Interface announces commitment to expand environmental initiative 'net-works'

Interface, Inc, the world’s largest modular carpet manufacturer, announced on Sept 23 at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting, its commitment to expanding Net-Works™ in partnership with Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Net-Works is an innovative, cross-sector collaboration designed to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities, while at the same time supporting one of the company’s ambitious Mission Zero® goals to source 100 per cent recycled nylon. Today, the program is established in rural coastal areas in the central Philippines (including the Bantayan Islands and Danajon Bank, one of only six double-barrier reefs in the world).

With the CGI Commitment to Action, the team announces that Net-Works will be expanded, with a new net collection hub in the Lake Ossa region of Cameroon, and in two additional hubs anticipated over the next three years.

“Inclusive business is about finding ways to have a net positive impact on social and environmental issues while still minding the bottom line,” said Nigel Stansfield, chief innovations officer for Interface. “We are challenging the status quo to reimagine our supply chain in a way that improves our ability to source recycled content, while simultaneously cleaning up oceans and lakes and lifting people from poverty. It’s ambitious, and it’s working.”

Over the last 18 months, Net-Works hubs have collected in excess of 38,600 kg of discarded fishing nets, helping 4,500 villagers in communities in the Philippines to earn supplemental income equal to 84,000 additional meals. It is anticipated that over the next three years, Net-Works will support and strengthen over 500 hectares of community-based Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Net-Works regions, thereby helping to restore the biodiversity of the aquatic ecosystems.

Gathered nets are recycled by Italian yarn manufacturer Aquafil in their ECONYL® Regeneration System into nylon yarn that Interface uses to produce carpet tile.

Dr. Heather Koldewey, head of global conservation programs for Zoological Society of London, said: “We believe Net-Works is both scalable and replicable, and we also commit at CGI to develop the Net-Works infrastructure so that it can become a free-standing, financially viable program independent of Interface and ZSL.” To that end, a Net-Works tool kit will be released in first quarter of 2015, a field guide that will help additional partners set up Net-Works collection hubs in pursuit of inclusive business.

Net-Works background

In poor Philippines coastal villages in and around Danajon Bank where marine life and reefs are endangered, fishermen gather and bundle discarded nylon nets (which would otherwise last for 600 years) for shipment to yarn supplier Aquafil, which developed certain nylon recycling technology. In these villages, 892 households (4,460 people) have engaged with the program and can now:

  • recycle their nets to earn extra income;
  • access financial services through self-run community banks, so they can take out micro-loans for education and business ventures and have secure savings; and
  • be empowered to clean beaches of old nets and ensure no more nets are discarded on the beach or in the water.

So far, more than 38,600 kg have been collected from these villages; laid end to end, those nets would stretch 90 per cent of the way around the world.

One important aspect of Net-Works is that it gives women an equal opportunity to participate and receive an additional source of income from net collection, making them integral, decision-making members of the community banking systems developing as a result of this program. Net-Works does not employ children directly (or any of the villagers), although many of the village children participate with their family members in “beach clean ups” to collect nets and learn about conservation.

Professor Stuart Hart of Cornell University, a leading authority on the implications of environment and poverty on business strategy, says, “Net-Works is a win environmentally, a win socially … and to me that’s the gold standard.”

In 2014, ZSL received nearly US$1 million in two three-year grants from the Darwin Initiative, a U.K. government funding program that helps countries with rich biodiversity but poor financial resources to meet their objectives. The grants will help adapt the Net-Works model in Cameroon’s Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve, an important refuge for West African manatees and other freshwater species, as well as provide vital support to expand the current net collection infrastructure in the Philippines.

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