Interface: The Journey Toward Carbon Negative

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: March 23, 2022
Length: 20 pages
Product ID#: 2-341-083

Core Disciplines: Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Social Impact, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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Interface has been a leading innovator in the carpet industry, specializing in the manufacturing of carpet tiles for commercial flooring. This case describes the history, context, and technology behind the company’s development of its newest sustainable innovation—carbon negative carpet tiles. Interface began pursuing a path of bold sustainable initiatives in 1994 when Founder and CEO Ray Anderson, confronted by an employee, had a realization of the company’s negative environmental impact. The company then began moving toward a carbon neutral future, through carpet recycling and leasing programs, transparent emissions reporting and new carbon storing materials.

This case uses Interface’s story to: explore the context and motivations for companies pursuing environmental goals such as carbon negativity; present the transparency and reporting dynamics within the realm of carbon accounting; and contemplate the stakeholder dynamics created by these decisions. The primary dilemma is whether Interface made the correct decision in launching its carbon negative carpet tiles, given these different factors.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Identify the characteristics of a company’s history that demonstrate a culture of continuous sustainable innovation.
  • Explain the dynamics and challenges faced by sustainable companies given the context and past practices of their industries.
  • Describe what constitutes carbon accounting, as well as issues pertaining to reporting regulation, corporate transparency, and carbon offsets.
  • Articulate the business case for pursuing carbon neutrality and carbon negativity, while identifying the barriers to achieve such goals.
  • Examine the different stakeholder dynamics that companies face when pursuing carbon negativity.