Designing for Tomorrow with Tarkett’s Feliks Bezati

June 25, 2015

 
John Shegerian: Welcome back to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the ISRI edition of Green Is Good, and we’re here in beautiful downtown Vancouver at the Vancouver Convention Centre. We are in the West Wing of the Vancouver Convention Centre, and we are so excited to have with us today Feliks Bezati. He is the Environmental Responsibility Manager for Tarkett North America. Welcome to Green Is Good, Feliks. Feliks Bezati: Thank you. Thank you so much. John Shegerian: Before we get talking about all the great work you’re doing at Tarkett, please share with our audience a little bit about the Feliks Bezati story. How did you get inspired to be green and sustainable and be so thinking about these important issues of today? Feliks Bezati: Yes, of course. So I will start with my personal story. I’m a European. I consider myself as a European guy. I have lived in so many countries in Europe and I have studied chemical engineering and then I have done a PhD on the recycling of plastics. The first time that I was caring about the plastics – you have a lot of environmental concerns about plastics. And then I just joined Tarkett, who had a vision about the future and how we have to deal with our products, and this was what makes me so passionate today about what I’m doing and working for at Tarkett. John Shegerian: That’s wonderful. And Feliks, I have to be honest with you. I have never heard of Tarkett, so can you please share with our audience a little bit who Tarkett is and what they do. What is their core business? Feliks Bezati: Of course. Tarkett is a flooring manufacturer, which is based in France originally. But our sites are very balanced, so we have one-third of our sales in North America, one-third in Europe and one-third in what we call the ex-Soviet Bloc – so Russia, Serbia, Kazakhstan and countries like this. So we are mainly producing, as I said before, flooring products. All kinds of flooring products from vinyl, wood, parquet, laminate. And also we are very well known for sport products like Field Turf, which is also a Canadian brand, so it is artificial turf products. John Shegerian: Artificial turf products. So basically flooring industries. Things on the floor. Feliks Bezati: Exactly. Yes. John Shegerian: And you are with the North America division. Feliks Bezati: Yes. So I had started with Tarkett five years before in our research innovation center, which is based in Europe, and I have just joined the American team since last summer, and my objective here is to help the team here to implement our sustainability strategy. John Shegerian: Wonderful. For our listeners out there that want to learn more about Tarkett North America, please go to www.tarkettna.com. So let’s talk a little bit about your product line and how do they fit into the sustainability revolution? Why are they helping us improve the health and wellness of the people who use them? Feliks Bezati: Very good question. Thank you. So at Tarkett we have started, since 2010, to consider our products in a sustainable way. John Shegerian: OK. Feliks Bezati: Today we are living on what we call a “linear system” or “linear economic system” so we just extract the materials, we use them and we just throw them away. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: So this is what we call the linear model. Since 2010, we have tried at Tarkett to just think about products in a different way. We have found that the cradle-to-cradle solution, the cradle-to-cradle philosophy, is a way to consider our products in a different way. So in cradle-to-cradle, or what we call largely the “circular economy,” we just don’t consider anymore our products with the end of life but with an end of use. So we consider from the designing of our products, how we are going to recycle them? John Shegerian: I love it. So explain what goes into the designing of your products and how your products are greener than other flooring products. Feliks Bezati: Even though I don’t like so much the word “greener” or “green.” John Shegerian: OK. More sustainable. Feliks Bezati: More sustainable. I think that our objective today is more thinking about the future, thinking about the long term. John Shegerian: OK. Feliks Bezati: When we say “greener” sometimes, it’s just thinking about nature, so what it means to the planet. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: But it’s not only about the natural; it’s not only about the environment; it’s also thinking about the people living and using our products but also thinking about the long term profitability of the company. So our objective today is to design our products in a way that they can be our raw materials of tomorrow. So in doing this we can be less dependent on virgin materials and this also can be profitable for the company in the long term. John Shegerian: Got it. So less virgin materials. Your products then at the end of their life are more recyclable, while they’re being used. Though, are they considered a good product themselves in terms of – you know people now are so concerned with VOCs and that other stuff? How does your product compare to other flooring products in terms of during their lifespan are they considered more sustainable for the people using them? Feliks Bezati: When we started in 2010 to think about this cradle-to-cradle concept of our product, the first question that we ask is “What is the impact of our product in the indoors?” Because we have indoor products, “What is their impact in the indoor air quality?” John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: So how we can design our products in way that