Profile  |  March 15, 2021

Erin Meezan on the need for bold corporate climate action

by Aiyana Bodi

The flooring industry isn’t a typical bastion of bold climate action. And Erin Meezan, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer of Interface—the world’s largest carpet tile manufacturer—knows it. “It’s not Tesla,” she says. “It’s maybe not the most exciting place to save the world.” Because flooring companies aren’t usually expected to set the bar for innovation, Interface’s climate aspirations are especially compelling. Through its ambitious targets and innovative engagement strategies, Interface is setting a high climate action bar for the corporate world.

Interface began its sustainability journey in 1994, far sooner than most corporations. And while many businesses publicize mediocre climate goals—like reducing “X” amount of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by “Y” date—Interface takes a new approach, moving beyond “doing less harm” to making measurable positive impacts on people and the planet. Interface’s restorative approach to climate change means eliminating its carbon footprint, but also promotes carbon removal and protection of natural carbon sinks as well as engaging employees, other businesses, and policymakers.

Through its first major initiative, dubbed Mission Zero®, Interface dramatically cut impacts on the environment in its operations, raw materials, and products over a span of 25 years: globally, it cut 96% in GHG emissions, 92% of waste to landfills, and 89% of water usage per unit of production. The company charged beyond its goals faster than expected (meeting its Mission Zero targets in 2019, one year ahead of schedule), and in 2015, Interface leaders knew they were ready for the next steps in their sustainability journey. This is the moment, Meezan says, Interface chose to deliberately transform from a company looking to reduce its impact, into a place that works towards the type of future the world deserves. Their goals were framed around the Climate Take Back initiative, a plan to create a “climate fit for life” by reversing global warming, restoring the planet, and making a positive impact.

Part of this plan mandates that the company has a negative carbon footprint. As a bare minimum standard, all of Interface’s products are carbon neutral. In 2020, the company went a step further with the release of a carbon negative carpet tile, a manifestation of their “climate fit for life” initiative in product form. This carpet, made from recycled content and bio-based materials, stores more carbon than it releases and proves businesses in every sector can push their goals beyond do no harm.

“It's possible to offer [these types of] products worldwide...and still make money and still grow,” says Meezan. “If we can do it, our competitors can do it.”

Interface understands the power of people and smart policy, and extends its climate activities to employees and other institutions. On the policy front, Interface is working to expand the Buy Clean program in California, so that government procurement of interior finishings takes into account global warming potential. Hand in hand with advocacy, Interface also works to ensure the proper tools and infrastructure are in place for a policy to be successful, like the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). This requires constant education and awareness building for state and local governments, customers, and other stakeholders. Sometimes, Meezan says, it’s as simple as getting others to “understand the link between making a carbon commitment and how they can live up to that.” It also means collaborating with other pioneering companies to advocate for change together. In 2018, Interface co-created the Materials Carbon Action Network (materialsCAN), a group of manufacturers pushing for the consideration of embodied carbon in building projects.

Inside company walls, every employee is needed to implement Interface’s mission, and so company leaders use both learning and celebration to weave climate advocacy into employees’ day-to-day lives. There are many internal learning opportunities for staff, including  Carbon 101 classes that cover the basic science of climate change and give employees tools for how to communicate the importance of climate action to customers. “It’s real, deep investment that's perpetual,” Meezan says, emphasizing the need to meet each employee where they are in terms of their climate literacy and providing a suite of ways to get involved. And in fact, as Interface continues to engage its staff across all departments, it finds that employee desire to push the company beyond its goals has grown.   

By approaching climate change with a holistic perspective, Interface sets a corporate example for what’s possible. It shares its knowledge with others through radical transparency—an obligatory part of leading a private sector transformation. Fundamental change lies at the heart of Interface’s mission, with an understanding that meaningful action requires an open, flexible approach to business. Meezan notes that in the century following the American Revolution, businesses were originally given the right to operate because they provided benefits to their communities, and if we are to fully address the climate crisis, we need to return to this narrative in a way that mirrors the broader natural system. “Saying we're here to make money and that's our primary [goal] is not good enough anymore,” Meezan says. “We need to serve a higher purpose.”

Press Contacts

If you are a journalist and would like Project Drawdown updates and/or digital assets for editorial use, please contact press@drawdown.org.

