A seven-step guide in fostering supplier and customer relationships to reach your sustainability goals.
In GreenBiz’s latest webcast, How to Get Your Supply Chain to Embrace Circularity, CEO and Chairman of Aquafil Giulio Bonazzi sat down with Interface VP and CSO Erin Meezan to talk about the power of positive relationships between designers, manufacturers, and their suppliers.
Meezan and Bonazzi discuss the development of the Interface-Aquafil partnership as a clear example of a powerful manufacturer-supply chain relationship. Meezan shined a light on Interface’s suggested strategies that transformed its supply chain, an evolution that was essential to the company’s Mission Zero success and led to a broader impact outside of Interface that extended to other companies.
In 2010, Interface created its first 100% recycled nylon carpet tile by partnering with yarn supplier Aquafil, further amplifying their mission to transform into a purpose driven flooring company of sustainable designers, makers and storytellers.
With the hope to continue creating a powerful ripple effect of positive change in the design industry, Meezan and Bonazzi discuss important strategies in building the customer-supplier relationship that can help companies pursue and fulfill their sustainability goals.
1. DATA SHARING: A systemic approach starting for what impacts the most.
Meezan discussed the importance of sharing data as a way to immediately engage suppliers in conversation about sustainability. Doing life cycle assessments and looking at the footprint of the products is the first step to getting the attention of raw material suppliers.
2. GOAL-SETTING: The driver of change.
The establishment of clear goals and expectations is the true driver of change. Interface founder Ray Anderson set a clear expectation that led Interface to achieving production goals with lesser carbon footprints. Clear goals are critical for a company internally and in communicating and engaging your supplies with where you want to go.
Meezan suggests that if you’re just starting out, this is where you can start in terms of engaging your suppliers in relation to the impact your actions have. She separates the types of engagement on impact levels.
3. CONVERSATIONS COST NOTHING: Starting with no-cost conversations with suppliers
Sharing where you’re going to go with your company costs nothing. Engage with your suppliers with a deeper programmatic approach and share the data with the supply chain. This gives the necessary context to start a conversation on how to move forward.
Generating awareness and expanding your suppliers viewpoint on sustainability is where the shift begins and you can build from here. Ask supply chain members about their carbon footprint so that they can look more deeply at the environmental implications of their processes. These small level impacts lead to higher level impacts.
4. FAILURE CAN LEAD TO SUCCESS: Develop smaller pilots that can fail so you can learn
Under the Fair-Works™ initiative, Interface introduced a new line of products, a range of eco-friendly grass and bamboo woven floor tiles, sourced from artisanal weavers in India. The sales of the product line turned out to be quite disappointing.
Though Fair-Works™ was a market failure, it laid the foundation for a later successful program. In 2012, Net-Works™ was introduced as a partnership between Interface, Aquafil, and the Zoological Society of London. Net-Works™ focused on working with coastal villages to recover fishing nets and incorporate them into Interface’s supply chain to see them made into Aquafil’s recycled nylon, ECONYL®, for Interface products. The original pilot failure enabled Interface to understand how to build the right elements for a socially inclusive supply chain and motivated them to collaborate with non-traditional suppliers.
The Net-Works™ collaboration with Aquafil was the reason Interface became a founding member of the NextWave Initiative, alongside powerhouses like Dell and HP, to share their experience using marine plastic with other member companies.
5. EDUCATE SUPPLIERS.
Work on education of suppliers by showing your own data and sharing your knowledge to spark conversations around sustainability. You can frame the work together as a journey with suppliers. When you want to begin doing something different, develop a long-term plan and stick to it. Meezan suggests building a 24-month plan and adjusting as you learn what doesn’t work. The key here is to not give up.
6. SHARE POSITIVE STORIES.
Today, through technology, we all have reach. It is proven that there is great influence in storytelling. Share effective stories of sustainability projects. Sustainable design projects prove that it is possible, and it builds momentum that changes culture and changes the way we design.
7. EDUCATE CUSTOMERS.
It is a duty to educate customers and fight the idea that sustainability costs more. We have to think about how to weave sustainability into our discussions with suppliers and clients that will open up more possibilities. Sustainability is not an “added item”, but a choice and a responsibility. Convert the sustainability efforts into something that makes a difference in the market to bypass the argument of paying more, and instead highlight the high performative and durable traits of regenerated materials.
There are even more sustainable stories to tell. Fashion brand, Napapijri, designed the Skidoo Infinity jacket with ECONYL® nylon. It is the first 100% recycled and recyclable jacket. This closed-loop design is a pioneering concept in the fashion world that can be replicated in the design world seamlessly.
Take a look at Aquafil’s other collaboration examples that can equip you with key examples of manufacturers establishing positive and transparent relationships with us as a supplier:
Learn about the many more revolutionary brands across the globe working with ECONYL® nylon for its circular capabilities.
Through the power of design, you can create products and infuse your projects with beautiful, sustainable materials like ECONYL® regenerated nylon. Green design is fundamental to our evolution toward a circular economy.