Ray Anderson: The business logic of sustainability

Believe me or not, I come offering a solution to a very important part of this larger problem, with the requisite focus on climate. And the mixture I give is to the biggest culprit in this big mistreatment of the earth by human, and the resulting decline of the biosphere. That culprit is business and industry, which happens to be where I have spent the last 52 years since my graduation from Georgia Tech in 1956. As an industrial operator, cum aspiring and then successful inventor. After founding my busines, Interface, from scratch in 1973, 36 years ago, to produce carpet tiles in America for the business and institution markets, and shepherding it through start-up and survival to affluence and global reign in its arena, I speak Paul Hawken’s book, “The Ecology of Commerce, ” the summer of 1994. In his diary, Paul bills business and industry as, one, the major villain in cause the decline of the biosphere, and, two, the only institution that is large enough, and prevalent enough, and potent enough, to really lead humankind out of this mess. And by the way he convicted me as a plunderer of the earth. And I then challenged the people of Interface, my fellowship, to lead our corporation and the part industrial world to sustainability, which we defined as eventually controlling our petroleum-intensive company in such a way as to take from the earth only what can be refurbished by the earth, naturally and rapidly — not another fresh droop of lubricant — and to do no harm to the biosphere. Take nothing: do no harm. I simply said, “If Hawken is right and business and industry must produce, who will lead business and industry? Unless somebody makes , nobody will.” It’s axiomatic. Why not us? And thanks to the people of Interface, I have become a recovering plunderer.( Laughter)( Applause) I once told a Fortune Magazine writer that someday people like me would go to jail.And that became the headline of a Fortune article. They went on to describe me as America’s greenest CEO. From plunderer to recovering plunderer, to America’s greenest CEO in five years — that, frankly, was a pretty sad commentary on American CEOs in 1999. Asked last-minute in the Canadian programme, “The Corporation, ” what I want by the “go to jail” remark, I offered that fraud constitutes a crime. And theft of our children’s future would someday be a crime. But I realized, for that to be true — for fraud of our children’s future to be a crime — there must be a clear, demonstrable alternative to the take-make-waste industrial structure that so predominates our civilization, and is the major culprit, stealing our children’s future, by digging up the earth and converting it to products that soon become waste in a landfill or an incinerator — in short, digging up the earth and converting it to pollution.According to Paul and Anne Ehrlich and a well-known environmental impact equation, blow — a bad thing — is the product of population, richnes and technology. That is, affect is generated by people, what they consume in their richnes, and how it is produced. And though the equation is largely subjective, you can perhaps quantify people, and perhaps quantify affluence, but engineering is abusive in too many ways to quantify. So the equation is conceptual. Still it works to help us understand the problem. So we set out at Interface, in 1994, to create an example: to transform the way we cleared carpet, a petroleum-intensive product for materials as well as energy, and to alter our engineerings so they lessened environmental impact, rather than multiplied it.Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s environmental impact equation: I is equal to P duration A eras T: person, affluence and technology. I craved Interface to rewrite that equation so that it read I equals P goes A divided among T. Now, the mathematically-minded will see immediately that T in the numerator increases jolt — a bad thing — but T in the denominator declines affect. So I invite, “What would move T, technology, from the numerator — call it T1 — where it increases blow, to the denominator — call it T2 — where it reduces impact? I thought about the characteristics of firstly industrial rebellion, T1, as we practiced it at Interface, and it had the following characteristics.Extractive: making raw materials from the earth. Linear: take, spawn, consume. Powered by fossil fuel-derived energy. Wasteful: abusive and focused on labor productivity. More carpet per man-hour. Thinking it through, I realized that all those attributes must be changed to move T to the denominator. In the new industrial change extractive must be replaced by renewable; linear by cyclical; fossil fuel energy by renewable energy resources, sunlight; wasteful by waste-free; and abusive by benign; and strive productivity by reserve productivity.And I concluded that if we could spawn those transformative alters, and get rid of T1 wholly, we could reduce our impact to zero, including our impact on the climate. And that became the Interface plan in 1995, and has been the scheme ever since. We have assessed our progress very rigorously. So I can tell you how far we have come in the follow 12 times. Net greenhouse gas emissions down 82 percent in ultimate tonnage.( Applause) Over the same straddle of experience sales have increased by two-thirds and profits have doubled.So an 82 percent absolute reduction translates into a 90 percentage reduction in greenhouse gas intensity relative to sales. This is the magnitude of the reduction the part global technosphere must understand by 2050 to avoid disastrous atmosphere interruption — so the scientists are telling us. Fossil fuel usage is down 60 percentage per unit of production, due to efficiencies in renewables. The cheapest, most secure barrel of petroleum there is is the one not exercised through efficiencies. Water usage is down 75 percentage in our worldwide carpet tile business. Down 40 percentage in our broadloom carpet business, which we acquired in 1993 right here in California, City of Industry, where spray is so precious.Renewable or recyclable materials are 25 percent of the total, and growing rapidly. Renewable energy is 27 percentage of our total, going for 100 percent. We have diverted 148 million pounds — that’s 74,000 tons — of used carpet from landfills, closing the loop on textile flows through switch logistics and post-consumer recycling engineerings that should not exist when we started 14 years ago. Those new cyclical technologies were participating mightily given the fact that we have produced and sold 85 million square yards of climate-neutral carpet since 2004, intend no cyberspace contributed by global atmosphere interruption in producing the carpet throughout the supply chain, from mine and well principal clear to end-of-life reclamation — independent third-party licensed. We call it Cool Carpet. And it has been a powerful marketplace differentiator, increasing sales and profits. Three years ago we launched carpet tile for the residence, under the brand Flor, misspelled F-L-O-R. You can point and click today at Flor.com and have Cool Carpet delivered to your figurehead door in five days. It is practical, and pretty too.