Sustainability is a deeply multifaceted, incredibly comprehensive, and often quite overwhelming notion – especially when it comes to product design on a global scale. Here we get a glimpse of what that looks like for Jan Peter van Deutekom, VP of Product Design and Portfolio Management at Interface – a flooring brand that prides itself on designing innovative products in concern for sustainability.
JP, as Jan Peter is also known, leads the product portfolio team across Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia with his efforts focused on new product development, product management and designing concepts to support Interface’s diverse group of customers. Here, he explains why sustainability is like a mountain – and how Interface scales all of its various slopes.
“For us, design is more than just a pretty picture, what the product looks like, the pattern or the colors,” says JP. “It’s really about how it’s built, but also what it does for the user, or in a larger context for the planet. So we started using life cycle analysis as a management tool, and carbon as a magic metric, to understand the product footprint. Because carbon cuts through all aspects of sustainability.
Focusing on carbon to perform life cycle analyses, Interface found that almost 70% of a product’s impact is caused by raw materials and the production stage – a part that manufacturers can absolutely control on their own terms.
“It inspired us to adhere to a few design principles, which we see as different slopes to climb that mountain of sustainability. Reduce, recycle and redesign,” says JP. that is, using less material, like yarn and backing, in our carpet tiles, then using more recycled content in all layers of the product, or completely redesigning the product. can be done by developing new technologies to create a product or finding alternative raw materials.
But as with any design company, Interface merges the search for more sustainable products with the aspiration to make beautiful products – with nature often the backdrop to both ambitions. “In my team, I have seven product designers and 35 concept designers working in markets in Europe, Asia and Australia, and a similarly sized team in the United States. And they not only translate customer requirements, but also sustainability goals into product development,” says JP.
“One of the really interesting concepts that we use in this regard is biomimicry,” he adds. “Learning from nature and how nature would design products. And it’s really very interesting to follow these principles, because nature uses cyclic patterns which are in fact closed loops. So we asked ourselves the question, ‘how would nature design a flooring product?’. And as a great example of random design, we looked at what a forest looks like with falling leaves in autumn. And they are on the ground completely randomly, but still show an interesting picture from a distance.
“We used this idea to design a carpet tile that could be installed randomly, which really had a major impact on installation speed, waste, as well as operational benefits because we could use obsolete yarns in the product, which usually wouldn’t be made or thrown away. So that reduced waste,” JP further explains. “And that’s a great example of how biomimicry, as a as a design principle, can be used in the design of more durable quality products.”
Biomimicry aside, Interface is arguably one of the most advanced design companies when it comes to sustainability, with initiatives that cover every stage of the product lifecycle, and even go beyond carbon neutrality – carbon negative some products.
Learn more about JP’s work and this innovative company by listening to the full episode of the Talking Architecture & Design podcast.