, you can find out the carbon footprint of any product, and I think the world is going to follow that trend.

DAVID OAKEY reflects on how he and Interface transformed carpet tile design
• Interview by Jessica Chevalier
Q: How did you meet Interface founder Ray Anderson and become acquainted with Interface?
Carpet tile came from my hometown of Kidderminster [a British carpet weaving hub]. Ray visited Kidderminster in 1969, I believe. The carpet tile category was being brought to market by Carpets International, the company that Ray went on to create a joint venture with to start Interface in 1993. In the late ’60s, I was also in Kidderminster, in college studying Axminster and Wilton.

However, our paths didn’t cross until 1993. I came to the U.S. to work for Milliken, which was then a fierce competitor in LaGrange, Georgia with Interface. I worked with Milliken for ten years designing printed product, and when new tufting technologies came online, I left to start my own firm, David Oakey Designs.

My firm worked with many different companies, and I started working closing with Charlie Eitel, Collins & Aikman’s CEO. He was recruited to take over Interface in 1993 and brought me along.

Charlie did a wonderful job changing Interface, which had lost its way a bit at the time. The company was buying broadloom mills, like Bentley, and making fabric acquisitions, and Charlie brought it back to its core: making carpet tile that could compete with broadloom.

Q: What factors enabled Interface to be an innovator?
Modular flooring, by far. It started when Ray found the carpet tile concept in England, which was concurrent with the boom in office construction in the U.S., from New York to Dallas. With the increasing popularity of raised access flooring and the fact that floorcovering had to be moved up elevators, modular carpet made all the sense in the world, not to mention the fact that damaged tiles can be removed and replaced.

In 1994, when tufting technologies began to change, we applied those technologies to carpet tile. Prior to that, carpet tile was a plain heather or may have had a subtle texture, but there was no real design.

Q: What liberty did Interface give you with regard to design and innovation?
In those early days, when Charlie recruited my team to design for Interface, we could design the manufacturing, the design, the product, the yarn-pretty much everything. At that time, we were very much into mass customization or making to order. We saw that designers always wanted something different, and we needed to design a manufacturing process that would allow us to come out with new designs all the time. Because I had worked with Charlie at Collins & Aikman and we had had a lot of success there together, he trusted me.

Q: From the design side, what do you believe was Interface’s most impactful innovation?
By far, it was when we found biomimicry and biophilia, and that was driven by Ray’s vision of sustainability. The sustainability effort was a struggle when we started because we didn’t even know what sustainable design meant. All we wanted to do was make the business profitable and bring design-forward products to the marketplace. After Ray’s spear in the chest, I read 100 books on green and sustainable design. Paul Hawken suggested that I read Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus, and that changed me completely. The book teaches how we can use and learn from nature.

When we met with Janine, we asked “How would nature design carpet tile?” We were confused at first but got to the point of noticing that, from leaves to stones, everything in nature is diverse. There is no monolithic uniformity in nature, so we designed carpet tiles that were each slightly different from one another in design. And even though our tufting technology then was crude, we made product that could be moved and installed randomly, and this changed our philosophy of design. Today, 50% of the products we design use that random philosophy.

Q: How did the company’s commitment to sustainability shape or even propel its design innovation?
A lot of people would think it would limit our design, but it took us to places we wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. Our first design toward sustainability was simple: using less yarn in the face of the carpet because we couldn’t recycle nylon 6,6 then. If we couldn’t recycle it, the only thing we could do was use less of it. Making products with a lower face weight is like buying a car that gets more miles per gallon than the prior one. It’s doing less bad.

Later, we came up with process called flat woven, taking tufted carpet and flipping it to use the back as the face, so there is no pile. It’s still very successful in Europe.

TacTiles was another important sustainable invention. Back then, we were gluing carpet to the floor. We met with Janine and looked at how the gecko attaches to surfaces, but that didn’t really work. Eventually, we realized that if we could connect the tiles together, gravity would keep them on the floor. The sustainable journey took us places we wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

Q: Do you believe Interface’s focus on sustainability has impacted the flooring industry as a whole?
Ray personally drove sustainability into the industry. The carpet industry was the frontier of sustainability for the flooring industry, and I give Ray full credit for that. His commitment was so strong that every competitor had to do the same, and all the major manufacturers were trying to find the best consultants in the world to be on their team.

