On the Carpet: Desso’s Director of Sustainability Explains How They Do It

Desso Rudi Daelmans

Rudi Daelmans, director of sustainability for carpet-maker Desso.

Flooring is a key consideration in sustainability within the built environment – including reuse and recycling – so we were pleased chat at length with Rudi Daelmans, director of sustainability at Desso, maker of carpets and carpet tiles for applications in more than 100 countries. Its products are supplied to corporate offices, education, healthcare, government, homes and also hotels, cruise liners and airlines. Desso has a long-established reputation for reliability, quality, design, functionality as well as its “Cradle to Cradle” approach.

Daelmans spoke about his company’s sustainability efforts in all facets of his company’s products – from manufacture to R&D to the complete lifecycle, especially in Cradle to Cradle applications.

“As director of sustainability for Desso, I have complete responsibility for the implementation of Cradle to Cradle – basically, it goes from building the strategy, to the KPIs [key performance indicators] to further implementation in the company, and exchanging the information with EPEA, the Hamburg-based Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency run by Professor Dr. Michael Braungart, the co-founder of the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy,” said Daelmans. “The German chemist Professor Dr. Michael Braungart and the U.S. architect William McDonough, the thinkers behind the Cradle to Cradle design concept, set out their ideas in the groundbreaking book, Cradle to Cradle: Re-Making the Way We Make Things.”

We asked about Daelmans’ place in the organizational chart:

“Firstly, the office hierarchy is that I report in a straight line to the CEO of Desso,” Daelmans replied. “Secondly, all employees have individually defined KPIs – and the company’s vision is clearly defined and communicated on all levels of the organization.All managers within Desso review, together with their employees, their performance twice a year.Their annual performance is then factored into yearly salary adjustments.

“In our discussions, we also answer all sustainability questions, and are heavily involved with Cradle to Cradle. We have even reached out to be in talks with U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) about LEED – it is our belief that to be an industrial leader, you need to be aware and involved with other schemes, like LEED.”

In this niche market, Interface has the distinction of being at the top of their game as a green flooring company. Where do you see Desso in this regard?

“Interface is our biggest competitor in the European carpet tile market. To answer this question, we have to look at the main differences between sustainability and Cradle to Cradle,” Daelmans said. “Often, sustainability starts by evaluating the impact of a material or an activity on the environment, and then tries to minimize those impacts. In following this approach, you could be optimizing the wrong things - trying to do less of a bad thing. The Cradle to Cradle concept focuses on eco-effectiveness - doing things right from the start - rather than eco-efficiency - where you try to curb something we have not been doing well. We want to avoid creating an efficient pursuit of the wrong goals, and make a fundamental shift towards a new design objective. This also takes a longer time horizon, but is the most holistic approach.

Desso Carpeting

Desso Carpeting

“We are not just looking at the carpet industry – we are talking with other industries for a bigger, more holistic, answer. By making our environmental impact smaller, we may be actually making another’s company’s environmental footprint worse. The supply chain thinking is that we want to have the least total impact. Let me give you an example of what I mean: Interface has a strong focus on LCAs and EPDs [product declarations], whereas Desso asks how can we make a product that has a positive impact.” For example, in 2010 Desso introduced AirMaster, a carpet that clears the air.

Now that you have touched upon that topic, can you expand further to describe Desso’s business, and how can it impact our environment, its customers and society as a whole?

“Cradle to Cradle starts by defining the perfect product based on user requirements and functionality, and by applying the three Cradle to Cradle principles: waste equals food; use current solar income; and celebrate diversity,” Daelmans said. “I also reference the book, Cradle to Cradle: Re-Making the Way We Make Things, and translate it as a means to improve the quality of life. It’s not just about future generations, but for the current generation. Basically, I want to have some things that are good for me, such as swim in fresh clean water, have space to recreate and space to live. But, to be able to do that, we need to be good to the environment, and to the biodiversity, in order to breathe in clean air. In using Cradle to Cradle, this gives me the opportunity to clean the air. We should take care of nature to be safe today.

“If you release water that supports the biotope, that is good; if you release polluted water, that is no good for the biotope; ditto for air. For Desso, we came up with DESSO AirMaster. With DESSO AirMaster, the fine dust concentration in the indoor air is four times lower than with standard carpet solutions and eight times lower than with hard flooring solutions. The materials we use in our products are assessed by the EPEA against 24 factors, so we need to have the ingredients of every chemical that is in a manufactured carpet, and get an overall picture of their product and get an overall score, whether it is Silver, Gold, etc.

“Version 3 of the Cradle to Cradle certification criteria has been launched in 2012, which introduces a five-tiered approach consisting of Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels to reflect continuous improvement. Within the carpet industry, there are also still a number of manufacturers using PVC in their backing. This is a choice which, quite simply, does not fit in with Desso’s Cradle to Cradle philosophy. Instead, we developed and launched our new DESSO EcoBase backing in 2010, which is designed and produced according to Cradle to Cradle principles. Due to its innovative composition, the polyolefin-based layer of the DESSO EcoBase backing is fully recyclable in our own production process.”

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