Conference keynote speaker Michael Bertolucci is instrumental in Interface's efforts to become completely sustainable.
Pointing to growing evidence that global warming might drive polar bears to extinction and contribute to more devastating hurricanes, Michael Bertolucci said he believes such environmental calamities aren't inevitable June 21 at the first annual Georgia Tech Product Re-X Conference.
"Every one of us as individuals must participate some way, somehow, to fix this problem….," said Bertolucci, senior vice president of the carpet company Interface, who delivered the keynote address at the day-long conference at the College of Management. "I'm very hopeful."
As president of Interface Research Corporation and chairman of the Envirosense Consortium Inc., Bertolucci is instrumental in Interface's efforts to ultimately cut its waste down to zero, making every process of the company completely sustainable.
Innovative and profitable strategies for the recovery, recycling, and reuse of old products were the focus of the conference, organized by Expanding Closed Loops in Production Systems (ECLiPS), an interdisciplinary focused-research program at Georgia Tech. Approximately 150 scholars and representatives from industry, public agencies, and non-governmental organizations came together to discuss business models, product design solutions, globalization, and economic development opportunities in Re-X (short for recovery, recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse).
Interface, a $1 billion company with operations in seven countries, has figured out how to profitably manage its Re-X activities. The company not only reclaims old floorings for reuse, but also builds factories that eliminate emissions and hazardous waste, finds alternatives to petroleum-based products, and uses renewable energy supplies. The amount of carpet Interface has diverted from landfills grew from 1.9 million pounds in 1995 to 83.9 million last year, and the company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 56 percent since 2000.
The company's ultimate goal, Bertolucci explained, is to "take nothing from Earth that's not rapidly renewable and do no harm."
More and more companies know they have to follow Interface's lead now that consumers as well as domestic and international regulations are demanding it, according to Beril Toktay, associate professor of strategic management and coordinator of ECLiPS. For example, the European Union is enacting tough environmental legislation that restricts the importation of electrical products made with certain hazardous materials, a development that affects U.S. manufacturers.
The conference educated attendees on the effects of that legislation as well as how to handle post-use products, make money on commercial returns, reduce packaging costs and waste, develop a remanufacturing strategy, design a global reverse-logistics network, and understand emerging remanufacturing technologies and biomaterials.
Panelists included senior executives of IBM, Hewlett Packard, Ford, Canvas Systems, Jabil, Shaw, Cummins, and Interface, representatives of industry associations (CARE, Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation), managers from public entities (National Science Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture, Georgia's Pollution Prevention Assistance Division), non-governmental organizations (Medshare, INFORM Inc.), and researchers from Georgia Tech, the University of Maryland, Pennsylvania State University, University of California at Los Angeles, and Vanderbilt University.
Panelist Todd Wieland, chief engineer of Cummins's Remanufacturing Technology Team, said the "good news is that sustainability has become more fashionable, but there still needs to be a strong business case."