What’s Love Got to do With It?

In his new book, Confessions
of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose—Doing Business By
Respecting the Earth
, published by St. Martin’s Press, Interface CEO Ray
Anderson presents his argument and process for transforming Interface Inc. from
a typical petroleum-intensive corporation of the 21st century into
an organization on course to achieve a zero carbon footprint by the year 2020.
Many of us connected with the commercial A&D community are familiar with
this goal, Mission Zero, from Anderson’s many public appearances at NeoCon®,
Greenbuild, and other industry events. But many of us may not be as familiar
with its origins and implementation. 

Influenced by the brilliant book The Ecology of Commerce by environmentally-minded
entrepreneur Paul Hawken, Anderson committed to transforming the carpet company
he had founded in 1973 into a model of sustainability for the future. The
process began in 1994, and has continued on pace ever since, sometimes slowed
(but never stopped) by global economic realities and buoyed all along by a
critical alignment in corporate culture from Anderson’s office right down to
the factory floor. (In a humorous anecdote, Anderson tells the story of how one
skeptical executive from another corporation, by the end of a visit to
Interface for a lesson in sustainable industry, described that culture as
nothing short of love.)

In Anderson’s view, the path to true sustainability—defined
by the author as the continued healthy, balanced existence into the indefinite
future of the biosphere (nature) and the technosphere (industry) on this thin
shell (Earth)—lies in the rethinking of our entire industrial system, which is
currently in the “iron grip” of the environmental impact equation that emerged from
the first Industrial Revolution: Environmental Impact = Population x Affluence
x Tehnology (I = P x  A x T). In
this equation, the T represents current technologies that are fossil
fuel-driven, focused on labor productivity, abusive, wasteful, and extract from
the earth without giving back. “This made sense 300 years ago when people were
scarce and nature was bountiful,” says Anderson.

 He goes on to say that this equation is deeply problematic,
and underscores a flawed economic system where the gap between what we have and
what we want defines all economic progress. It ignores the consequences of its
actions. In the second Industrial Revolution—no time like the present—the
environmental impact equation should look more like this: I = P x A / T2,
where T represents technologies that are renewable, cyclical, benign,
solar/hydrogen-driven, emulate nature, and focus on resource productivity.

This new equation is obtainable if the corporation of the
future adheres to the seven faces of “Mt. Sustainability”: eliminate waste;
benign emissions; renewable energy; close the loop; use resource-efficient
transportation; sensitize stakeholders (culture shift); and redefine commerce.
In practicing what he preaches, Anderson’s own company, Interface, has cut
greenhouse gas emissions by 82 percent; cut fossil fuel consumption by 60
percent; cut waste by 66 percent; cut water use by 75 percent; and increased
sales by 66 percent, doubled earnings, and raised profit margins all since
1994—the example he uses to assert that the sustainable corporation of the
future is indeed within reach. Anderson’s prediction is that the typical
corporation of today “will become the proverbial fish out of water.”

It took 10 years of convincing, but Wall Street finally
grasped Anderson’s unwavering intentions to build a green manufacturer—an
important milestone in the aforementioned culture shift. And eventually, says
Anderson, the environmental impact should resemble something more like I = P x
A / T2  x H, where H
represents Happiness. The ideal sustainable world, he says, will defy today’s
capitalistic principles of “more is better,” and instead be defined by “more
happiness with less stuff.”

Click here for a video clip of Ray Anderson talking about his radical
industrialist principles.

One Comment

  1. Hmm, sounds very…I dunno, zen, or something? I definitely feel a lot less weighed down when I have less stuff, but I don't know that it actually contributes to happiness. Maybe it just contributes to less stress so that the happiness can shine through?