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Interface: Transforming supply chains through new business models

To help leading carpet manufacturer Interface achieve its vision of eliminating its entire environmental impact by the year 2020, CISL developed a series of bespoke in-person workshops in Cambridge for its suppliers. This led to the development of many co-created solutions, a metrics-based supplier transformation plan and some suppliers moving towards 100 per cent recycled raw materials and reducing emissions by over 20 per cent.


"We can’t reach zero emissions on our own – we knew we’d have to engage our supply chain to help us achieve our goals."

Barry Townsend, European Purchasing Director, Interface



In 1994, after reflecting on the intimate relationship between business and the environment, the founder and chairman of leading carpet manufacturer Interface, set the company on a transformational path to eliminate its entire environmental impact by the year 2020. Aptly named 'Mission Zero', Interface’s vision had led the company to remove 98 per cent of its emissions, but with its target deadline approaching, its leaders knew they needed to engage the entire supply chain with new thinking and new business models to achieve its goal.


The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has worked with Interface since 2014 to develop a series of bespoke in-person workshops in Cambridge for its suppliers. Bringing together a unique faculty of academic experts and seasoned business professionals, the two-day workshops have been designed to build capacity and understanding among Interface’s suppliers and facilitate collaboration to create a more sustainable supply chain. “I wanted these workshops to not just be Interface telling our suppliers what to do, but a holistic discussion of the merits of sustainability which would really convince them it’s the right thing to do,” Interface’s Barry Townsend said. “Through these tailored workshops CISL helped us to conceptualise what the issues are and to engender the need amongst our suppliers to respond to them.”


Since the first workshops took place, some of Interface’s suppliers are moving towards 100 per cent recycled raw materials and chemical transparency and have reduced their emissions by over 20 per cent. “After the workshop, all of our suppliers came away having made concrete pledges, and I also saw them talking to each other and finding solutions together,” said Townsend. The workshops also helped inform the creation of a four-step transformation plan and the introduction of sustainability metrics, including carbon footprinting of all its suppliers, into Interface’s vendor rating system.

CISL’s tailored training helps organisations across multiple sectors frame a response to sustainability trends. to discuss how a customised course can help your organisation achieve commercial impact.

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"This programme is an important catalyst for climate action within the Bank. We now have the knowledge, skills and confidence to engage colleagues and clients – skills that are essential if we are to promote green, inclusive growth across Africa."

Dr Balgis Osman-Elasha, Climate Change Expert (Program Task Manger), African Development Bank