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Anderson’s seven-step program to sustainability

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His speech went a little further than anyone expected, but by the end of the week the company was committed to a course that would lead to sustainability.

Using a typical business structure as a guide, he began to change the way the lines were drawn and came up with a seven step program for climbing what he called "Mount Sustainability."

The first step was to eliminate waste by taking an honest look at where waste exists within the company’s own processes and its supply chain.

In six years Interface cut waste in half, and in the process saved over $70 million through more efficient operations.

The second step was to control industrial emissions. When Interface started down the road to sustainability they had 270 outlet stacks and pipes. "By now we’ve closed 29 per cent of them, and our goal is to shut them all down. We now do our business using processes that don’t require stacks or pipes," says Anderson.

The third step is to power the company with renewable energy. "Right now it has to be solar because we can’t afford wind just yet," he says. Some Interface factories, like the one in Belleville, Ontario, had access to renewable hydroelectric power.

Although solar has a cost, the benefits are there. "I asked the accountants if we could afford solar, and they said no. So I called up the marketing department and asked them if they could sell solar-made carpets, and they said yes. Marketing loves it. Customers want it."

The fourth step is closing the loop, recycling 100 per cent of the carpets and flooring solved using renewable energy. Interface’s goal is to not take one more drop of oil out of the earth, either for the production of textiles or to run the factories, by 2020.

The fifth step is transportation, "perhaps the most difficult problem to solve," says Anderson. "Moving people, moving our product, it’s really in the hands of the automotive industry which is starting to think the same way we are. I drive a Toyota Prius (gas/electric hybrid car) and get 46.5 miles per gallon."

The sixth step is sensitivity training – teaching sustainability to the staff so they don’t just understand it, but take the initiative upon themselves to advance it. It also means educating customers and suppliers.

The seventh step is the reinvention of commerce, giving people added value rather than lower prices by creating superior and competitive products.

It also means switching the focus from labour productivity – getting the most product using the fewest workers, for the lowest price – to resource productivity, which means getting more from resources.