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Interview: Barry Townsend

Sarah Simpson, Principal - Consumer Manufacturing, interviews the European Purchasing Director for Interface.

Barry is primarily looking after raw material purchasing. Formally this is expressed as; “Responsibility for ensuring that Interface’s supply chain across Europe can meet the company’s requirements in terms of pricing, quantity, delivery, quality and environmental credentials, in line with Mission Zero”. To support this, he is a member of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and holds degrees in both Chemistry and Procurement. He is a key part of the European operations management team responsible for delivering the company’s ‘Suppliers to Zero’ programme focusing on waste, energy and water minimisation.

Environmental policy

How long have you been at Interface and what attracted you to the business?

I’ve now worked for Interface for 12 years although I’ve only been in procurement for 9 having started as a Laboratory Manager in 2005 and “fallen” into purchasing when an opportunity arose with the previous incumbent moving to marketing of all places!

When I initially applied to join Interface it was partly due to their clear mission on the environment. Since 1994, Mission Zero has been a commitment by the company to have no negative impact on the environment by 2020. Having always been interested in this topic, including studying Environmental Chemistry as part of my degree, finding a company who seemingly cared about sustainability was an opportunity I couldn’t ignore. 


Having been there for 12 years, what has been your primary focus?

On joining Interface, it was clear that Mission Zero runs deep. In my early roles working in the technical and quality department there was a huge focus on waste reduction, maximising efficiency and improving processes both within the factory but also at suppliers. The move to procurement only deepened my involvement with the role allowing me the freedom to find new more sustainable materials, work with suppliers to lower their carbon footprint whilst doing all the standard procurement functions of lowering cost, adding value and ensuring a smooth pain free supply chain. It can be a challenge at times…


What is next for Interface?

With Mission Zero’s deadline of 2020 approaching fast, there was a need to ensure we maintained focus and leadership in this area. Having an easy to understand goal has energised the team at Interface and we didn’t want to lose this. Hence “Climate Take Back”, a commitment to reverse our environmental impact and become carbon negative. How are we going to do this? We don’t yet know but the journey is going to be exciting. 


What have been your biggest achievements to date?

Interface has a programme entitled ‘Suppliers to Zero’ which is aimed at getting our suppliers to help us on the road to Mission Zero. Convincing the vast majority of our key suppliers to join us for 1-2 days of immersion in sustainability and Mission Zero at their expense was a great personal achievement. Getting positive feedback from every attendee when we ran a workshop at Cambridge in conjunction with the Cambridge Institute of Sustainable Learning is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.


What have been your biggest challenges?

Balancing the twin drivers finding and using more sustainable materials and keeping a lid on costs has been a constant challenge. On many occasions the pricing for some sustainable materials make them unsustainable from a cost perspective and working with perspective suppliers to find solutions for this is a daily discussion. It’s also amazing that even today, many companies don’t really understand carbon footprint or the need / benefits of reducing their energy use, waste creation etc. 


What legacy do you like to leave?

Like most people what I’d really like is that in years to come I can look back and safely say I made a difference.


Sarah Simpson is Principal - Consumer Manufacturing


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