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October 28, 2021

Sustainability hurts business? It's a myth

I earned the handle “Radical Industrialist” some time back in the late 1990s, when my company and I were beginning to chart our course up what we have called “Mount Sustainability”, and first began to talk about it with other businesses.

The idea that we could take our petroleum-intensive carpet manufacturing business and re-imagine processes, products, and even the way we went to market was considered “radical” in the context of business as usual.  Today, we’re 15 years into our journey and green is not necessarily a radical notion any more. Whether you think sustainability is the right or the smart thing to do (we’ve found that it is both) you can’t help but notice the business case we’ve been able to demonstrate at Interface:

1.Costs are down, not up, dispelling the myth that sustainability is expensive.  Our first initiative, a zero-tolerance waste initiative, has netted us over $400 million in saved or avoided costs, more than paying for all the costs associated with pursuing sustainability.

2. Products are the best they’ve ever been.  Sustainability is a well-spring of innovation, and our product designers have been particularly successful using biomimicry (the study of nature’s design principles) as a guide. 

3.  Our people are galvanized around our mission, owing to a sense of higher purpose and self-actualization that comes when we focus on something bigger than ourselves.  Academics and experts who have studied the cultural transformation at Interface say they’ve never seen the type of top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top alignment that sustainability has helped foster at Interface.

4. The goodwill of the marketplace is tremendous, bringing business to Interface because customers want to be aligned with a company that is trying to do the right thing by our environment.  No amount of marketing, no clever ad campaign, could create the kind of customer loyalty that we have experienced.  It makes sense, given that the whole journey began for us when our customers started asking, “What is Interface doing the for the environment?” 

Sustainability is not a program of the month or a faddish trend that we’re riding, it is the commitment of a lifetime.  It’s also a better way to a bigger, and more legitimate, profit―good for shareholder and the planet.  There are new fortunes to be made in this, the second industrial revolution, and entrepreneurs everywhere should thank Rachel Carson for starting it. 

By Ray Anderson

Ray C. Anderson is founder and chairman of U.S.-based Interface, Inc., a billion dollar, global carpet manufacturer, and author of Confessions of A Radical Industrialist (McClelland & Stewart, 2009). Read an interview with Ray C. Anderson on the MSN Green channel.



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