When ABC began the “Made in America” series on the World News with Diane Sawyer on Monday, February 28, 2011, the ABC team examined three rooms of the home of John and Ana Ursy in Dallas, Texas and removed all foreign-made products. The result was a virtually empty house – no beds, no tables, no chairs, no couches, and no lamps. Only the kitchen sink, a vase, a candle, and some pottery remained.
If the ABC team conducted the same examination today, they might find more Made in USA products. Every season, more and more Made in USA products are available in retail stores, such as Home Depot and Lowes. Consumers are choosing to buy Made in USA products, and retailers are paying attention. Even Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, announced that it would increase sourcing of American-made products by $50 billion over the next 10 years.
In my recent interview with FLOR President Greg Colando, he said, “In 2003, I was requested by Interface founder Ray Anderson to start a company that would use 100% recycled material to make carpet tiles for the consumer market.”
Colando continued, “We started FLOR with three employees in a small office on the west side of Chicago. Our strategy was to grow this brand by word-of-mouth. We sought out design influencers (bloggers, designers, design celebrities) to introduce them to the product, let them fall in love with it, and then spread the word through their own influence.”
We weren’t able to start off with 100% materials in 2003 as they just weren’t available. It was a practice that evolved over many years. First, we committed to the idea that carpet could be 100% sustainable. Back 10-15 years ago, it seemed unattainable to be able to make carpet using recycled materials as you drove through neighborhoods and saw rolled up carpeting at the end of driveways headed for landfills.
We began the process of working with our vendors and demanding they supply us with the materials we were seeking. And here we are, about to celebrate our 10-year anniversary, and our entire line consists of 100% recycled nylon face fibers as it is now possible to get 100% recycled nylon yarn from suppliers. We have some unique texture products, like Fedora (a best seller) where each square you purchase removes five plastic water bottles from a landfill and diverts it into our carpet.”
Today, FLOR is headquartered in Chicago, IL, but their carpet tiles are finished in their manufacturing plant in La Grange, GA. The company has grown from the original three founding employees to more than 100. From their distribution center near Atlanta, their employees are bringing a smarter solution for floor covering to the market place to every store in all the major markets in the United States.
Instead of downsizing during the recession of 2007-2009, Mr. Colando said, “We actually grew our business during the recession. A new idea/product combined with a large home/design market place provided a great deal of room for growth, even as the rest of the world around us seemed to be crumbling. One wonderful asset we had was our ability to trim down spend while increasing efficiency and staying flexible. Now, we are a rapidly growing business, opening 20 of our own stores in the past couple years.”
FLOR’s products are an innovative system of carpet squares that you assemble to create custom area rugs, runners, or wall-to-wall designs of any shape or size. Using FLOR’s patented adhesives, you connect the carpet squares together and not to your floor. In addition to dozens of patterns and colors of carpet tiles that you can design and assemble yourself, FLOR offers 75 pre-designed combinations of rugs ranging from simple two-tile mats, iconic button rugs, to unique shapes such as the Hop-Scotch rug and Faux Hide rug.
Mr. Colando said, “Our Georgia manufacturing plant is not an automated manufacturing plant using robotics. It is a simplistic “pick and pack” product where members of the FLOR team work hard each and every day to put forth the best possible end customer experience. The majority of our orders ship the same day, which shows the efficiency of the operation.”
“Pick and pack” means that an employee selects the carpet design styles and colors to fill a customer’s specific order and packs them in the shipping box. FLOR doesn’t manufacture the actual carpet tiles; they are manufactured in traditional rolls at one of Interface’s domestic plants and shipped to FLOR, where they are cut into carpet squares and stored in the warehouse by color and design.
FLOR’s becoming a success as an environmentally responsible company, making products for the domestic market in the USA was the result of one man’s vision ?Ray Anderson, who founded Interface Inc. in 1973 to produce the first free-lay carpet tiles in America. Interface is now one of the world’s largest producers of modular commercial floor coverings, with sales in 110 countries and manufacturing facilities on four continents. Interface manufactures carpet for the commercial market ? corporate, healthcare, education, retail, hospitality and government. While Interface manufactures carpet in Australia, England, Holland, Shanghai, China, and Thailand for markets in those countries and regions to eliminate shipping products across the ocean, 90% of the carpet for the domestic market is Made in USA.
Anderson first turned his focus toward the environment in 1994 when he read The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken, and also Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, seeking inspiration for a speech to an internal task force on the company’s environmental vision. Hawken argues that the industrial system is destroying the planet and only industry leaders are powerful enough to stop it. Anderson made a decision to transform the company into using recycled materials wherever possible to become a sustainable company.
He made a promise to have the company eliminate any negative impact it may have on the environment by the year 2020 through the redesign of processes and products, the pioneering of new technologies, and efforts to reduce or eliminate waste and harmful emissions while increasing the use of renewable materials and sources of energy. Interface now leads the industry in environmental achievement and the exploration of environmentally efficient products and processes.
In 2009, Anderson said, “Fifteen years later, we’re only halfway there. But we’ve saved over $400 million, which has more than financed everything else that we’ve done — the R&D, the capital expenditures, the process changes, employee training, the whole ball of wax.
Interface’s Mission Zero Progress has been remarkable. The use of recycled and biobased materials has gone up from 1% in 1996 to 49% in 2012. The water use (gallons per square yard) has gone down from 1.9 gallons in 1996 to .4 in 2012. The waste to landfill from Interface’s carpet products has gone down from 12.5 million pounds in 1996 to 2.0 million pounds in 2012. The Greenhouse Gas Emissions (pounds of CO2e per square yard) from Interface’s carpet factories dropped from 2.8 pounds to 1.6 pounds.
In other words, “Between 1996 and 2008, the company cut its net greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent (in absolute tons), yet sales increased by two-thirds and earnings doubled.”
Anderson chronicled the Mission Zero journey in two books, Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model (1998) and Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose: Doing Business by Respecting the Earth (2009). The latter was released in paperback as Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist in 2011.
As we can see, one man with a vision can have a huge impact. Anderson’s bold vision and ambitious goal has already accomplished things not thought to be possible, but it is a goal that demands constant improvement and attention. The management of Interface and FLOR are committed to continue with the ambitious sustainability goal to achieve a zero environmental footprint by 2020.
Unfortunately, Ray Anderson died on August 8, 2011 after a 20-month battle with cancer. On July 28, 2012, Anderson’s family re-launched the Ray C. Anderson Foundation with a new purpose. The Foundation’s mission is to create a brighter, sustainable world through the funding of innovative projects that promote and advance the concepts of sustainable production and consumption.
Interface and FLOR stand in sharp contrast to many other American companies that have offshored manufacturing to China and other parts of Asia to escape what they perceive as onerous environmental regulations in the U. S., reduce labor costs, and increase profits. If Interface and FLOR can be financially successful American companies in highly competitive markets while exercising environmental responsibility in the conduct of their business and supporting Made in USA products, they should be rewarded by consumers with more business.