Home Energy Management Susan Farris Guides Shaw Industries’ Sustainability Strategy

Susan Farris Guides Shaw Industries’ Sustainability Strategy

Susan Farris, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Communications, Shaw Industries Inc.

DALTON, GA.—As a leading supplier of carpet, resilient, hardwood, laminate, tile and stone flooring products and synthetic turf, Shaw Industries’ reach into the hospitality industry and beyond is significant. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. with approximately 22,000 associates worldwide.

What has perhaps distinguished Shaw the most is its commitment to reduce its environmental impact. Its products have the sustainability stamp of approval from GREENGUARD, CRI Green Label Plus, FloorScore, and NSF 140, among numerous others. To further support its transparency efforts, it also maintains Health Product Declarations (HPDs) for all commercial carpet products and Living Building Challenge (LBC) Compliant Declare labels for EcoWorx tile products.

Since 2006, Shaw has reclaimed and recycled almost 1 billion pounds of post-consumer carpet. Shaw has achieved carbon neutrality in its commercial carpet manufacturing operations. The milestone includes all commercial carpet manufacturing facilities that Shaw owns and operates globally, including those for Patcraft, Philadelphia Commercial, Shaw Contract and STS.

Currently guiding Shaw’s sustainability strategy is Susan Farris, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Communications. Green Lodging News recently chatted with Farris by e-mail. The following is the result of that conversation.

1. How long have you been in your current position? With your current title?

I became Vice President of Sustainability a little over a year ago (August 2018)—building on the position of Vice President of Corporate Communications, which I have held for eight years. Prior to this, I spent 20 years in various roles across the enterprise, including marketing, business advisor, and distribution.

2. What do you consider to be your primary responsibilities? What is your typical day like, if there is such a thing?

The role of the corporate sustainability team at Shaw is to leverage market insights and technical expertise to inform, influence and support business decisions. My role is to help ensure that sustainability is well-integrated throughout the enterprise and that we are perpetually keeping a pulse on the market including customer and end user priorities, regulatory changes and other insights that help drive our business.

There is no typical day for me. Like others in my position, I try to find the balance of ensuring our enterprise strategies and culture are advancing while addressing the needs or challenges of the day. Empowering and providing leadership to my direct team, as well as others throughout the organization is an important component of my role.

3. What do you consider to be your company’s most significant accomplishment so far in sustainability?

Almost 90 percent of the products we manufacture are Cradle to Cradle Certified—having been assessed for material health, material reuse, renewable energy, water stewardship, and social fairness. Our robust sourcing policy and practices help ensure that no matter where or by whom a product or ingredient is made that it’s held to the same high standards.

4. What do you consider to be Shaw’s most significant challenge moving forward in the area of sustainability?

As the market has shifted, we’re continuously evolving our products and working to find the best ways to simply convey our messages to an increasingly diverse array of audiences. The rapid pace of change, the diverse interests of our stakeholders and the increasing complexity of sustainability require us to be more nimble than ever.

5. Talk a little bit about your company’s 2030 goals and how well the company is progressing. Give one or two examples.

We have made steady progress against goals we set for 2030 focused on water, energy, carbon, waste and product sustainability. Notably, we’ve achieved Cradle to Cradle Certification for almost 90 percent of the products we manufacture, and we’ve cut our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions in half since 2010 in addition to achieving carbon neutrality in our commercial carpet manufacturing operations in 2018.

We’re in the process of assessing those goals to ensure they are the right targets and areas of focus for us based upon our most recent materiality assessment—a process that looked at where our varied stakeholders believe Shaw should focus its sustainability efforts over the next three to five years.

6. Issues related to GHGs, climate change, product end of life, etc. seem to be of concern to all your customers across the board. Have you seen increasing interest in these issues in recent years? If so, what do you believe is driving that interest?

A company’s focus on sustainability topics such as water, energy, carbon, waste and product sustainability have become table stakes in many segments of our business. While all those things are still critically important, in recent years, we have seen a growing shift of focus on the impact of products and operations on people.

People spend an astounding 90 percent of their time indoors. As we’ve become an indoor species, we’re increasingly focused on the spaces and materials we surround ourselves with. Noise, daylight, temperature all impact how we feel and what our experience is in a space; so do the ingredients that go into products that we all buy including flooring.

