A recurring theme in my writing is my admiration of Interface, a zero-impact manufacturer of carpet tiles. Their journey began in 1994 when Founder and CEO Ray Anderson was asked by the sales team what the company was doing to become more sustainable. He initially thought they complied with all regulations, so nothing more needed to be done. Then he experiences a "spear in the chest epiphany" after reading The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability by Paul Hawken. Anderson's move to shape Interface's leading-edge business practices through a sustainability lens ignited a purpose in my life to use business as a force for good. The Ray Anderson ministry of sustainable business became my North Star to support the development of industry leaders.
"I used to think that my job didn't have anything to do with the environment. Then I realized that my job, as well as everyone else's job, impacts the environment in some way. And now advocating for sustainability has become my No. 1 responsibility." — Ray Anderson
My introduction to the work of Ray Anderson occurred during my doctorate program. His southern drawl and folksy oratory immediately hooked me. But, more importantly, I was impressed by his story. He heard early in the sustainability journey that people in the organization thought Ray had "gone around the bend," inferring he was mentally confused and unable to act reasonably. He responded that he had gone around the bend and did not like what he saw as the future. The story of Ray Anderson, a then 60-year-old man, completely embracing the need to go from "complying with the law" to a leader in sustainability, needed telling. From his first speech to a staff task force at his organization to later doing 100 speeches a year, he began a ministry of the value of adopting a zero-impact business model. Unfortunately, Ray Anderson departed this earth in 2011.
Interface announced they had met the original goal of zero impact in November of 2019. They are now working to achieve a 25-year plan to go further with a new mission of Climate Take Back™. The program is to build on past success and share it with others. In their guide, the reader will learn about moonshot goals, how to change a mindset, and the role of vision in achieving the plan. Additional work involves a circular approach to business, the need to engage everyone, the path is not linear, the importance of transparency, a ripple can become a wave, and the need to raise the bar continually. Finally, based on its years of success, Interface is a model for others to follow as they shift from sustainability to a regenerative approach to business.
A key objective is to reverse the negative impact of global warming. Scientific research is guiding work to achieve radical decarbonization and to expand natural carbon sinks. Science is the grounding for four areas of their Climate Take Back plan, including:
1. Live zero – Aim for zero negative impact on the environment.
2. Love carbon – Stop seeing carbon as the enemy and use it as a resource.
3. Lead the industrial revolution – Transfer industry into a force for the future we need.
4. Let nature cool – support our biosphere's ability to regulate the climate
Interface is driving the fundamental change to lead the global response to move from talking to acting on the creation of a "climate fit for life."
Another Interface initiative is developing a factory that will positively contribute to the forest using biomimicry design. In addition, the manufacturing facility will provide ecosystem service to the area's landscape. Biomimicry 3.8 was a supporter in the redesign of its Lagrange, GA factory providing three critical guiding principles:
1. Resetting the company mindset toward a revised North Star of higher ambition.
2. Setting performance goals using the surrounding ecosystem as a baseline.
3. Using site-specific details to develop the design concepts for the manufacturing facility.
The ecosystem's elements were considered in biodiversity support, carbon sequestration, sediment retention, soil fertility, water storage, and purification.
The Climate Take Back™ initiative by Interface takes on the challenge of reversing global warming. The development of sustainable facilities moving toward net-zero impact or further toward regeneration will significantly create necessary global change. In addition, all internal and external stakeholders benefit from working or living where multiple plant operations can collectively improve the world’s environment.
Those interested in learning more about this work by Interface can view +Positive spaces | Climate Take Back. Several friends and leaders involved with the work share an overview of the initiative.
I am grateful to those like Ray Anderson, whose legacy lives on beyond the day of their last breath. He was an early champion in industrial sustainability that first revolutionized his company. But then, his extraordinary ability to tell a story continues to impact the lives of so many others positively.
Next week's blog will shift to putting employees first. Establishing an employee-centric organization is a crucial element of the humanist manufacturing framework.
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