It was a battle of selling, something that touched architects and designers, an emotional argument.

Q: When a company is operating from a “higher purpose,” how does that impact the output?
Everybody came together around Ray’s vision. That was the most important element. In the early days, it was what really held the company together. Everyone wanted to make the work happen. We would be measuring how much recycled content we put into designs each year to see improvement. It was fundamental to our DNA then and continues today. Sometimes, I take it for granted that all the carpet on my floor is made from waste because that’s a hard thing to imagine.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about your partnership with Interface?
In the early years, I was pretty much granted complete freedom to design, not just color and pattern, but all the way through the manufacturing process, including in eliminating waste, making processes more efficient and improving quality.

Q: Tell me about the 50th anniversary collection you have created for Interface.
When we design, we gather information and trends from a variety of places. Today, we see that customers are using more area rugs in their offices than ever before. Every manufacturer is adding rug programs to their offering.

We are also seeing a trend of heritage in fashion, as well as a return to ’60s and ’70s design in furniture.

Preparing for this collection, we went through 50 years of carpet tile. We went back to Kidderminster. There is a great museum there, and we have been working with the museum to add Ray’s story, which started there in Kidderminster. Interface eventually bought 50% of Carpets International in England, and in the 1970s, it was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world, with many brands. All Ray was interested in was the modular. The Axminster and broadloom carpet programs were sold off or closed down, as the very traditional Axminster products could not be adapted into carpet tile.

My thought in designing the 50th anniversary collection was to take those Axminster and Wilton designs from the ’60s and ’70s as well as several of my hand-painted designs and recreate them with the unbelievable tufting technology that we have today, especially from Card-Monroe. There are Axminster and Wilton designs that were popular then that can be made in carpet tile that fit today’s trends.

The process involved a lot of research. We found people who were involved in the start-up of carpet tile manufacturing and recorded their stories on film. It was interesting as well as very romantic. The carpet tile process actually started in France, where it was used on the luxury liner the SS France. There, plush carpet was glued to the decks to create a feeling of luxury and provide noise control. The executives of Carpets International saw it and wanted to bring the product to England.

Q: What do you predict for the future of the soft surface industry and for Interface?
First, carpet won’t go away. It has been here since the 16th century. We have seen the market trend from soft to hard, back and forth over the years.

But one of the most important things that the industry needs to focus on is good quality, even before good design. There is too much bad quality in the marketplace. A lot of companies have been driving the market to lower-priced products, and they cut corners with regard to how the product is made.

And the installations appall me as well. I have seen carpet with gaps in showrooms. That will kill our industry, especially modular. Walking through NeoCon this year, I saw some really wonderful installations and also some bad ones. We need to think about quality most importantly.

I wish everyone in the industry would read the story of Stainmaster by Tom McAndrews. Back then, the industry was going through the same things we are seeing today, with poor quality carpet made by manufacturers trying to put less yarn in the product and carpet that was staining. DuPont, whether you like it or not, introduced a brand that enabled it to compel manufacturers to create good carpet. They went into detail on the twist level of the yarn, on how much of their product had to be included to advertise their brand. It was kind of big brother, but what it did for the industry was bring back quality control.

As for Interface, I believe its new CEO, Laurel Hurd, is really good. Moving ahead, the company needs to lead the way with quality, design and leadership. Sustainability is a given today.

David Oakey, founder of David Oakey Designs is the exclusive product designer for Interface and Flor since 1994, leading global efforts in sustainable design, learning from nature and the study of biomimicry.

Educated in carpet design at Kidderminster College in England, Oakey pursued his entrepreneurial dream establishing David Oakey Designs in 1985.

Oakey and his philosophies have been featured in Business Week, Fast Company, Interior Design Magazine, New York Times Science, Green Futures Magazine, I.D. Magazine, and The Smithsonian Magazine.

His presentations on creative and sustainable design have influenced companies like Nike, Walmart, Boeing, and British Petroleum to name a few.

Pond Studios is the soul of David Oakey Designs, an early bio-inspired office, winning an AIA award in 1997. In conjunction with biomimicry, biophilia is at the deep-rooted core, the essence of David Oakey Designs’ design process. Oakey lives and works at Pond Studios, a truly biophilic architectural space.

