Business Success Climbing Mount Sustainability

Many may have heard the story about how Interface, a $1 billion U.S. based carpet company, started on their sustainability journey in 1994 when then CEO Ray Anderson had an epiphany after reading Paul Hawkin’s book “The Ecology of Commerce”.

I had the pleasure of interviewing John Wells, the company’s current CEO last year on leadership and sustainability. Earlier this month, I also heard him speak at the Green Biz Works’ Atlanta conference about the journey that Interface is on to change from a petro-chemical, fossil fuel based, take makes waste industry and “climb mount sustainability”. This required changing not only the way the company manufactures, but also the way they think. Creating a sustainable business isn’t all about the technology; it must also include leadership and organizational culture.

Interface refers to their efforts as a journey to “Mission Zero”. The results thus far are quite impressive. Since the mid-1990’s, Interface’s energy use was reduced by 44%. Water use has decreased by 74% in their world-wide carpet tile business. Interface also eliminated 78% of their landfill waste by diverting 74,000 tons of used carpet from landfills and net greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 82% in absolute tonnage. One example of employee involvement has been the company’s QUEST program (Quality Using Employee Suggestions & Teamwork) which has saved Interface over $405 million in waste since 1995. (For those of you looking at the math….these are just some of the BOTTOM LINE savings.)

And the result on financials for this public corporation? During this same time period, sales have increased by two-thirds and profits have doubled. Interface’s public image has also grown tremendously. They are not only attracting customers, but also talent to their organization. Interface’s people love working in an environment where innovation, engagement, social responsibility and pride are all evident.

In John Wells’ view “If a small company can make changes over time that make a significant difference, so can others.” So can your organization.

Learn more about The Seven Fronts of Mount Sustainability

Listen to Ray Anderson speak on the business logic of sustainability at TED in February 2009.


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