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Anderson’s seven-step program to sustainability



CEO redesigns business for zero environmental impact

Although the business of running a resort might appear to have little in common with the business of manufacturing and selling carpets and flooring, Fortune 1000 CEO Ray Anderson believes that all business structures share the same basics of supply and demand, distribution, marketing, financing, staffing, transportation of people and goods, and so on and so on.

He also believes that it’s possible to eliminate waste at every stage of the process, to redraw the lines on the flow chart that connect these basics in such a way that a company can eliminate, not just reduce, its environmental impact.

"And if I can do it in this business," says Anderson, the founder, chair and CEO of Interface Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial carpet and flooring, "then anyone can do it."

Anderson gave a presentation at the Whistler Conference Centre on Dec. 1 as part of the Leadership Through Sustainable Innovation speaker series, which is being held as part of Whistler’s own sustainability initiative; Whistler. It’s Our Nature. The night was also the official community launch of the Natural Step initiative, and featured booths by the early adopters of sustainability – Whistler-Blackcomb, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Tourism Whistler, AWARE, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and Whistler FotoSource. According to Anderson, Interface didn’t start out as an environmental leader. "It was until 1994 that I began to hear something from the marketplace. Our customers began to ask us what our company was doing for the environment. The answer was ‘nothing.’ It embarrassed us. It embarrassed me."

Anderson was expected to make a speech to shareholders outlining the company’s environmental vision, which it didn’t have. "I couldn’t get beyond ‘obey the law – comply,’" he says.

Before his speech, someone gave him a book, The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability by Paul Hawken. The book was based on three principles: that every living system and life support system was stressed and in decline; that business and industry were the primary culprits; and that species were disappearing off the face of the earth at a faster rate than they did during a mass extinction 260 million years ago, when 96 per cent of species disappeared.

The clincher for Anderson was the real possibility that we would be next.

"Scientists are telling us how much time we have to try and change the course we’re on. One generation? Two generations? Three generations at the most," he said.

Rather than be discouraged, Anderson decided that while industry created this mess, the only institution that had the money and the resources to clean it up was industry.