2017 got off to a great start last week for Interface and Net-Works. On Thursday January 5th, Interface Chairman & CEO Dan Hendrix and VP of Product Innovation and Insights Lisa King, travelled to Washington to collect an Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE) from the US Secretary of State. Interface was joint winner, along with Bureo Skateboards, in the Sustainable Ocean’s Management category, in recognition of the positive impact that Net-Works has had in fishing communities in the Philippines.
Ahead of the ceremony, Dan and Lisa joined the other five award winners at a roundtable discussion with officials from the State Department, where they talked about responsible business and the role US companies can play on the international stage. Then at 10.30 EST, Deputy Secretary Blinken, who hosted the ceremony, kicked off proceedings, inviting each winner to take to the podium to accept their award.
In his acceptance speech, Dan Hendrix described how in 1994 Interface committed to Mission Zero – a promise to eliminate any negative impact the company may have on the environment by 2020 – which was built on the fundamental belief that “there has to be a better way.” Dan recalled how through conversations with yarn supplier Aquafil, Interface learned that one of the world’s cleanest and most abundant sources of good quality, recyclable nylon is fishing nets. This sparked an idea for an inclusive business model that would benefit not only the environment, but also local fishing communities in the Philippines.
To help make the idea a reality, Interface “got creative” and reached out to partner with leading international conservation charity, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Working together, they set up Net-Works. Now operating in 26 communities in the Philippines and 9 communities in Cameroon, Net-Works incentivises local people to collect and sell used fishing nets, and provides a sustainable supply of recycled nylon for Interface’s carpet tiles.
So far over 100 metric tons of waste nets have been recycled, 900 families have been given access to finance, and 60,000 local people have benefitted from a cleaner environment. Dan commented on how Net-Works has also created commercial benefits for Interface: “We’ve realised that our customers share our values. They appreciate the fact that we have an inclusive business model – it’s a significant driver of sales for us.”
Accepting Bureo’s award, Co-founder Kevin Ahearn, described how what started out as “a passion project for three humble surfers” had now expanded to over 20 fishing communities in Chile. He spoke about the day he and his fellow co-founders first took their skateboards, made from recycled fishing nets, back to the fishing villages in Chile to show them to the fishermen: “We realised at that moment that we had forever changed the way that they would view their net waste.”
2016 was the first year that the ACE included a sustainable ocean’s management award, reflecting the fact that companies have an important role to play in creating solutions for sustainable oceans. Prof Heather Koldewey, Head of Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programmes at ZSL, expressed her delight at the award: “Who would have thought that a carpet tile and a skateboard could contribute to the sustainability of the ocean? The US Secretary of State Award for Corporate Excellence highlights the great work that our partner, Interface and Bureo have done to show that corporations can have an unexpected positive effect on the world through some innovative thinking around their supply chain.”
Indeed, the ceremony was full of inspiring stories of companies doing great things around the world, from Andela, winner of the SME category, which trains young people in Nigeria to become world-class tech developers, to McDonalds and GE, joint-winners in the inclusive hiring category, for their work on giving opportunities to refugees in Germany (McDonalds) and women in Saudi Arabia (GE).
As Deputy Secretary Blinken so neatly summed up, each of the six award winners, through their innovation and leadership, is showing that companies can “do well by doing good.” Interface was honored to be among such exemplars.