An Eco-Friendly Interface
Pushing the Limits Interview with Ray Anderson.
After founding Interface in 1973 both revolutionizing the carpet and floor covering industry and growing the company into one of the world's largest interior furnishings companies, Ray Anderson took on a new challenge. In the wake of reading Paul Hawkens' book, The Ecology of Commerce, which discusses our systematic destruction of the planet and envisions a new approach for our corporations and our society, Ray received what he calls “a spear to the chest.” Since that time, Ray has been dedicated to transforming Interface into a sustainable company and providing leadership in a global effort by pioneering the processes of sustainable development. Finally, Ray and Interface have attained a host of prestigious roles and won many awards including co- chairing the President’s Council on Sustainable Development in 1997, and in 2001, the George and Cynthia Mitchell International Prize for Sustainable Development, the first corporate CEO to be so honoured.
What is a sustainable economy or a sustainable capitalist economy?
Capitalism is in trouble as long as it focuses only on financial capital without regard to natural capital. I don’t see longevity in any system that continually chews up nature to create products that end up as waste in a landfill or an incinerator. Until we substitute cyclical processes for linear processes and renewable sources of energy and materials for extractive non-renewable resources, we are on a downhill track. We live in a finite world, a finite biosphere. We cannot impinge on that infinitely.
In my book, Mid-Course Correction, I laid out the theories and schematics that apply to our company as we make that transformation from a typical company of the 20th century to the sustainable company of the 21st century. Until we learn to sever the links--the umbilical cord to Earth--for materials and energy, and [stop] dumping effluents into the biosphere, we are on that downhill track. The model is there. It means new technologies that largely don’t exist today, but we know what they must be. They must be cyclical and renewable and waste free, and benign. They must be focused on the productivity of all resources, not just labour productivity.
How can we have economic growth without increasing material consumption?
It is a matter of necessity. Survival will drive us to insist on products and services that are produced sustainably. It is dependant on the marketplace and an aroused citizenry. Consumers must realize that consumption in itself is not the route to happiness. Happiness is to be found somewhere else and ever-growing affluence is not necessarily happiness. So that involves a change of attitude, but [the survival] instinct will drive this change.
What area we can apply this instinct to?
Energy is the most obvious I think. Moving to renewable sources of energy and substituting photons from the sun for barrels of oil. That’s the dematerialization of energy. The recycling of raw materials can result in the dematerialization of materials, in terms of virgin materials. We are seeing it in our own company. The carbon intensity of Interface is now down by one-third over the ten years that we have been pursuing this goal of sustainability. Of course, we still have two-thirds of the way to go, but we know what the goal is and we believe it is achievable.