JANINE BENYUS discusses how Interface brought biomimicry to flooring design
• Interview by Darius Helm
Q: Tell us about how you became involved with Interface.
In the late 1990s, Ray Anderson had an Eco Dream Team with a bunch of folks, including William McDonough, Daniel Quinn, Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins-folks he had read about. And he would ask them to be on a team with him and consult with him in this nascent space. Paul Hawken was on that, and his book, The Ecology of Commerce, had really influenced Ray. Paul had become aware of my book and biomimicry, and he had included biomimicry as one of the four pillars of natural capitalism. So, he wrote about it in Natural Capitalism, and Ray said, let’s invite her.

Q: Did these meetings become a regular event?
We stopped meeting as an Eco Dream Team only three or four years ago. Those meetings were really unique things for a CEO to do. He picked us because we would bring him what was the leading edge of thought in sustainability. Ray wanted us to inspire and challenge him. We were trying to make Interface the best it could be.

The whole move the last few years about trying to reverse climate change, Factory as a Forest etc., that was in collaboration with the Dream Team.

Q: In what ways can biomimicry principles be applied to design and construction in flooring?
Biomimicry works by looking at function. You look at the function you want the carpet to accomplish, then look into the natural world. Say the function is that you want a certain color but not toxic dyes, so you look at the natural world and see if you could weave it in a way like hummingbird feathers, where light interacts with a structure to refract blue or yellow…that hasn’t happened yet in carpet, but it has in fabrics.

At a backings of the future workshop, we talked about how backing needs to lay flat but have some resilience. How does nature attain this? Or sound abatement. How would nature make a sound baffling material?

And then there are general principles, which are the fact that life doesn’t make something that will last forever; that it has circularity built into it. And Interface is good at this. They were either going to take back their carpets or have them at the end of life be part of the circular economy.

Q: When it comes to biomimicry in design, do you have a favorite Interface product?
There are two, and you can choose. The Entropy line…the last time I looked it was 40% of their carpet tile sales. The concept came out of a workshop with my co-founder at Biomimicry 3.8, Dayna Baumeister. David Oakey and Dayna were walking around outside talking about how nature would make a carpet when David noticed that when you picked up a leaf from the forest floor, you couldn’t tell that it was gone. It was random patterning.

At the time, it was a big deal to say, What if we make everything random but in the same colorways?

And the second thing we worked with them on were TacTiles. We were at a workshop at David Oakey’s, and several Interface designers and salespeople were there. We were all sitting at round tables, talking about how nature adheres. Life has a lot of interesting glues, and some of the ways that life adheres is reversible, like how a gecko walks or how a fly lands on the wall. So, at one table we were talking about how geckoes use gravity to create “push” adhesion that is reversible by peeling the toe from the surface, and at another table we were talking about how nature attaches edge-to-edge, talking about how the structure of a bird’s feather allows the barbs to easily attach and separate.

Then someone stood up and said, “let’s put those ideas together.” What happens if we attach the tiles to each other and let gravity hold them down?

TacTiles reduced by 95% the environmental burden of the installation process. Also, it solved the problem of not being able to peel up the carpet and move it because it was glued down.

And that’s when they realized that they could take that innovation into the residential arena and make area rugs. That’s when Interface created Flor.

Q: What do you consider to be Interface’s first essential green milestone?
Early on, it had a real commitment to taking back its own carpets and making them into new carpets, as well as a lot of innovation around lightweighting.

Q: What is Interface’s greatest sustainability accomplishment to date?
I think it’s the influence it has had on the rest of the industry. Ray would talk about the seven faces of Mount Sustainability that the company needed to climb, and one was I for Influence, and I think that is what has been most impactful. In the very early days, Ray was standing in front of other CEOs saying, “I’m betting the company on this, and I’m going to show that business can be part of the solution and not just the problem.”

So, he started what biologists would call a co-evolutionary loop among other carpet manufacturers. The wolf is chasing the moose, and over time, they both get better-the wolf becomes faster, and the moose gets faster too. And the influence went beyond carpet, and Ray became the posterchild of sustainability in all types of manufacturing. That was huge.

