Can Carpet Save Our Seas?

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Can Carpet Save Our Seas?

PhilippinesUnited Kingdom
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Building a community-based value chain for discarded nylon fishing nets which will:
• improve the coastal & marine ecosystem
• create supplementary income for coastal communities
• supply Interface with an innovative source of recycled material for its core product

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Around 640,000T of discarded fishing ends up in the oceans each year, or 10 percent of the world total of marine debris, (FAO/UNEP study). Many fishing nets discarded due to wear and tear and then replaced. In developing countries, Artisanal fishers often dispose of their nets on beaches - where they cause pollution - or in the sea, where they can last for centuries continuing to catch or injure marine life - a process known as “ghost fishing”. The fishers that discard these nets are often living in extreme poverty and locked into declining fisheries which are only further degraded by ghost nets. 23 million people rely on the oceans for their livelihood and have few opportunities to break the cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Global carpet tile manufacturer Interface, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), a conservation NGO, have teamed up to develop an innovative supply chain approach that aims to tackle the environmental problem of discarded fishing nets whilst helping to address issues of poverty and overfishing: We’ve christened this partnership ‘Net-Works’. Building a community-based value chain for discarded nylon fishing nets will: - improve the coastal & marine ecosystem - create supplementary income for coastal communities Nets will then purchased by one of Interface's yarn suppliers, Aquafil who will recycle them to new carpet yarn. This will provide Interface an innovative source of recycled material for its core product. We have tested and are expanding this solution in Danajon Bank - a double barrier reef in the centre of the Philippines, and one of the most degraded coral reefs in the world. The area has high population densities as well as high levels of poverty.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Imagine you live on Danajon Bank in the Philippines in a village.. You find it tough to get cash other than through fishing which is becoming more and more difficult as stocks decline. Through a community organiser you hear about a village meeting – you learn that you can join a Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA) which will give you access to financial services. You don’t have much to bank in the first place though… and loans are always such high interest rates. At the meeting you learn that your old fishing nets can be deposited instead of cash! A simple test kit is demonstrated and it seems easy to run - if the prong melts the net it’s the right material, and pretty much all the nets used around here are the right stuff. When you go crab fishing you have to replace hundreds of metres of nets every few months. You had no idea this material was valuable to someone else. It turns out that for every 2 kilo of net you could buy almost one kilo of rice. This sounds better than some of the ‘craft’ training sessions you have done before – difficult to get the hang of and then the orders dry up. It actually turns out that the nets last for hundreds of years and when you use them to protect your seaweed farm they get washed out to sea and end up killing fish that you then never get to catch and sell. You hadn't realized that your used nets would do this... You let your neighbors know about the next meeting..they're too old to fish now and don't have nets themselves,but there are plenty they could collect from beaches right by their house...

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Many organisations are working on vital projects to tackle marine debris, alternative livelihoods for poor fishing communities and conservation programmes. What is exciting about Net-Works is that it integrates many of these aspects into one programme which has the potential to be commercially viable longer term and not propped up by aid/charity. Conservation experts also seem interested in how this programme integrates financial services with conservation objectives. The waste nylon market is nascent in the areas we are working most successfully so far. If local competitors for nylon emerge and are able to pay a higher price this will challenge the model. The differentiating factor is the access to financial services that our model offers communities.

Founding Story

“Couldn’t we buy nets from communities in India we worked with on that other project” our Sustainabilty Director Ramon Arratia asked me, after learning that one of our major suppliers was purchasing trawler nets made of nylon to feed their huge recycling plant. I’d started “the other project” in 2006 as Interface’s first foray into inclusive business. It wasn’t core nylon product, but a new natural fibre range, and had been discontinued. Could this be an opportunity to bring an inclusive model to carpet, and differentiate us from other recycled carpet? Hmm.. I started badgering smart people in the marine and development sectors about artisanal fisheries - the volume of nets? what happened at the end of their life? who owned them? who made them? We got some of these people in a room together in London in 2011 . The “aha” moment? Dr Hill reviewing his PhD and calculating that enough net was discarded annually from a handful of Filipino villages to go round the world more than once..
About You
About You
First Name


Tell us about yourself/your team.

The Co-innovation team itself is very small, very new – and a very exciting place to work! As AVP Co-innovation I support the business to innovate together across regions and functions by becoming more 'permeable', open and collaborative.

The project in this application is not our first attempt at inclusive business. I brokered a partnership with an social enterprise which launched in 2008 but was not successfully commercialised (see vimeo). Learning is richest when things haven't quite gone as planned, and in retrospect without that 'successful failure' this project would not have flowered.

We’ve been incubating this particular idea since 2011 and have built a brilliant cross-disciplinary team from inside and outside the company to develop, prototype and now grow this new project.

What makes you an intrapreneur? What are the skills, capabilities, and personality traits that make you an intrapreneur?

Sustainability is ‘the mother of all collaborations’ so I have always mixed and matched expertise and ideas from inside and outside the company in pursuit of sustainable innovations.

Not all of them have been successful, but what I have honed is my ability to work across sectors and geographies on projects with a higher purpose. I broker and translate between partners, and of course 'navigate' the project's passage through the corporate landscape.

