Monday, September 21, 2009

Confessions of a Radical Industrialist

Last week a couple of us Replaygrounders had the privilege of going to see a talk by Ray Anderson, who's on tour promoting his new book.

For those unfamiliar, he is the CEO of Interface, a Georgia carpet tile manufacturer. He's well known in the design community, having been profiled in magazines like Metropolis and received recognition and awards for his efforts over the last several years. "Confessions of a Radical Industrialist" is a followup to his book "Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model".

Ray's story is fascinating. As he will tell you himself, he worked in his extremely polluting and petroleum-based industry for decades without giving the environment a second thought. It wasn't until 1994, when an employee sent him a copy of Paul Hawken's "Ecology of Commerce", that he had what some describe as an "eco-epiphany" - all of a sudden, he decided that protecting the environment was not just important for our future and the future of the planet, but also made great business sense.

From then on he made it his mission to transform his company and the way it did business - "doing well by doing good" - and become a leader by example. Interface now champions a cause called "Mission Zero" - zero environmental footprint by 2020. Interface is committed to its goal, and this commitment has yielded a number of happy accidents and innovations. We heard quite a few anecdotes about the interesting (and profitable) surprises that came about as Interface began to change the way it did business. It was truly inspiring to hear what Interface has achieved - just by setting out to try something new. (And as long as you're not a competitor in the carpet business, Interface will be happy to share its expertise!)

Mission Zero is ambitious and admirable, and Ray is doing a tireless job of promoting his ideals. I especially appreciate that he's putting a sensible, businesslike face on eco-friendliness: when something makes financial sense, it's a lot easier to win over eco-skeptics!

If you ever get the chance to see him speak, I highly recommend it. In the meantime, add his book to your reading list.

"Never underestimate the power of a good question" - Ray Anderson

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