More Insights

News  |  February 6, 2023
USPS trucks
Major businesses led by Etsy and eBay praise USPS’s shift to electric delivery fleet
A group of major corporations led by Etsy and eBay is praising the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for committing to exclusively purchase electric vehicles starting in 2026, in a letter coordinated by Drawdown Labs, Project Drawdown’s private-sector testing ground for accelerating the adoption of climate solutions quickly, safely and equitably. Etsy and eBay are among the largest e-commerce marketplaces in the country. The USPS is central to their business and to millions of small sellers who run their shops on these platforms.  The USPS is currently transitioning to an all-new fleet of 106,000 delivery vehicles. It announced in December that 62 percent of those purchases over the next five years will have all-electric powertrains and by 2026, 100 percent of newly purchased vehicles will be electric. The letter from Etsy and eBay also includes signatories Askov Finlayson, Avocado Green, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Dr. Bronner’s, A Good Company, Grove Collaborative, Patagonia, Peak Design, Seventh Generation, Stonyfield and Warby Parker. “This decision sends a message to every business in the United States: it is possible, achievable and necessary to adopt all-electric fleets for corporate transportation and shipping needs.” said Jamie Alexander, director of Drawdown Labs at Project Drawdown. “These companies are working hard to reduce their climate impact, and this move by the USPS enables them to address the difficult-to-abate supply chain emissions. This is good news for all involved. ” With a shift to electric vehicles, the group of companies believe it will not just be good for the environment but good for business as consumers reap the benefits of lower costs and other innovations made possible by electric vehicles.  The nation and the world are quickly transitioning to electric vehicles, led by consumer demand for the many benefits of EVs, including better efficiency, easier maintenance, zero emissions and better performance. That means cleaner air, reduced climate risk and improved health across the globe. Electrifying vehicles is a key climate solution, with the potential to reduce up to 9.8 gigatons of CO2-e by 2050. “For millions of small sellers and entrepreneurs on Etsy, a modern USPS committed to innovation and sustainability is crucial for the vibrancy of their small and micro businesses,” said Chelsea Mozen, senior director of impact & sustainability at Etsy. “The USPS’s commitment to a robust electric delivery fleet is good for the postal service, good for small businesses and good for America.” “USPS’s commitment to electric vehicles is great news for small businesses like the many on our platform who rely on USPS to keep their business moving. eBay is proud to support this move toward greater sustainability and a cleaner world,” said eBay chief sustainability officer Renée Morin.
Read more
Profile  |  January 24, 2023
Drawdown Science team member Yusuf Jameel
Drawdown Science profile: Yusuf Jameel
This article is the third in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team. Yusuf Jameel joined Project Drawdown in 2021 as a research manager for Drawdown Lift. In January 2023 he transitioned to the Drawdown Science team as associate scientist, data science. A multidisciplinary scientist with experience in water resources, public health, data analytics, and science communication, he’s passionate about finding solutions to climate change and bridging the gap between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Yusuf obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Please welcome Yusuf as he shares his thoughts on growing up on the banks of the Ganges River, enhancing human well-being through the adoption of climate solutions, porcupine hair, and more. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them?  A. As a member of the science team, I work on climate solutions using my experience in data analysis, especially on solutions that also address the food–energy–water nexus. I also work on translating the science in a way that makes it widely accessible.  Q: Of all of the things you could be doing, why did you choose to join Project Drawdown?   A: Project Drawdown is on a mission to actually address the biggest problem the world is facing today, climate change. I was really impressed by the book. It was the first to lay out that yes, we can address climate change—it's not just about gloom and doom, it’s also about opportunity. Project Drawdown addresses climate in a way that’s multidimensional, promotes the best science, addresses the different audiences, and passes the mic. That really motivates me. Q: What do you consider some of the biggest obstacles to implementing and scaling up climate solutions?  A: First is unlocking the finance to fund climate solutions globally. We need capital from the private sector, from banks divesting from fossil fuels, and we need to invest in green solutions. Another challenge is politics. We need to think more altruistically. This is a global challenge requiring everyone to join hands, yet it has not been the case so far. The good news is, public perception is changing. Hopefully politics will change, and more capital will be funneled into climate solutions. Q: OK, time for a break. What’s your favorite food? A: I would go with my comfort food, and that’s biryani. It’s a big tradition in South Asian countries, and if you ask anyone in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, biryani is probably one of the top dishes. It’s not the healthiest dish, but it’s just so comforting.  Q: I’m sure you have many, but can you tell us about one superpower you bring to this job? A: I’m a jack of all trades. Whether it’s high-level thinking, brainstorming ideas, or actually doing the work, I’m comfortable doing it all. I’m also adaptable. If a situation requires me to step up and take the lead I can, or I can step back and follow.  Q: What's a childhood experience that relates to the work you're doing today?  A: I grew up on the banks of the River Ganges. Every now and then there would be flooding. As a result, many people would go through an annual cycle of losing crops and be entrenched in a cycle of poverty, unable to get out. This had a profound effect on me. When I started reading about climate change and seeing flooding events become more and more intense, I recognized the need to address climate and development holistically.  Q: What’s your favorite Drawdown Solution?  A: There are so many of them! I really like Distributed Solar Photovoltaics and Reduced Food Waste, but my favorite is Clean Cooking. I think that solution can revolutionize the lives of billions of people in the world, especially young girls. It not only addresses climate but also vastly improves health, addresses gender equality, and opens up economic opportunities. If we can implement clean cooking and distributed solar, we’ll see huge changes in the lives of billions of people globally.  Q: Time for another break. If you were a nonhuman animal, what animal would you be?  A: As a kid I had short hair that was like vertical hair, as if I had had an electric shock. So many of my friends called me Porcupine. People  would rub my hair all the time as it felt like velvet. Now I keep my hair long.  Q: What gives you hope?  A: I derive my hope from two things. First, we’re rapidly advancing technology—a lot of people from across the world are putting their effort into finding and implementing the best and most important solutions to address climate change. Second,  when I was at COP27, I saw that young people are really leading the movement. That gives me hope that we can do meaningful work on this very important but challenging issue. Q: Anything else you’d like to share?  A: I like nature. I especially like mountains. This is something I realized very late in life, maybe because I grew up in cities with very little nature around. When I moved to Utah, I started going to the mountains. I realized how peaceful and how nice it is, and I can’t not talk about it.  As human societies are getting more urbanized,  a lot of us, especially young people who live in large metropolises, are cut off from nature. And I hope they reconnect with nature. We need to appreciate nature and biodiversity much more than we do. Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back. We need to love it, respect it, and protect it.
Read more