( Laughter)( Applause) We reckon that we are a bit over halfway to our goal: zero bang, zero footprint.We’ve launch 2020 as our target time for zero, in terms of achieving the top, the summit of Mount Sustainability. We announce this Mission Zero. And this is perhaps the most important facet: we have found Mission Zero to be incredibly good for business. A better business prototype, a better style to bigger gains. Here is the business case for sustainability. From real life experience, costs are down , not up, manifesting some 400 million dollars of eschewed expenditures in pursuit of zero waste — the first face of Mount Sustainability. This has paid all the costs for the transformation of Interface. And this allays a myth extremely, this spuriou select between the environmental issues and the economy. Our concoctions are the best they’ve ever been, inspired by design for sustainability, an unexpected wellspring of invention. Our people are galvanized around this shared higher purpose. You cannot beat it for attracting the best people and accompanying them together. And the good will of the marketplace is astonishing. No extent of publicizing , no inventive marketing safarus, at all costs, could have made or established this much goodwill. Overheads, concoctions, people, marts — what else is there? It is a better business model.And here is our 14 -year record of auctions and profits. There is a dip there, from 2001 to 2003: a plunge when our sales, over a three-year period, went down 17 percent. But the marketplace was down 36 percent. We literally gained market share. We might not have survived that slump but for the advantages of sustainability. If every business were following Interface plans, would that solve all our problems? I don’t think so. I remain troubled by the revised Ehrlich equation, I equals P durations A divided by T2. That A is a capital A, suggesting that richnes is an end in itself. But what if we reframed Ehrlich further? And what if we obligated A a lowercase’ a ,’ suggesting that it is a means to an dissolve, and that dissolve is gaiety — more happiness with less nonsense. You know that would reframe civilization itself –( Applause) — and our whole system of economics, if not for our categories, then perhaps for the one that replaces us: the sustainable genus, lives on a finite soil, ethically, happily and environmentally in poise with nature and all her natural organisations for thousands and thousands of generations, or 10,000 generations — that is to say, into the indefinite future.But does the earth have to wait for our extinction as a category? Well maybe so. But I don’t think so. At Interface we really intend to bring this prototypical sustainable, zero-footprint industrial firm perfectly into existence by 2020. We can be found in our direction now, clear to the top of that elevation. And now the challenge is in execution. And as my good friend and consultant Amory Lovins says, “If something exists, it must be possible.”( Laughter) If we are capable of do it, it must be possible. If we, a petro-intensive company can do it, anybody can. And if anyone can, it follows that everybody can. Hawken fulfilled business and industry, extending human away from the abyss because, with continued unchecked fall of the biosphere, a exceedingly dear person is at risk here — frankly, an intolerable probability. Who is that person? Not you. Not I. But let me introduce you to the one who is most at risk here. And I myself met this person in the early days of this mountain climb. On a Tuesday morning in March of 1996, I was talking to parties, as I did at every opportunity back then, producing them along and often not knowing whether I was connecting.But about five days later back in Atlanta, I received an email from Glenn Thomas, one of my parties in the California meeting. He was routing me an original song that he had formed after our Tuesday morning together. And when I read it it was one of the most uplifting minutes of “peoples lives”. Because it told me, by God, one person got it. Here is what Glenn wrote. And here is that person, most at risk. Please meet “Tomorrow’s Child.” “Without a mention, an unseen face, and knowing not your time or plaza, Tomorrow’s child, though yet unborn, I match you first last-place Tuesday morn. A smart-alecky friend pioneered us two. And through his sobering point of view I encountered a daytime that you are able to see, a day for you but not for me.Knowing you has changed my reflecting. For I never had an inkling that perhaps the things I do might someday, somehow menaced you. Tomorrow’s child, two daughters, lad, I’m afraid I’ve just begun to think of you and of your good, though always having known I should. Begin, I will. The nature the costs of what I spend, what is lost, if ever I forget that you will someday come and live here too.” Well, every day of “peoples lives” since, “Tomorrow’s Child” has spoken to me with one simple but profound word, which I infer to share with you.We are, each and every one, a part of the web of soul. The continuum of humanity, sure, but in a larger sense, the web of live itself. And we have a choice to utter during our brief, brief visit to this beautiful blue-blooded and lettuce entire planet: to hurt it or to help it. For you, it’s your announcement. Thank you.( Applause ).

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