Sherpa for sustainability
It’s been about 15 years since Ray Anderson, the founder and chairman on Interface Inc., had an epiphany that changed the course of his company, setting a goal to eliminate Interface’s negative environmental impacts by 2020—a journey Anderson refers to as “climbing Mount Sustainability.”
With $1.1 billion in sales in 2008, Atlanta-based Interface (Nasdaq: IFSIA) is the world’s largest modular carpet manufacturer. One of the biggest players in an extremely petroleum-intensive industry, Interface has become a model for other corporations looking to adopt meaningful sustainability initiatives—known as Mission Zero in Interface’s case—and still make a profit. In this way, Interface has become “a sherpa on Mount Sustainability,” Anderson says.
“If we can do it, anyone can; and if anyone can, everyone can,” Anderson told an audience gathered in San Francisco in May 2009 for the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum. After a discussion on topics ranging from biomimicry to the importance of putting a price on carbon emissions, Sustainable Industries sat down with Anderson for a conversation about Interface’s progress in its mission.
SI: How far along are you in your Mission Zero goal? How far up Mount Sustainability are you?
RA: We’re probably more than halfway. It depends a lot on how you weight the individual elements of the journey, but in terms of greenhouse gasses, for example, we’re down 71 percent [in tons]. … In areas like waste elimination, we’re about halfway. In terms of renewable energy, we are 28 percent of the way.
But…we’re almost 90 percent of the way on fossil fuel-derived electricity. … In renewable materials, we’re only about a quarter of the way, but that’s moving very quickly now, as we have just had technology breakthroughs in the recycling area. … Every day the recycled content of our products is increasing. Water [use] is down 74 percent.
SI: Do you think it’s going to be harder to get up the last half than the first half?
RA: You would think that would be the case, but actually the technology breakthroughs we’ve made recently enable us to see our way clearly to the top. It’s now a matter of execution.