Q: Explain Factory as a Forest and how Interface is approaching this concept.
A question Ray would often ask is, “how can a company function more like a forest?” We were doing that with product, with manufacturing processes, trying to bring biomimicry to those processes. Then we started to talk about “place,” the lands that companies touch, and how we could design biomimetic factories to create positive impacts.

What does a biomimetic factory look like? It would function like the forest next door. Your facility and its place, its parking lot, the landscaping-how you measure this is by how many ecological benefits would come out if it was a forest, like cleaning water, storing this much carbon, cycling this much nutrient, cooling the air to this temperature, supporting biodiversity, storing water, etc.

Interface was an early adopter trying to meet new performance metrics for their buildings and designs, to meet or exceed the ecological benefits of the forest next door. They were the first brand to join our learning and demonstration co-laboratory, Project Positive, which now includes Microsoft, Ford, Google, Kohler, Aquafil, Jacobs and HOK.

Q: What is Interface’s biggest challenge going forward?
It’s a challenge that’s always been there. When you’re a first adopter, you’re sometimes ahead of the market. Before the market is asking for these things, you’re creating them. So, you need to make sure you’re bringing the market, your customers, along with you. And it’s a co-evolutionary loop-when those customers ask for the next big thing in regenerative flooring, Interface will reach for something even more innovative. That’s leadership.

Janine Benyus is a biologist, innovation consultant and author of six books, starting with Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature in 1997. In 1998, Benyus co-founded Biomimicry 3.8, the world’s leading nature-inspired innovation and training firm, with over 250 clients, including Boeing, Burt’s Bees, Ford, Google, Herman Miller, HOK, Interface, Jaguar Land Rover, Nike and General Mills. In 2014, B3.8 established The Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University, offering the world’s first master of science in biomimicry. And in 2006, Benyus co-founded The Biomimicry Institute.

Over the past 20 years, Benyus has done three TED talks, hundreds of conference keynotes and a dozen documentaries, including “The Nature of Things” with David Suzuki, which aired in 71 countries. She has received several awards, including the 2022 RCA Bicentenary, Time Magazine’s Hero for the Planet Award in 2008 and a 2009 Champions of the Earth award, the U.N.’s highest environmental honor. Her work in biomimicry has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, Esquire, The Economist, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and more. In 2010, BusinessWeek named Benyus one of the World’s Most Influential Designers.

BILL BROWNING talks about the impact of Interface's unique design approach
• Interview by Darius Helm
Q: How did you cross paths with Interface?
In the beginning of 1997, Interface had just launched its sustainability effort, and Rocky Mountain Institute, where I was at the time, was advising Interface. So, I was part of the team that helped put together sustainability content for a global sales meeting held in Maui in the spring of 1997. I eventually became part of the Interface Dream Team, advising Interface for more that 20 years.

Q: How did you first learn about biophilic design?
At Rocky Mountain Institute in the mid 1990s, we were collecting and writing case studies on very early green buildings and started seeing these examples of pretty astonishing jumps in productivity-reductions in absenteeism, increased sales per square foot, etc. And we collected those in a paper and then got to do an experiment on the causality. And one of the researchers put forth the hypothesis that one reason for these gains could be connection to nature, biophilia.

Herman Miller had just built a brand-new factory in Zeeland, Michigan and was moving 700 people out of a windowless box into this factory designed by architect Bill McDonough. The factory was daylit, with skylight and windows that looked out over a restored prairie landscape. So, we started collecting every science paper we could find on the topic of biophilia and learned that it could be translated into design and the built environment. That eventually led us to develop a pattern language based on these experiences.

Q: How would you define biophilic design? Can it be either representational or abstract, for instance?
Biophilic design is translating experiences of nature into the built environment and is used to support physiological and psychological improvements. Does it reduce stress? Does it enhance mood? What we realized is that experiences of nature fall into three categories. First is Nature in the Space, and these patterns are about being able to experience nature. It could be looking out a window-even looking at a painting or photograph-or birdsong or flowing water. Variability of daylight, seeing seasons change.

Second is what we call Natural Analogues. These are indirect experiences of nature, like the use of natural materials, use of biomorphic forms and patterns, complexity and order. An example would be use of fractals.