instead of being less bad for people can be beneficial for people. So what we have done during these last five years is we have worked a lot in reducing our VOC emissions of our products, and today we have products that have almost no VOC emissions. John Shegerian: Wow. Feliks Bezati: So this is important, because we are spending 90 percent of our time in indoor areas, so it is very important to have products that do not contribute to having a bad indoor air quality. The second point that we are also doing about our products is that we have some products today that are asthma- and allergy-friendly certified. So you know there are a lot of people that are suffering from asthma and allergies so we are trying to consider also this in the design of our products by the chemicals that we are going to use. John Shegerian: Got you. So for our listeners out there, this is the ISRI edition of Green Is Good, and to learn more about ISRI, please go to www.ISRI.org. We are here in beautiful downtown Vancouver at the Vancouver Convention Centre. We are in the West Wing. We are with Feliks Bezati. He is the Environmental Responsibility Manager of Tarkett North America and we are talking about the circular economy – people, planet and profits. People, planet and profits. So, in other words, your job is to help make Tarkett more profitable, the environment and the planet more sustainable by making products both out of more recycled material but making them more recyclable, but along the way the people benefit because, not only are they living on a more sustainable planet, but from using your products to have a better quality of life because of less VOCs, less asthma and less other air pollutants that come from typical flooring products. Am I understanding this pretty good? Feliks Bezati: Yes. Exactly. So this is what is important about the circular economy and cradle-to-cradle. So from the designing, we have to consider the quality of the raw materials. Because we want our product in the future to be recyclable, so we need the quality today to get the product tomorrow. So this automatically is beneficial for people, because we are going to use quality raw materials to make a good product so that we can use it again and again. John Shegerian: Again and again. So talk a little bit about how recyclers can contribute to the collection of products that can help the circular economy and help feed Tarkett. Feliks Bezati: Exactly. In order to achieve all these factors that we were talking about before, we definitely need to work together. We need networking. And the recyclers can be part of this networking by helping us first of all to collect the materials to help us in the reverse logistics so that we can take back our products and recycle them in our facilities and also can help us to have quality recycled material at the end of the use of our products by collecting them, defining what are the raw materials, the recycled materials being the raw materials for us. John Shegerian: Got you. So the circular economy. I know you studied a lot about the circular economy and the cradle-to-cradle philosophy. Can you share with our audience how the circular economy and cradle-to-cradle can be applied not only to the flooring industry and all the great work you’re doing at Tarkett North America but to almost any industry? We can make a better planet in terms of people, profit and planet. The triple bottom line can be applied to almost any industry if we so choose to do. Feliks Bezati: Yes. So the circular economy is very important. As I was saying before, there are three important parameters. First of all is that since we are considering our products to be in cycles, definitely we are going to use automatically good raw materials, safe raw materials, in order to close the cycle. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: The second point is that we have to consider today that we are 7 billion people in this planet. By 2050, we are going to be 9 billion. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: And in the same time, we have a lot of people in underdeveloped countries that are going to ask for more and more resources, because they want to have our way of life. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: So we are also considering that there will be 3 billion additional people in what we call the “middle class” and they are going to consume more and more. So the idea here is that automatically we know the limits of our planet. We know how much land we have. We know how much metals we have. We know how much plastics we have. So we are going to have a problem of resources. This is why it’s important, the circular economy, because it is considering this problem or resource scarcity by considering our products today to be our raw materials of tomorrow, we can keep them in cycles and be less dependent on virgin materials that everybody is going to ask for. The third point that I like about circular economy is that it’s helping companies and also countries to keep materials locally. Once we are having our flooring products produced today in the U.S., when we are going to consider recycling we are going to keep it in the U.S. again. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: So the resources are not shipped to different continents. They are staying locally and this can also help the local economy form new jobs, reduce unemployment rates, etc. and create also more business in the recycling sector. John Shegerian: And doesn’t expand the carbon footprint by shipping all these things around the world and the planet. Feliks Bezati: Exactly, yes. John Shegerian: Talk a little bit about – help our audience understand a little bit, Feliks, the similarities and differences between the cradle-to-cradle approach to sustainability and the circular economy. Are they the same or do they have some slight subtle differences that you can share with us? Feliks Bezati: There is no difference between cradle-to-cradle and circular economy. I mean, let’s say that the circular economy is more about the economics. