Net-Works: a business student’s perspective
By Brant Wells |
This summer I had an opportunity to join Interface as an intern and work alongside the Net-Works team while having the pleasure of working and living in London, UK. I arrived in London with the understanding that Net-Works was a project that Interface and the Zoological Society of London had partnered on, together tackling the issue of discarded fishing nets in artisanal communities in the Philippines and Cameroon. These nets can then be regenerated into new nylon yarn by Aquafil, and utilized in the production of Interface’s carpet tiles.
While this explanation is correct, I discovered that Net-Works does far more than just recycling fishing nets into carpet. Net-Works demonstrates a very unique inclusive business model that engages with the livelihoods of the communities in the Philippines as well as affecting the entire supply chain of Interface’s flooring products.
Within each fishing community in the Philippines, Net-Works has established a system of community-run banks that are responsible for providing the members of the community with basic financial services, a kind of financial inclusion.
As a large corporation, Interface alone would find it very difficult to establish and maintain a strong connection within small artisanal fishing communities, setting up the net collection and community banking elements. This is why the partnership with ZSL is of utmost importance. ZSL has decades of experience and know on working with these communities around conservation and uses their expertise to connect to communities all over the globe to help with both the strategic and the operational aspects of Net-Works. ZSL-Philippines works hands on with the community as they explain the process of net collection and its importance for their own environment, while they also explain the basics of the community banks and the benefits that come along with the system.
Now having spent time with the Net-Works team this summer and witnessing the ins and outs of its operations, I have been able to formulate an opinion on what I believe is most impressive about Net-Works. Having created a mutually beneficial relationship between the community, environment, and business, I believe it is important for everyone to understand Interface’s approach to the recycled yarn and how it fits with Net-Works. To create a carpet designed and structured with only the recycled nets of Net-Works would seem to be the logical approach to the recycled yarn, but would that allow Net-Works to have the greatest impact?
Interface allows the recycled products from the Net-Works nets to be feedstock for Aquafil’s ECONYL® yarn, allowing the recycled yarn to be used in a large range of its products. This allows Interface carpet of many styles or designs to have a connection to the environmental and social impact that Net-Works works so hard to accomplish. This is why I find Net-Works to be so unique, as the goal is much more than just creating a sustainable product, but in fact it is much wider – to have a positive environmental impact, social impact, and to impact an entire supply chain. Impressively, Net-Works parallels with and develops Interface’s “Mission Zero” goal: to eliminate any negative impact Interface may have on the environment by the year 2020.
Net-Works growth has been nothing short of impressive, as the success in the Philippines has led the Net-Works team to researching new locations throughout the globe to expand to and leave a positive lasting impact. This year sees Net-Works set up in the Lake Ossa region of Cameroon, where the team will begin to not only improve the environment surrounding the lake, but also to establish a long standing social benefit on the people of the community through financial inclusion.
Working with the Net-Works team this summer has been an incredibly eye opening experience. I have been able to further my knowledge on sustainability, while also being introduced to the concepts of inclusive business and microfinance. I believe that the future of Net-Works has no boundaries and I hope to see its presence and influence grow across the globe. In a few short years Net-Works has gone from a great idea to now being established on two separate continents.
As an industry leader, hopefully Interface and Net-Works’ approach to an inclusive business will be able to motivate others to create relationships with NGOs and use their resources to create a spirit of environmental and social change.
Brant Wells is a student at the University of Georgia majoring in Business and joined Interface, ZSL and the Net-Works team for July 2015.