Third is the Nature of the Space. This has to do with 3D experiences. These include patterns with prospect, an unimpeded view through space, which is important for wayfinding, a sense of security and stress reduction. Another pattern is refuge, like a high-backed booth, where you have a view, but your back is protected. Another one, which is often missing in office settings, is a space to retreat to.

Some of the other special biophilic experiences include mystery (you just have to see what’s around that corner), risk peril (looking over that balcony), and the newest addition is the experience of awe, which generates a very distinct brain response.

We published the 14 patterns of Biophilic Design in 2014, and we subsequently added awe as a 15th pattern.

Q: What are common misperceptions about biophilia?
That you can put a bunch of plants in the space or a green wall, and that’s biophilia. That can be a good strategy, addressing one of the 15 patterns, but it’s just one of many things you can do.

Q: In 2012, Terrapin Bright Green, which you co-founded, published “The Economics of Biophilia”? Could you give us a picture of how that works?
Some of the things we’re seeing are that people in offices with views of nature take fewer sick days. We see that hotel rooms with a view have higher pricing. Having an awe experience in a civic building can lead to more prosocial behavior. We see that giving medical staff a break room with a nature experience in it leads to lower rates of burnout and absenteeism. ADHD symptoms can be reduced with experiences of nature. We’re seeing retail environments with better sales per square foot.

Q: Is there a process to creating a biophilic design?
One of the things is that different patterns support different outcomes. Some reduce stress, others support cognitive performance or elevate mood or promote prosocial behavior. If you know the needs of the people in the space, it helps determine what patterns are most relevant for use in that space.

For instance, Interface’s headquarters building in Atlanta, Base Camp, was designed to support larger populations than the number of desks in the building. It works incredibly well because there are a variety of biophilic experiences in the building. So, the way people use the building is to move around as it suits them.

Some biophilic elements are clear views, a variety of different refuge experiences, either with furniture or small breakrooms or booths. Having a roof garden on the top with a water feature, and plants that have scent, like rosemary. There are places in Base Camp, particularly in terms of how some of the stairwells are designed, that offer a partial view of what’s up there-a mystery view. The skin of the building has been wrapped in a recyclable plastic film that’s a reversed photograph of a local forest; tree trunks are clear, and the space around them is a white, pixelated surface-it forms a very good statistical fractal on that surface, which lowers stress.

The film also helps lower energy use by reflecting sunlight, so it’s serving multiple purposes.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the impact of Interface’s biophilic design?
Interface, over time, has developed carpet patterns and tile designs that are specifically based on either abstractions of biomorphic forms or fractal patterns. And from a sales standpoint, those have been quite successful for them.

One of the papers on our website is about the impact of biophilia on learning environments. Minimal changes in a sixth-grade math classroom in inner-city Baltimore were designed to improve performance and physiological responses in the space. This included use of an Interface carpet tile with a pattern called Prairie Grass, a series of waving lines, creating a biomorphic pattern that is co-linear and much easier for the brain to process. If I point my fingers in one direction, the lines are processed by one set of neurons, but if I hold another hand with fingers at a 30-degree angle, another bundle of nerves is activated. So, if I have a pattern with a lot of colinear design to it, it’s easier for brain to process, and it lowers stress.

Also in the classroom was wallpaper frieze around the top of the classroom that was an abstraction of palm leaves, along with some wave form ceiling patterns and window shades with a design of tree branches using fractal patterns.

What we saw was that the students’ learning rate achievement was dramatically better than in prior years with the same teacher teaching the same curriculum. And we also found that, compared to a control classroom, being in this classroom helped with student stress recovery.

Q: Is there a particular Interface product that stands out to you as a memorable expression of biophilia?
There are two pattern ways, Urban Retreat and Human Nature, that were the first ones that really caught everybody’s attention. And a lot of the other carpet companies started doing riffs on them.

