Understandably sustainability is an important topic of conversation between Commercial Interior Designers and Suppliers. This series of interviews aims to share knowledge of new materials but goes on to challenge how circularity can succeed in the commercial sector and what that production model may look like. We also focus on action by asking our interviewees to share examples of how they’ve delivered sustainably innovative projects in order for the sector as a whole to learn and grow.
Please could you introduce yourself and your role?
I am Beverley Copeland, Director of Organisation Development at Ulster Carpets and the Director responsible for Sustainability.
What innovation have you found in materials suitable for commercial interiors?
If you set someone the task of creating the perfect sustainable material, they would find it hard to come up with something better than wool.
Wool fibres are remarkably elastic and flexible and can be stretched up to 30% of their length before, like a spring, reverting to their original form. Wool’s scaly, overlapping outer fibres help to contain dirt high in the carpet pile and the thin cuticles repel water.
Wool improves its surrounding environment thanks to a natural filtering effect reduces dust and locks Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into its core.
When woven into a carpet, all these natural benefits add durability, resilience and practicality and that’s before you consider the soft, luxurious feel and the improvements to insulation and acoustic performance of wool.
That is why you will find at least 80% of wool in every one of our carpets.
Can circularity truly be integrated within a commercial interior project?
Circularity is a complex challenge for everyone in the industry and is an area that will require everyone working together.
For example, there are some products that are being put forward as providing a fully circular approach but it should be remembered that they are often made from oil-based materials, which are not renewable or sustainable.
It will take a holistic approach that takes into consideration the energy and other costs needed to recycle these materials. But I believe we are moving in the right direction.
We already divert 100% of our post production waste away from landfill and this gets recycled into new products like Axfelt Triple Layer Underlay. Last year alone, we stopped 328.79 tonnes of waste ending up in landfill and we aim to improve on this.
We continue to research new materials and new recycling streams and to look at how we can reduce our impact on the planet overall. It will take innovative thinking and we have a proven history of that.
Look at the amazing Hembury Chair by Solidwool – an Ulster Group company. Made from unwanted wool and a bio-resin, these beautiful chairs represent a completely new way of working wool.
How have you addressed innovation within the production, and end of life, of your products?
We are constantly addressing these areas.
Our biggest innovation remains our PSYLO™ weaving technology and we have recently introduced a new generation of PSYLO™ looms which are three times faster than their predecessors.
When it was initially introduced, PSYLO™ was revolutionary. We developed this patented technology in-house and it enables us to manufacture carpet without pattern restrictions and with a great range of colours. To do all of that three times faster increases our efficiency levels significantly.
This is just one important element of our overall approach. Another is our Dyehouse & Energy Centre that was specifically designed to significantly improve energy and water efficiency throughout this intensive process.
Our state-of-the-art facility replaced traditional dyeing methods with innovative technology such as a heat exchange system that recycles water from one batch of the dyeing process to heat the next one. Advances such as this improve energy efficiency, increase capacity and reduce the environmental impact of our dyeing processes.
How could you work with Commercial Interiors Designers in order to deliver sustainable projects which achieve high levels of accreditation?
Sustainability isn’t just about recycling. It is about responsible manufacturing, sustainable materials and a long-term approach.
I’ve already outlined the many benefits of using wool – a naturally rapidly renewable raw material – but our carpets are made to last and the importance of durability can often be overlooked.
The impact on the planet of the manufacturing process can also be easily ignored in these conversations and that is why recognised accreditations are important.
We were one of the first textile companies to achieve ISO 14001 Environmental Management Standard, which aims to control the environmental impact of our products and manufacturing processes. ISO 14001 also gives us a systematic approach to setting environmental objectives and targets and demonstrating that these have been reached.
We manufacture under a quality system ISO 9001: 2015 approved by the British Standards Institution and are IMO Certified MED-B00006D7 and MED-D000021A for the Marine sector.
Looking specifically at sustainability, we are independently verified to Leader Status by the MindClick Sustainability Assessment Programme and to the Gold standard by the Business in the Community NI Environmental Benchmarking Survey
What is the next step in the sustainable conversation and who is it between?
We count ourselves lucky that we enjoy long-term relationships with our customers so we are having these conversations regularly with the leading figures in the hospitality industry.
Understanding the needs of the industry helped us create our new Sustainability Strategy, which clearly outlines the positive changes that have already been taken in this important area and the our future plans.
We’ve already reduced our energy, waste and water usage significantly and we have now set notable sustainability targets to be met by 2025. These are:
- 50% reduction in carbon emissions (Scope 1 and Scope 2)
- 5% reduction in energy intensity (per m2)
- 5% reduction in water consumption
- 20% reduction in waste
- 5% reduction in packaging
This is a clear statement of our intentions and shows our commitment to becoming Net Zero.