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: The profitability of the company in the long term. And cradle-to-cradle is more product orientated. But, definitely, there is a difference between what we call the cradle-to-grave approach or what a lot of companies consider today to reduce their impact. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: So the cradle-to-cradle is not about reducing. If we just reduce our impact, we are just postponing the problem. We are not solving the problem. Cradle-to-cradle is more about quality. It’s more about optimizing our products and more thinking in a beneficial way instead of just being less bad. John Shegerian: Got it. You were talking a little bit at the top of the show, Feliks, about your upbringing. You had a lot of exposure to other parts of the world before you came here to North America. Why are the recycling rates not as high here in the United States and in Canada as they are in Europe, potentially, or in Japan or Seoul or other parts of the world? Why are we struggling so much when this is a paramount concern for all of us to move towards a circular economy – and the faster the better – why do we still have low recycling rates and high either incinerator or landfill rates? Feliks Bezati: I mean, it’s just a personal opinion, but I believe that, especially the U.S. and even Canada, they are very big countries with a lot of land, so people today probably don’t care about landfilling. And we are still in this, what I was explaining before, the linear economic model. John Shegerian: Yeah. Feliks Bezati: So we were not thinking about designing our products to be in a circular way. We just think to throw them away. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: It’s easier for us. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: Even though Europe may have some concerns because it’s not, let’s say, autonomous; it doesn’t have all the resources that you can have here in the U.S. John Shegerian: Ah. Feliks Bezati: So we are struggling more with resources, so probably this can be one of the explanations. Even, though, Europe – I mean, there are still improvements to be done in recycling. John Shegerian: Got you. And, obviously, you have a very important position at Tarkett, and for our listeners out there, we have got Feliks Bezati with us. He is the Environmental Responsibility Manager at Tarkett North America. You can learn more about Tarkett North America at www.tarkettna.com. There is a lot of our audience from around the world that listen and watch this show that are young people and they want to learn how to be the next Feliks Bezati. What kind of advice can you give to the next generation that’s really the sustainability, I want to call them “natives,” whereas I’m part of the sustainably immigrant generation. Your generation are truly the natives. What advice can you give the young people out there that are still in school on how to work their way up the ladder to have an important position like you have, where you can really have an effect and make the world a better place? Feliks Bezati: I consider myself very lucky today to have this position at Tarkett. Working on sustainability, it is having a global approach on products. So I was lucky, because when I started working at Tarkett just after finishing my PhD, the company had decided to go through this way. So I know that there are some companies that want to go into sustainability, and I hate, also, companies just talking about “greenwashing.” So they have to pay attention which companies really believe in sustainability, and sometimes it’s just a question of chance. It’s all about thinking in the long term. So I will just ask them to think about the long term. And even in the positions that they have today, think about the long term and think about the future. John Shegerian: You talked about the linear economy and moving. We are in a period of change now. A paradigm shift from the linear economy to the circular economy. What is your opinion on how long this shift is going to take? Is it going to be fast now? Or is this going to be a slow process into 2020 and beyond? Feliks Bezati: Good question. I am seeing already the change in our company, Tarkett, so we are definitely not the same company as when we started in 2010. John Shegerian: Right. Feliks Bezati: And I can tell that we have done a lot of work. Even though it has been five years today that we have started, we have still a lot of things to do. So it takes time. Now, is five, 10 or 20 years a long period or a short period? It’s relative. So it will take time. It will take time. But definitely what makes me happy is to see more and more companies involved in it. And again thinking about the long term, this is what is important today. John Shegerian: Well, that is wonderful. We are so honored to have you. Again, this is the Green Is Good ISRI special from downtown Vancouver. We are so honored to have with us today, Feliks Bezati. He is the Environmental Responsibility Manager for Tarkett North America. Again, to learn more about Tarkett go to www.tarkettna.com. Feliks, thank you for your inspiring thoughts today. You are truly a sustainability superstar and really living proof that Green Is Good. Join us for another edition of Green Is Good. We’ll see you soon.