Stakeholder Business 

How Interface Solved the Impossible (Part 3 of 3)

Apr 06, 2023
A hiker standing on the top of a mountain, admiring the sunset.

By Nathan Havey

Before reading Part 3 here, make sure to check out How Interface Solved the Impossible Part 1 and Part 2.

A New Kind Of Benefit

When Aquafil began to produce 100-percent recycled nylon yarn, it created a kind of closed-loop system for Interface. The company had already figured out how to recycle its carpet backing (another great scene in “Beyond Zero,” which you can see on April 18), and now it could shave the yarn off the face of its carpets and send that to Aquafil to be recycled into new yarn, with only the transportation and some not-yet-renewable energy impacts. This was far ahead of what any other manufacturer had been able to achieve to date.

But then came another great opportunity. Where else could Aquafil get nylon to recycle? And could it identify sources of discarded nylon, where its removal might actually create a new kind of benefit?

Better Than Good

Enter the Zoological Society of London, an NGO focused on wildlife conservation, including the health of marine ecosystems. One of the important problems they were dealing with was ghost fishing nets. If a fisherman’s net gets caught on coral, hopelessly tangled up, or badly damaged, they will often simply be tossed overboard and left behind. As they drift along, these nets can wreak havoc on a marine environment, ensnaring and killing all kinds of creatures, damaging coral reefs and more. And for the past couple decades, what have these nets been made out of? You guessed it: nylon.

But there was still a missing piece. The technical process was clear enough. Pull the nets off the ocean floor in the fishing waters just off the coast. Clean them, bundle them, and ship them to Aquafil for recycling. But how does the plan get people to go and pull up the nets? This is where Interface comes in. The company agreed to pay a fee per pound of net that was recovered, creating a financial incentive for local fishermen to go retrieve their own nets. Why would Interface pay such a fee? Because they need yarn and this program was helping its supplier source nylon to recycle. And that is good. But what is better than good is when a scalable good program creates good ripple effects that create even more good. Win-Win-Win. (Or should we say Good-Good-Good?)

The people who were actually part of this process tell the story in the film “Beyond Zero.” Have a look at the one-minute scene here.

Your Next Step

The Interface Story has been called the most important business story of the past 100 years. In this series on how to solve the impossible, we’ve provided a taste of just a few of the lessons a deep dive into this case can offer. If you see the value here, and would like to go deeper, then we invite you to consider the Stakeholder Business Acceleration Lab — a CEO-only program designed to not only expose you to 15 of the most important lessons the Interface case offers to the business world, but it does so in a structure that is designed to help you choose which ones are best for your company now and integrate them with velocity.

When we look at the problems that stand in the way of building a sustainable world that works for everyone, it can feel like it's impossible. But if you’ve reached this sentence, then you know how to solve the impossible. Start with the partial solution you can do now. Bet on purpose throughout your value chain. Don’t stop at good; keep working to make your solution better than good. If a critical mass of companies can learn how to do this, then humanity can indeed solve the impossible.


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