At Shaw, we have been focused on material health in alignment with Cradle to Cradle principles for 20 years. What began with our commercial customers is now becoming important for key segments of our residential customers. The concept of healthy home and related attributes such as moisture, sound, comfort and cleanability resonates at a tangible, personal level in a way that planetary issues have not when it comes to flooring selection. We are focused on sustaining HUMAN ability—putting people at the heart of sustainability.

Rising consumer consciousness, a number of building rating systems like LEED and WELL that focus on occupant wellbeing, growing media coverage, regulatory efforts, and nonprofit and advocacy groups’ focused on this important topic are among the many things driving this expanded focus within sustainability.

7. Shaw has achieved carbon neutrality in its commercial carpet manufacturing operations. What does that mean exactly?

All the commercial carpet manufacturing facilities that Shaw owns and operates globally, including those for Patcraft, Philadelphia Commercial, Shaw Contract and STS, are carbon neutral. That means those facilities have a net zero carbon footprint, that we’ve reduced our emissions and offset those that remain through renewable energy credits.

Shaw’s approach is to first reduce energy consumption, then switch to cleaner fuels; produce renewable energy at our own facilities; and incentivize additional renewable energy development and usage through the purchase of renewable energy credits.

8. Is there an initiative of which you are most proud so far in your 28 years of working with Shaw?

About five years ago, Shaw recognized the need to be more deliberate about the development and advancement of women in the organization. I, along with nine other women in the organization, led the charge to develop Shaw’s first associate resource group—WiN (Women’s Innovation Network). Today, this group has over 2,000 members, one-third of which are men. This organization helps provide resources, leadership development, and mentorship throughout the organization. I am proud of the confidence this has given the enterprise and women within to thrive.

9. What percentage of the product Shaw sells do you believe comes back for recycling?

It’s tough to calculate a percentage, but since 2006, Shaw has recycled almost 1 billion pounds of carpet.

10. Talk a little bit about the corporate culture at Shaw and how that helps drive all the great green programs in place.

We are in the midst of constant transformation—just like most companies. Our quest for innovation and continuous improvement is driven by market insights and technical knowledge. This pervades our corporate culture, including our approach to sustainability.

Shaw recently took even more concerted efforts to better understand and connect our sustainability priorities to those of our customers and other stakeholders.

Our first step was to survey key internal stakeholders—our associates—to determine their sustainability priorities and what support they most needed from the corporate sustainability team to be effective. That led us to a new articulation of why corporate sustainability exists at Shaw: to leverage market insights and technical expertise to inform, influence and support business decisions. By overtly communicating that to our internal partners and tying activities that may have once been seen as compliance efforts or technical expertise more closely to innovation and competitive advantage shifted expectations of the department.

With that foundation, we’re able to communicate the value of sustainability efforts to ensure it’s appropriately weighted when making business decisions.

11. How large is your sustainability department? How many folks have “sustainability” in their title? How many of those do you oversee? The corporate sustainability department at Shaw consists of about a half dozen people, but sustainability priorities are woven throughout the company. Like innovation, it’s everyone’s responsibility.

12. What do you enjoy most about your work? I enjoy bringing people together to have a positive impact.

Several years ago, I read a report about how chief sustainability officers (CSOs) reached the C-suite. In it, Kathrin Winkler, who was then CSO of EMC, noted, “I’ve always had an innate curiosity for understanding connections and interdependencies. Some peoples’ curiosity leads them to take things apart; mine was always about putting them together.” That has stuck with me as I think—or hope—that’s how I operate and what led me to my current role. 

13. How far back goes your interest in CSR/sustainability? Is there an individual or individuals who inspired you the most?

As a child growing up in the 1970s, litter and its impact on our communities and planet was a huge opportunity. I grew passionate about this at a young age and worked to influence those around me think about how lucky we were to be surrounded in Northwest Georgia by beautiful mountains, lakes, and streams. I continued to carry this passion for nature throughout my life. Going to work with a manufacturing company, I had a keen interest in how our processes and products impacted the communities where we operate. As my time with the organization grew and my connectivity to clients and stakeholders strengthened, I expanded my passion to ensure that the sustainability priorities of the enterprise aligned with those priorities of our clients.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.