I get excited when someone says “that won’t work because x”, or “we’ve tried that already and it’s not worth it because y“. Why? Because I honestly believe we can overcome systemic challenges by getting the right people in the room and asking the right question... (And anyway, if it were easy it would boring, right?!)

About Your Organization
Company Country

, XX

Primary country where this project is creating social impact


Additional countries or regions

We are also at an earlier stage in India and West Africa (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal)



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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)

The Solution: Why is this solution innovative for your company and industry?

I worked on Interface’s first foray on inclusive business in 2006 . The product was not core and the line was discontinued. This is our first inclusive model on core product.

Our yarn supplier (Aquafil) purchases thousands of tonnes of feedstock pa - including some industrial trawler nets . So it’s not new that fishing gear has gone into nylon yarn. What is new is the socio-economic and conservation benefit created by supplying this demand in a different way.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

A pilot was run for 6 months which successfully completed in October 2012. We chose to run the pilot in the Philippines, which is global centre of marine shore fish biodiversity, but it faces some of the greatest levels of threat of all marine areas globally.

The objectives were to:
• Build a detailed model plan with options for implementation
• Build the social infrastructure and implement net collection in 6 communities (the target – which was met – was to collect 1-2 tonnes by the end of 6 months)
• Initial evaluation of social and environmental impacts (after 6 months)
• Improved understanding of costs involved in implementing and supporting this programme

Our real impact so far has therefore been limited to the 6 pilot communities in Danajon Bank, where training, beach clean ups and supplementary income was generated.

The pilot demonstrated that the model of working through VSLAs/MFIs was viable and that running costs once scaled could be covered by cash flow.

What is your projected impact over the next 1 to 3 years?

Project impact from first full year (from Nov 2012 - Nov 2013)
1. Improved access to financial services (through initiation of VSLAs/MFIs) for 1,400 people by helping them to manage household finances and improve their capacity to access basic services (e.g. education, health, housing).
2. Measurable improvements in the condition of beaches and mangrove areas
3. Reduced the practice of burning waste (and associated detrimental health affects)
4. Measurable reduction in the practice of discarding nets at sea (and associated effects of “ghost fishing”)
5. Diversified livelihoods resulting in increased resilience to shocks and disasters from the sale of nets into rural and impoverished communities (average family income is < £100/month)
6. Full-time employment for 4 local people

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Exporting ‘waste’ has been challenging so we've e worked with our yarn supplier from the start of the project to ensure material can make it the final leg to their plant at the correct purity level and packed density.

The emergence of competition for buying the waste nets could represent a challenge if they match or exceed our pricing. Unfortunately for the planet there is little sign of this in many poor regions where plastic waste like nets is most of a problem. We are designing for this now though, by making sure that engaging with our value chain brings additional non monetary benefits of access to financial services through the VSLAs, and by working in remote areas that are unlikely to be attractive to more conventional operations.

What is the benefit or value you're creating for your business?

Thanks in part to Interface’s sustainability leadership 100% recycled nylon yarn is now manufactured by Aquafil, one of our major suppliers. This nylon is purchased by us and our competitors, and others outside our industry.

Net-Works takes ‘recycled’ up a notch. By supplying our supplier and having exclusivity on the story we give our salesforce an important sustainability differentiator at core product level in a mature and highly competitive market. This 'social ingredient brand' could ultimately supply other sectors too (e.g. auto/electronics)

How are you leveraging internal resources (funds, time, knowledge, etc.) to support this initiative?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with colleagues across all disciplines on this project to support ZSL on this project. Our small Co-innovation team has worked with procurement, legal, marketing, design, sustainability and technical teams to put this new value chain together and plan how to integrate it into an offering for our customers.

Funds have covered expert scoping trips in India, West Africa and the Philippines . After selecting the Philipppines for the pilot we invested in a 6 month pilot and have just secured Interface commitment for a year long expansion of the model into Growth phase.

Expand on your answer, explaining the long-term funding and support plan.

We see the role of Interface as connector , catalyst and market maker. But we will not ‘prop up’ or otherwise subsidise the model. It must stand alone and supply our supplier at market prices in the long term. Our pilot demonstrated that in Danajon Bank the ongoing maintenance costs can be covered by cash flow.

Set up costs (all research, model iteration and piloting) have been invested by Interface . We are starting to explore how set up costs for expansion into other areas could be sought elsewhere, or seeded concurrently to accelerate scaling speed. The longer term plan for replication in SE Asia and beyond is to build our learning into a Net-Works ‘tool-kit’’ that development agencies and/or conservation groups can integrate when working in coastal communities the world over.

Tell us about your partnerships across your company and externally that are key to your project's success.

ZSL and local partner PSF bring scientific rigor and local expertise which has put meat on the bones of an idea and made it happen. We have pulled in many other external organisations and experts – many of whom have collaborated both formally and on their own time.

I also talk about this seminars I give - we have ended up collaborating with engineering students from Imperial to make sure our nylon ID methods will work in the field and can be replaced in country.

What internal support have you gotten for your project? What kind of push-back have you received?

Interface has been extremely supportive of this initiative. We have kept investment request incremental and reasonably low (<£250K total since 2011).This has supported numerous small assignments with various experts globally to assess viability and partnership opportunities in different parts of the world.

Push back has been limited until the investment requests expand which is why we continue to work hard to show the model can maintain itself once established.