William Browning, BED Colorado University, MSRED MIT, Hon. AIA, LEED AP, is the managing partner in Terrapin Bright Green, an environmental strategies research and consulting firm. Browning’s clients include Disney, New Songdo City, Lucasfilm, Google, Marriott, Bank of America, Salesforce, Interface, JP Morgan Chase, CoStar Group, the Inn of the Anasazi, the White House, and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Village. Browning, a founding member of the USGBC board of directors, began research in human productivity/wellbeing and green buildings in the 1990s at Rocky Mountain Institute and is co-author of Greening the Building and the Bottom Line (1994), The Economics of Biophilia (2012), 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design (2104), Human Spaces 2.0 Biophilic Design in Hospitality (2017) and Nature Inside, A Biophilic Design Guide (2020). His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Elle, Popular Science, and in segments by NPR, Reuters, CNN and PBS.

Moody Nolan's EILEEN GOODMAN talks about Interface as a design partner
• Interview by Jessica Chevalier
Q: When did you become acquainted with Interface, and what made the company stand out to you?
I found Interface probably 25 years ago. When I first started noticing the company, one thing that stood out was its design-forward thinking. That had appeal.

This was in a time when manufacturers would talk about carpet tile being non-directional, but, in reality, the tiles needed to be rotated. That was impractical. Interface introduced true non-directionality in carpet tile with technical aspects such as no edge raveling, no delamination and no zippering, as well as design savvy-that combination was very appealing.

Q: What do you believe is Interface’s most impactful contribution to the design community?
Its design acumen. As I said, Interface was the original innovator of nondirectional tile, which took design to a whole new level.

Interface’s sustainability story is also impactful. It was 99 degrees in Denver, Colorado this week; it’s almost 120 in Arizona. We are in a climate crisis, and from the design perspective, it is imperative that we align ourselves with manufacturers that are on top of sustainability and as carbon neutral as possible. Twenty-five years ago, when Interface began talking about sustainably, it wasn’t front of mind for designers.

I’ve seen Interface innovate around sustainability creatively as well, like having no-meat Mondays at its headquarters to help move toward a carbon neutral footprint.

Q: When you specify Interface on a project, what part of its story do you convey to your client?
Certainly sustainability, as well as the product’s ease of installation and the fact that it’s nondirectional. Products may have a recommended installation, such as quarter turn or ashlar, but the company makes everything relatively easy from an installation perspective.

The other important information that we deliver to the client is the Interface’s collections offer the ability to go from more moderately priced products to mid-level products to higher-end products with corresponding design. They have launches that allow you, as a designer, to have something less expensive in less high-profile spaces to luxury products for a boardroom. Interface offers a palette of options that coordinates.

Q: For what types of projects do you find Interface’s products to be a good fit?
I use Interface on projects from healthcare to residential to workplace to aviation to hospitality.

I appreciate the company’s Nora products and coordinated-height LVT, as well. Those are smartly integrated in its entire product line from the installation perspective, so we don’t need to employ metal divider strip to marry the materials. And because there’s no edge ravel or delamination or zippering, you don’t need those metal strips.

While I don’t aspire to use only one manufacturer, Interface’s products so well designed that you can use only one, have good quality installations and know that the sales representation will be stellar. The team works very hard to deliver on designer requests and do the very best they can to support the design community.

Q: What is your favorite Interface product and why?
Interface’s lines are so varied. I like the heavily textured products a lot. There are lots of great selections there.

And it’s really fun to integrate some of the wilder Flor patterns in less traveled areas- a pop of something that isn’t the normal fare. I’m building a new home, and where I have carpet, it is all Interface, primarily Flor products. This speaks to my love of their product.

Q: How does Interface’s commitment to sustainability impact your work?
It impacts it exponentially. Here at Moody Nolan, we have removed everything not sustainably managed and manufactured from our libraries. If companies don’t have a strong commitment to sustainability, we aren’t specifying them. Again, we are in a major climate crisis, and if you can’t control how to build a better future as an A&D firm, who can? Interface’s commitment to sustainability is extremely important to me, and it’s even more important to younger generations who know they and their kids will be here and want a healthy world.

Interface also does well in telling its sustainability story. If you do it but don’t mention it, it doesn’t get the play that it should.

Q: What is Interface doing that you’d like to see other flooring and interior finish providers do?
I see some competitors starting to copy them, especially having a larger breadth of products integrated together so that they can be used to cover a full project.

Another thing Interface does really well is to launch products relevant to the time. It is ahead of the game in paying attention to where colors and design styles are going and enabling designers to find a product that aligns with their design objectives within its offering.

