How Mohawk’s Smartflowers Make a Social Impact
[Eden, N.C.] Between the elementary and high schools of Rockingham County is Mohawk Group’s latest smartflower installation. Throughout the day, students can watch the 194 square-foot ground-mounted structure's solar paneled petals open and turn in the direction of the sun.
It’s the second of 10 smartflowers to be installed over the next three years in collaboration with Groundswell, a nonprofit dedicated to developing community solar projects. The effort serves a multi-faceted purpose: save energy, empower underserved communities and raise awareness around sustainability. It also helped two of Mohawk’s floor coverings — Pivot Point resilient tile and Sunweave broadloom carpet — achieve Living Product Challenge Petal certifications.
Accepting the challenge
“The Living Product Challenge asks us to rethink product manufacturing and look into not only the environmental impacts, but the social impacts our products can have on communities, our employees and their families,” explained Rami Vagal, Mohawk’s senior sustainability manager. She added the smartflowers are set to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offset the energy and resources consumed during Mohawk’s tile, broadloom and woven products’ manufacturing process.
Due to its biophilic design, the structures are estimated to be 30 to 40 times more efficient than standard solar panels, but the flowers are expected to do more than that, too.
“Solar power isn’t just about energy and the environment,” Groundswell CEO Michelle Moore told FCW. “Groundswell’s goal is that our collaboration with Mohawk will make solar-driven economic and community development opportunities visible and accessible.”
As the fastest growing sector of the energy economy, Moore believes solar power is nothing to ignore. And according to the U.S. Energy and Employment Report, solar plants are an economic opportunity and employ 43 percent of the total electric power workforce, more than any other energy source available today, including fossil fuels.
A teaching tool
“One of the reasons that we’re doing these solar flowers inside of inner-city communities is to create a platform that connects to people where they’re at to say ‘hey, here’s an opportunity to learn about this because this is the way of the future’, ” shared George Bandy, vice president of sustainability at Mohawk. “Their career path could be enhanced, impacted and changed for the better by being a part of this.” In fact, the project has already introduced solar careers to the residents of Bronzeville, Chicago.
The Renaissance Collaborative (TRC), an organization which supports low-income individuals, has been leading workshops related to cutting back energy costs as the first smartflower recipient. Said Pat Abrams, executive director of TRC, “I think one of the most important pieces is for people to know that new, green technology should reach all people in order to be effective.”
It’s why Jane Frazier, principal of Central Elementary in Eden, is so excited. Not only does the project integrate perfectly into her district’s pre-existing energy conservation program, it will help her students visualize and better understand STEM-related fields.
“The smartflower offers an authentic learning experience. The kids think it is so cool to see it in action [and partnered] with the [STEM] curriculum, they’ll be able to discover even more ways to save energy,” said Frazier. “It may also inspire students to realize there are so many different careers that revolve around sustainability and green technology, especially engineering.”
To Bandy, the smartflowers are just one way Mohawk can demonstrate its dedication to sustainable solutions.
“My sustainability team at Mohawk cannot be the only ones who are concerned about sustainability. It has to be marketing, sales, PR, people on the manufacturing floor, their spouses, it has to be everybody,” he emphasized. “Our commercial, residential and international brands all deliver under a sustainability filter… This is a new platform, this is a new us. This is not your mother’s Mohawk.”