We sat down with Lisa Conway, VP of  Sustainability – Americas at Interface, to chat about the state of sustainability in 2020 and where the industry headed in the future. She will also be speaking at Greenbuild International Conference & Expo Virtual this fall.

Check out our conversation with Lisa below:

What is the biggest sustainability trend of 2020?

The abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a measurable impact on climate change’s impact on human health. Reducing embodied carbon is the most urgent opportunity as it stands today with the manufacture of building materials making up 11% of total GHG emissions. By addressing embodied carbon emissions, we can continue to create a climate fit for life.

What is the biggest sustainability innovation so far in 2020? 

At Interface, we are launching carbon negative products – which is a positive thing for our climate.  We have innovated new ways of working with recycled content and bio-based materials, which has driven us to produce the first carbon negative carpet tile, which directly benefits the planet. We accomplished this by learning to love carbon instead of seeing it as the enemy.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected sustainability?

It is easier to change when everything has changed. As we begin to build back from the initial disruptions caused by COVID-19 unpreparedness, we can place sustainability at the core of the built environment to move forward and build more resilient communities.

How will the COVID-19 pandemic shape the future of sustainability?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the entire world to experience a severe period of transition and turmoil as we continue to adapt and respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the warning signs of a potentially destructive pandemic, we were still unprepared. We mut now recognize the similarities of the COVID-19 pandemic and another pandemic facing our world – climate change. By understanding this, we can spark an increased interest and urgency in reversing global warming so that we can avoid the devastating impact of yet another global crisis.

Why is corporate social responsibility becoming more and more important?

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shine a light on the importance of corporate social responsibility. But it also demonstrates that all social issues are intertwined – we cannot view the issues and crises facing our world as siloed events or discussions.

For example, at Interface, while focused heavily on reversing global warming, we recognize that we cannot achieve this goal without addressing social equity. Specifically, climate change disproportionally impacts communities of color and low-income communities. We must address racism and environmental justice as a whole while we continue to pursue corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Why is social equity so important today?

The bulk of social inequities stem from society asking for more and needing it fast. As we pursue increased manufacturing and development, the question of where it comes from and how its production impacts others has become less important. The facets of corporate social responsibility – economic, social and environmental impacts – are all inextricably tied together. However, all must view these conversations as equally important across professional and personal boundaries.

A sustainability leader cannot opt to solely focus on reversing global warming without realizing its impact on low-income communities. These issues do not live in siloes. They are found everywhere and impact everyone.  We are up to that challenge.

How can sustainability & green building professionals help create a more circular economy? 

The first critical step in creating a more circular economy is prioritizing transparency around circular economy claims. We cannot view the circular economy as a list of boxes to check, and we must be able to trust claims across the industry to pursue successful endeavors now and in the future. Without transparency, we cannot meaningfully move forward.

What is your advice to fellow sustainability professionals to make a positive impact in 2020?

We do not often tell kids they can choose between a snack of carrots or cookies because we know they may not make the best choice. Instead, we offer our kids the option of better snacks – carrots or apples – removing the opportunity to select a less healthy option.

For building professionals that say their clients are not asking for sustainable building materials, so they are not suggesting them, there’s a lesson here. We have the opportunity as an industry to control the narrative and reduce the GHG emissions associated with the built environment by only presenting low-carbon products that are recycled at end of life. We are in the position and have the power to make low-carbon building materials the norm – not the exception. 

Where do you see sustainability going 10 years from now?

Earth has natural carbon sinks – oceans, plants and soil – that absorb carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away. Businesses must take a cue from nature and find ways to use and store carbon to reverse global warming, working in greater harmony with nature.

In 2030, I predict we will view buildings as carbon sinks, making them a solution to global warming as we endeavor to make the embodied and operational carbon associated with a building’s carbon life cycle more sustainable.  

Want to hear more from Lisa? Attend Greenbuild Virtual starting September 10th through November 12th. The industry’s leading green building event now offers three virtual summits in lead up to International Conference & Expo virtual event.

Safe, secure, sustainable. Connections without geographic boundaries. Expanded education courses available in real time or any time. Interactive supplier sourcing and peer networking forums. This is Greenbuild’s next chapter. Join us – Sign up here!