Q: What do you hope to see from Interface in the future?
It needs to stay on trend to remain ahead of competitors.

The company has done a nice job bringing Nora into the mix with its sustainability story. I would like to see the company further develop the Flor products to be more durable so that they can be used on commercial projects in more high traffic areas to add fun and whimsy.

As the executive vice president and director of interior design at Moody Nolan and a partner, Eileen M. Goodman has spent 30 years shaping the interior design practice.

Goodman believes design has a social responsibility to enrich lives and inspire human interaction. In more than 30 years of practice, she has worked on hundreds of projects in both public and private sectors, ranging from corporate workplaces to cultural centers and museums.

Her work is nationally recognized by industry peers, garnering awards from IIDA and NOMA. Goodman serves on the board of directors at Southeast Healthcare and is a member of the planning committee for their Art in Recovery program. She is recognized with the National Council for Interior Design Qualification certification and is a member of the International Interior Design Association.

CEO LAUREL HURD discusses the opportunities that will shape Interface’s future
• Interview by Kemp Harr
Q: You joined Interface in April 2022. What drew you to the company?
Interface is such a special company with incredible people and true authentic purpose. So many companies today are searching for their purpose, and Interface has it in spades; the legacy of Ray Anderson, the strength of the company that Dan Hendrix and the team have built. It’s a really special place to be a part of, and I’m blessed to be offered the opportunity to both honor that legacy and push forward to grow for the future.

Q: What is that mission?
Our mission is to be the most sustainable company in the world. And that’s not only environmental sustainability but also making sure our designs are breakthrough and last a lifetime. We also seek to be sustainable from a social perspective, supporting our people, and economically.

The beauty of Ray and his legacy is that he wanted to make sure Interface was a successful and profitable company while also doing right for the planet and our people.

Q: What is the next 20 years going to look like?
I’m excited for the next 20 years. As the world continues to change, that change brings opportunity for disruption and innovation. Interface has always been a disruptor and must continue pushing the industry forward-disrupting in design, innovation and sustainability. Our heritage is clearly in carpet tile, and we have a lot of opportunity to continue to grow our soft surface and carpet tile businesses, while also building out our resilient business, not only in LVT but also our Nora business. [In rubber], we are just getting started in bringing design to what has been historically a really technical sale, and that helps us expand our shares in healthcare, education, and rounds out that market. We are fully committed to building out our hard and soft surface businesses across a more diverse set of end customers and always focused on our customer needs, providing them solutions backed by the strongest sales team in the industry.

Q: Ray was an industrial engineer, and your focus has been in sales and marketing. How will those differences help define who Interface is?
I never met Ray, but, yes, he was an industrial engineer as well as a salesperson through and through. What I love about the foundation of Interface is that it’s so customer-centric and keeping that at the heart of what we do-making sure everything we do every day is helping our customers solve their problems-is a real opportunity for us to continue to live that legacy.

We also have a strong portfolio of brands: Interface, Flor, Nora. And we have the opportunity to strengthen those brands for our customer in the marketplace and be sure we bring everything we can to light for them.

As a company, we have strong technical capabilities, so it’s about leveraging that, bringing both the technical and supply chain people together to make sure we can manufacture the product and get it out to the market as efficiently and effectively as we can.

Q: How do you keep the Interface team in the same boat, rowing in the same direction, with a differentiated passion and focus?
We recently rolled out our One Interface plan to do just that. We have historically been run as separate regional companies, so the opportunity we have is to bring the best of Interface to light by coming together as one team.

In late July, we had our commercial leaders and all of our global senior functional leaders from around the world altogether at Basecamp, sitting around the table and collaborating, “What’s working in your market?” And that’s where the magic really happens: the collaboration. There’s so much great work happening in each of our markets, but it’s about bringing it together with the power of our total company.

Q: What will be the next big innovation in the flooring industry?
There are a couple forces that will be sources of innovation for the industry. First, the evolving workplace will help flooring companies bring solutions to their customers in a different way. That’s something I know we’re focused on.

In addition, there is so much happening in bio-based materials and green technology. How our products are made, and what they are made out of-I think that will be a source of innovation for years to come.

