It is possible to reduce your emissions of greenhouse gas by 82% while doubling your profits. It is possible to make the Anglo-Saxon motto “Doing well by doing good” a reality. The delightful story of Ray Anderson and his company Interface, Inc. is an indubitable proof. After twenty years of traditional carpet production, Ray Anderson discovered Paul Hawken’s book, “The Ecology of Commerce”. We are in 1994. This work is a revelation for the open-minded manufacturer; from there, he entirely re-imagined Interface’s business model and challenged his employees by setting the Zero Environmental Impact goal to be reached by 2020. The guideline was as simple as it was ambitious:
« Take nothing – Do no harm »
15 years later, Ray Anderson shares the story of his company initiative at the Ted Ex conference. Jumping from scientific equations to poetry, from financial results to philosophical thoughts, Ray identifies tangible success of its Mission Zero. For him, not only are businesses and industry the problem but also the solution to the decline of the biosphere and he brilliantly dispels the myth of a dilemma between the environment and the economy. Today, Interface, Inc. is a market leader and enjoys the goodwill of both its employees and the market.
In the mid-90s, there was no guarantee of success for the sustainable and profitable blueprint of Ray Anderson. And yet. Despite the lack of precedent, of market education and technology available, this real leader has succeeded in building an exemplary business model. His company background allows us to say that sustainable development is possible for all private businesses.
« If we, a petro-intensive company can do it, anybody can »
So in practice, how to make the prototype designed by Ray Anderson become the norm and our business standard?
Before anything else, read “Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist” by Ray Anderson himself. In this book, the industrialist invites us behind the scenes of Mission Zero, revealing how he succeeded in mobilizing the creativity of his employees or in convincing skeptical Wall Street people to support his project. Anecdote by anecdote, he explains the strategies that enhanced him to bypass the real obstacles and to achieve ambitious sustainability goals. This book is both a practical guide for those who want to embed sustainability in their own company and the epic story of a brillant businessman, that titillates our intelligence as well as our consciousness since the situation for our planet today still is:
« We have a choice to make : to hurt it or to help it »
Pamplemousse tip: a business should not try to tackle all sustainability topics at a time but rather take action where results will be the most significant, both environmentally, socially and economically. As demonstrated by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in “Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility“, sustainable actions must be anchored in the heart of a company’s activities and in line with its strategic objectives to be effective.