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!

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