Q: How will Interface reinforce its position as the flooring industry’s sustainability leader?
Last week, I attended a TED Countdown in Detroit. Every year, TED puts on a climate forum, which features leaders in industry, bioscientists and environmentalists from around the world, all coming together for a week. Interface was invited to be one of the 13 founding members of the TED Future Forum with big companies like Google and Ford and Nestle and BCG. It was incredible. At the Forum, we had really amazing cross-industry discussions about the role of business in accelerating solutions for climate change-beyond just the flooring industry and the built environment. And it’s just getting started.

Of course, Interface launched its carbon negative carpet tile, which is better for the planet when we make it than when we don’t. And we have our ReEntry product as well, taking back carpet to use in our backing.

This week, as we came together as a team, we walked through our innovation plans over the next several years and how they align to our science-based target commitment and our commitment to take back the climate and become truly restorative-beyond just neutral. Our work there is compelling and exciting and will continue to be disruptive for the market. There is a lot more to come.

Q: Do you still have an advisory team, like Ray’s Dream Team, which included folks like Paul Hawken?
We’ve talked about bringing that back together. Paul Hawken was actually at the TED Countdown event as well.

I think the answers to our climate challenges will come to us from collaboration. That was really the magic of Ray and his history-it’s not just about finding the answers within our own buildings but making sure we reach out to find those solutions.

Q: Many flooring companies used to participate in Greenbuild but no longer do. Is Greenbuild still relevant to the flooring industry?
We had several associates attend Greenbuild last year. We had a screening of Beyond Zero and invited several of our customers. It turned out to be a huge showing. So Greenbuild still feels relevant. Maybe we aren’t exhibiting at Greenbuild as we did previously, but we are still a part of it.

Q: Will Interface always be focused on floorcovering with its product offering?
Floorcovering is obviously our core business, and you know better than I do that over the years we’ve been in and out of other products and categories in the commercial interiors space. I believe there is a lot more room to grow in hard and soft surfaces, so that will be our priority in the short term, but never say never.

Q: What is your utilization of the Base Camp space post-Covid?
We are officially back at Base Camp three day a week. Base Camp is so much more than an office. It’s an active showroom, and it showcases our product in action. It’s also a great entertaining space. We use it not only as our Atlanta-area showroom regularly, but we also have folks from around the country and around the world visit. It’s always buzzing. Yesterday, one of the chapters of the IIDA was using Base Camp for its annual retreat. We are using it actively, and it feels good to be back regularly, collaborating. It’s a great place to do that.

Q: What are you doing in the area of ESG?
The E (environmental) is sort of core who we are. We’re doing that every day.

And then social (S), we are obviously focused on making Interface a great place to work. We measure that. We have survey results and really dig deep in areas to make sure we are driving success there. And we have good diversity and inclusion initiatives to drive that.

And from governance (G) standpoint, obviously we have strong corporate governance.

Q: David Oakey tells me that he’s optimistic about carpet’s future. He thinks people are tired of working on concrete. What’s your opinion?
I believe he’s right. The hard-soft surface trends will change over time, and we need to make sure we have leadership there to offer a compelling product that our customers want to put down on their floors. David is the magic that can help us do that.

Q: How can the carpet industry work together to tell the story on carpet’s value?
So many companies are currently working to get their employees back in the office. And what they are finding is their employees want a warm, cozy environment. They are used to working in their homes. They’re not coming in for a sterile, corporate, hard, formal workplace. Now, as product designers, we have to make it look beautiful and feel great and do all that, but I think it starts with product and design, which serves as inspiration to the design community. They are looking for something new all the time. It starts with inspirational design and messaging around “You really want this in your offices,” so I’m encouraged. I really am.

Q: What is the solution for keeping NeoCon as the preeminent show for commercial spaces? Or, do we need to?
This was my first NeoCon, and I was blown away. I thought The Mart was buzzing with activity. My sense is that shows like that don’t go away. Sometimes they change their form a bit, but I think it’s important for an industry to have a time where it comes together as one, where customers can see all the different components of the interior space come together. So maybe it will evolve a bit, but I certainly hope it doesn’t go away.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Fuse, The International Surface Event (TISE), Interface, The American Institute of Architects, Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Fuse Alliance