Pioneer in Sustainability, Economic Visionary, Fortune 500 CEO: Ray Anderson

In the world of changing business, when everyone is slapping the word Green on the side of their packages, Ray Anderson, CEO of Fortune 500 Company Interface Carpets, is setting the example for substantive change toward sustainability in business. The self proclaimed recovering plunderer, motivated by his epiphany of wrong doing, turned his high polluting, petroleum-based carpet company into a beacon for the direction of future business.

In a talk given at the 2009 TED Convention, Anderson said his company has doubled its profits while cutting its net greenhouse gases by eighty-two percent in absolute tonnage. In addition, its water usage was down seventy five percent, fossil fuels down sixty percent per unit of production, twenty five percent of the materials in the product are recycled materials, and that renewable energy accounts for twenty seven percent of their energy usage. Interface Carpets has proven that the dilemma between commerce and environmentalism is a false one.

Anderson speaks a lot about “take-make-waste” philosophy in business today. Companies take things out of the ground, make something with it and it is then thrown away or burned. Essentially, business is creating pollution in a three step process.

Interface Carpet has the goal of completely ending their negative impact on the environment by 2020, called Mission Zero. They would like to control the entire cycle of their carpets so that they don’t become waste. At the end of their use, they could be recycled into new carpet. In fact, Anderson goes as far as eventually wanting to mine landfills for old carpets to be recycled so no resources have to be taken from the earth that cannot be renewed. They have diverted seventy four thousand tons of carpet from landfills already.

Under Anderson’s leadership at Interface, eighty-five million square yards of climate-neutral carpet, called Cool Carpet, has been made under the Flor brand name. They have done this by closing the loop, making the end of life for one carpet a new life for another, making no waste and recycling products again.

Anderson even credits the survival of his company during the 2001-2003 recession to his company’s reduced costs because of the sustainability mission.

His profound experiment to make his company sustainable and profitable has been a resounding success and he is not keeping quiet about it. As an insider in business and a leader of industry, Anderson has been calling out other CEO’s. Anderson is not above shaming himself if it shames the other business owners as well.

Ray Anderson and Interface Carpets have proven that the “why should we?“ discussion is no longer even relevant and the “how do we do it?” conversation is the only dialogue worth having. Ignoring the web of life is not just environmentally repugnant; it is self-destructive to business. Green isn’t just a word, it’s a result. Moreover, it’s an advantage to committed companies. Businesses that choose to continue old practices will be left like horse-drawn carriages, stuck in the progressive mud.

What Can You Do?

Watch The TED Talk by Ray Anderson and be inspired.

Next time you think about buying carpet, think about Interface Carpets. Supporting businesses that are working towards sustainability should be part of our goals as consumers. Voting with your dollar works.

Watch the movie The Corporation. It’s one of the most cited, most interesting, and most insightful documentaries every produced on the nature of corporations.

Read The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken. It inspired Ray. Maybe it will inspire you too.

If you own a business, take the time to see how you can follow the Interface example. Assess your waste, your take and your make for places where recycling, reclamation or careful consideration could save you money, increase your profits and help the earth.

The Corporation

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