We sat down with Todd Sims, Director of Sustainability & Market Outreach at American Chemistry Council to chat about the state of sustainability in 2020 and where the industry headed in the future. He will also be speaking at Greenbuild International Conference & Expo Virtual this fall.

Check out our conversation with Todd below:

What is the biggest sustainability trend of 2020?

In a word, inclusiveness. A sustainable future requires a broad definition of sustainability – to include considerations of global pandemics, climate change and community resiliency, and social equity. It also requires a conscious effort to include as many diverse voices as possible to help solve the world’s most pressing issues to create a sustainable world and future. 

What is the biggest sustainability innovation so far in 2020?

The widespread institutional embrace of technology solutions to allow us to stay productive and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term implications on sustainability. These innovations will allow us to re-imagine our relationship with the built environment in offices, transportation practices, and beyond.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected sustainability and/or green building?

In the immediate, COVID-19 has caused a re-imagining of our work environments given the need for widespread adoption of remote work. From return-to-work protocols to the amount of office space which may or may not be needed in the future, how companies and employees engage with the built environment on a daily basis has been significantly altered.

Rahm Emanuel famously quipped, “Never waste a good crisis.” While the sentiment could be seen as callous, the lesson is important. People are becoming more aware than ever about their direct relationship with the built environments around them. As we emerge from this pandemic, sustainable building professionals will have an opportunity to capitalize on this awareness to encourage greater demand for healthy, sustainable, and resilient buildings.

Why is corporate social responsibility becoming more and more important?

In a way, it is reminiscent of the sustainable building movement. What was once viewed as a ‘nice-to-have’ is quickly becoming viewed as a license to operate. Besides simply doing the right thing, businesses understand that in order to stay competitive they need to attract top talent; and emerging leaders are making decisions using different value sets. At ACC, our staff and members are committed to being a positive force for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable society, a principle that is reflected in our existing commitments to sustainability.

We have the ability to leverage our position within communities and the broader economy to create opportunities and enhance equality for underrepresented groups, including people of color and women.  

Why is social equity so important today?

Social equity has always been critically important, we just allowed our leaders to either willfully ignore it or to hide behind half-measures. Social equity is sustainability; and sustainability is social equity. There is no parsing of the issues. A future that doesn’t work to provide support and opportunities for all isn’t a sustainable one.

How can sustainability and green building professionals help create a more circular economy?

I worry that the conversations around the circular economy are falling victim to the same pitfalls of the early sustainable building movement – an overreliance on a single attribute or issue.

Of course, we need to make better utilization of recycled content in products; and we should make products more easily recyclable from the onset. But to stop there would be a massive failure of imagination and progress. We also need to challenge our current relationship with materials – how can we insert circularity at the beginning of the design process rather than the end; and how can we enhance investment in R&D innovations in green and sustainable chemistry.

What is your advice to fellow sustainability and/or green building professionals to make a positive impact in 2020?

Bring a friend! This issue is too big, too important, and too urgent to be confined to a narrow group of dedicated advocates. Not only do these issues require an enormous amount of brainpower to solve, but the movement itself would benefit greatly from fresh perspectives and approaches.

For too long the perception has been you are either a full-time sustainability expert or that your contributions may not have meaningful impact. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sustainability should be the norm, and we should to normalize it for people to include in their day-to-day functions.

Where do you see sustainability going 10 years from now?

There is a false perception that sustainability has a finish line; that we will have either ‘solved’ this in 10 years or we are all doomed. I think that flies in the face of sustainability as a principle. Of course, it is incredibly important for us to make significant progress in the next 10 years to mitigate the climate crisis. But what comes next? There will no doubt be a new set of issues that will demand our full attention.

At the closing of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, in response to a question about whether America had a monarchy or republic, Benjamin Franklin responded, “a Republic, if you can keep it.” So, in 10 years, we will have sustainability – if we can keep it.

Want to hear more from Todd? Attend Greenbuild Virtual starting September 10th through November 12th. The industry’s leading green building event now offers three virtual summits in lead up to International Conference & Expo virtual event.

Safe, secure, sustainable. Connections without geographic boundaries. Expanded education courses available in real time or any time. Interactive supplier sourcing and peer networking forums. This is Greenbuild’s next chapter. Join us – Sign up here!