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Guest: Ray Anderson

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Listen Now

The business case for saving life on earth is crystal clear to industrialist Ray Anderson.  After 15 years, he now has hard cold figures -- more than $400,000,000 in profit to be precise -- to support his assertion:  “Respecting the earth is a better way to bigger profit.  It’s better for the planet and it’s better for the shareholder,” he says with his famous smile. “I think corporations are still trying to figure out the business model.  Does it really work?  Can they still meet shareholder requirements and also, serve the planet?  Our experience is an unequivocal ‘yes!’   There's a better way, and here (indicating his book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist) is the case study.  Here's how you do it.  There's 15 years of blood, sweat and tears in that book.” Mr. Anderson is now known around the world for transforming Interface, Inc., which he founded and chairs.  From one of the countless pollution-heavy industrial giants poisoning the planet, he’s reinventing this publicly held corporation as they successfully climb “Mount Sustainability”.  Their goal?  To be restorative. “At the same time, we view the sustainability initiative as competitive advantage.  And it is proving to be that, in terms of cost being down, not up.  We’ve been saving money from Day One by attacking waste, because we were lucky enough to stumble on the first ‘face’ of  the eight that make up our ‘Mount Sustainability’ -- waste elimination. “The continuing objective that we have is to demonstrate the better business model, hold up the example so that the toughest minded CEO there is will look at this and say, ‘Hey! These guys have something.  Let's go see what they're doing and let's see if anything that if anything they're doing applies to us.’ “You know, when Jeffrey Immelt commits General Electric to doubling its R&D from 750 to a million dollars a year, to a billion and a half in the clean technology area, with the expectation of doubling its revenues from ten billion to $20 billion in the sale of those clean technologies, there’s not an altruistic thought in it.  He's doing it because his customers are demanding it, creating the demand.  He's responding to create the supply and this is the way business evolves.  It’s supply and demand co-evolving to a higher and higher level.” And his own customers?  It was pressure from them that first led Mr. Anderson to Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce and Mr. Anderson’s now-famous “spear in the chest”. “The good will of the market place has been astonishing. The same people who were asking, ‘What is your company doing?’ 15 years ago have embraced the company for what we are obviously trying to do.  “Our products are the best they've ever been as our product designers began to understand sustainable design.  We're not there yet, but designing for sustainability, it opened up a wellspring of innovation.  Ideas that they never would have dreamed of began to emerge and have given direction to our product development effort that we wouldn't have had in any circumstance other than the sustainability initiative.  And then the people -- our people -- are just galvanized around the shared higher purpose. “It is good for the planet and good for the shareholder.  That's what ‘So Right, So Smart’ means. That is doing well by doing good.”


Jo Ann Bachman's help was vital in making this program come to pass. Dianne Dillon-Ridgley has worked tirelessly for many years raising awareness around the world of our potentially fatal disconnect from nature. She serves on the Interface board and has provided us with many useful insights and anecdotes. Before heading off to Australia for an advanced degree in sustainability studies, Teljya Oka-Pregel worked with Interface, developing its message and internet presence. She is a splendid avatar of what we dare hope is emerging from the next generation. As many business people have, Ray Anderson could have found many reasons and excuses for continuing as a "plunderer of the earth." Instead he chose to lead the way to a sustainable, restorative future. Bless him for that choice and for his indomitable spirit.

Related Links

The full video of this program with Ray Anderson is available here. Ray Anderson's website is here. There's much more about Interface on the company websiteConfessions of a Radical Industrialist is published by St. Martin's PressWe first talked with Mr. Anderson in 1999, early in his ascent of Mount SustainabilityPaul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce was Mr. Anderson's wake-up call. Frederick Ferré has provided a philosophical basic for the changes Ray Anderson so ablely embodies. David Orr's work in environmental education and sustainable communities are a central part of the process of changing our views and habits. Mr. Anderson regularly cites Janine Benyus' work on biomimicry as both resource and inspiration. Excerpts from this program, and others, helped set the stage for Building Sutainability: A Green Homes and Renovations Conference in Kimberley, BC in late January 2010.  ... and, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts.

This Program was recorded on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia, US

Tags: biomimicry Confessions of a Radical Industrialist green industry green profits Interface Midcourse Correction nature oil petro-chemicals pollution Ray Anderson restorative sustainability