Follow mikethementor on Twitter
Subscribe to Mike the Mentor's free newsletter - and get 2 bonus articles "The Future of Leadership Coaching" and "Mentoring" available only to new subscribers.

* required



Social and Email Marketing by VerticalResponse
These 6 pieces form a connected narrative:
- Sustainability - Why it's Important
- A Call for Leadership
- Ray Anderson's Story
- Creating Sustainable Value
- Developing Leadership Capacity
- Personal Leadership

Creating Shared Value
The 5 Stances of Sustainability
The 7 Levels of Corporate Sustainability
Business Sustainability
The Changing Context of Business
Ecopsychology and "Green and Away"
Reinventing Organisations
Social Business
Sustainability Coaching
Sustainable Business
Which Mentor?
Ray Anderson's Story
Ray Anderson

One man who is well down the path to building a sustainable business is the entrepreneur and industrialist Ray Anderson. In 1973, aged 38, he founded the company Interface to make floor coverings. By 1994 he had built it into a highly successful global company with sales in more than 100 countries, manufacturing facilities on four continents, and a turnover approaching a billion dollars a year. At 60 years old and with a new generation of management in place, he was ready to retire. But then Interface started to get asked to include a statement of its environmental policy in its bid quotations. Anderson then heard from one of his top sales managers that a certain environmental consultant to a certain major customer had said, "Interface just doesn't get it"! And that piece of business was slipping away. Anderson said "Interface doesn't get what"? (Rather confirming the consultant's comment.)

But then he read Paul Hawken's seminal book The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability and had an epiphany. He realised that he and his 'successful' company were an integral part of the destructive impact the industrial system is having on the environment. "A new definition of success burst into my consciousness, and the latent sense of legacy asserted itself. I got it. I was a plunderer of Earth, and that is not the legacy one wants to leave behind. I wept."

Hawken made the central point of his book in three parts: 1) The living systems and the life support systems of Earth are in decline; we are degrading the biosphere; unchecked, it will continue to decline and we will lose the biosphere. It contains and supports all of life. 2) The biggest culprit in this decline is the industrial system - the linear, take-make-waste industrial system, driven by fossil fuel-derived energy, wasteful and abusive. 3) The only institution on Earth that is large enough, powerful enough, wealthy enough, pervasive enough, influential enough to lead humankind out of the mess it is making for itself is the same institution that is doing the most damage, the institution of business and industry.

Thus Anderson found for himself a whole new purpose in life - in his 61st year.

I simply said, 'Unless somebody leads nobody will. Why not us?' For nearly 11 years, now, we have been on this mission; we call it, 'climbing Mt. Sustainability', a mountain higher than Everest, to meet at that point at the top that symbolizes zero footprint - zero environmental impact. Sustainable: taking nothing, doing no harm. ... And, the amazing thing is, this initiative has been incredibly good for business! What started out as the right thing to do quickly became clearly the smart thing, as well. First, we are leaner; our costs are down, not up. Cost saving from eliminating waste alone, the first face of the mountain, has been $262 million. Second, our products are better than they have ever been, because sustainability, leading us to Biomimicry has proven to be an unimagined source of inspiration and innovation. Third, our people are galvanized around a higher purpose. ... For those who think business exists to make a profit, I suggest they think again. Business makes a profit to exist. Surely it must exist for some higher, nobler purpose than that. Fourth, to round out the business case, the goodwill of the market place has been astounding! No amount of advertising could have generated as much, or contributed as much to the top line - to winning business. ... This revised definition of success - this new paradigm - has a name: 'Doing well by doing good'. It is a better way to bigger profits.

What is interesting about this story is the way in which Anderson was able to convert what was becoming a problem (Interface's perceived lack of environmental credentials) into an opportunity (increased profits, reduced costs and, most importantly, a greater preparedness for the high-cost petroleum world to come). And this of course is where the capitalism is at its best - in exploiting the opportunities offered by discontinuous change.

--> Creating Sustainable Value

Copyright © 2013. Dr M H Munro Turner. All rights reserved