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Interface and Boeing: Innovation Partners
Interface is the world's leading producer of modular carpet and a leader in environmentally responsible manufacturing. Its 16-year journey up Mt. Sustainability has inspired countless others to imitate their sustainability efforts.
Some airplane facts. Since the beginning of jet aviation 50 years ago, the industry has decreased its noise footprint by 90 percent, and increased efficiency and reduced carbon footprint by 70 percent. Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company, will introduce two new jetliners this year with a 15 to 20 percent improvement on those numbers.
Boeing introduces new airplanes every decade or so and continues to make investments in these areas but admits it's getting harder to find efficiencies. According to Alan Anderson, director of engineering for Payload Systems, while continuing to look at large scale technologies such as fuel cells, "in our business small things make a big difference, sometimes in unexpected ways."
Anderson is responsible for the oversight of the design of interiors for all Boeing's commercial airplanes. He is also responsible for the development of interiors for future airplanes as well as developing the technologies that will go in them.
Anderson found Interface while refurbishing a small office space. "For such a big company we placed a tiny order," he notes. However, impressed by the carpet's recyclability he wondered if it could be used in airplanes but was told by Interface it couldn't work; commercial carpet weighs 130 ounces a square yard versus 52 oz/sy for airplane carpet. On an airplane, weight drives everything: efficiency, carbon footprint and economics.
A few weeks later, however, Anderson received a call from Interface and the two companies started a 4-year project to develop a modular carpet that would meet Boeing's weight requirements and--this is huge--can be taken off an airplane and made into new airplane carpet. Carpet on airplanes is replaced more often that any other part, and it all went to landfill. Perhaps, soon, none of it will.
The carpet has been successfully used for the past year on Southwest Airlines' Green Plane and appears to be ready for prime time.
Alan Anderson readily credits Interface chairman Ray Anderson for providing the vision that made the collaboration between the two companies possible as well as the breakthrough product. Though their companies come from two different spectrums, both Andersons agree that they've inspired each other on technical, management and individual levels and have all become more knowledgeable.
Terrific work! Note to manufacturers: never turn down a tiny order.