Ray Anderson, founder and Chairman of Interface, gave the keynote address this morning at the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum.
Anderson had a tough act to follow in this, the third Economic Forum put on by Sustainable Industries. Last year’s keynote was Van Jones, after all.
Anderson quoted Einstein as he talked about the thinking that we need to get us out of our current economic and environmental maelstroms. This alternative thinking led their factory in Southern California to go solar. Something their accountant might have missed, said Anderson, was the value of extra sales, PR, and the value of leadership, had they simply used a payback period or other cost-benefit analysis in determining whether their solar project was worthwhile.
Anderson next tried a visualization with the audience, which blew me away. He asked everyone to close their eyes…
and to try to imagine a scene where we were truly serene, truly at peace, and truly at our most creative. Then he asked that if we were thinking of someplace outside, to raise our hands. We opened our eyes to realize that everyone in the room, about 300 strong, had their hands in the air.
Biophilia, the term to describe our instinctive affinity to the natural world, has emerged as a powerful player in the product design world. It was with this concept (and biomimicry) that Interface has designed some of their more successful products. One manager, Anderson noted, asked his design team to take a walk in the forest and think of how a forest would create a floor. Entropy, one of Interface’s best selling products, was the apparent result.
Anderson cautioned that “status quo is a powerful opiate.” But for businesses to survive and innovate, and for sustainability to become mainstream, we need to break out of our ruts. “The best way to have great new ideas,” Anderson said, “is to stop having bad old ones.”
In response to an audience question, Anderson also gave his best three pieces of advice for Barack Obama for creating a legacy around sustainability.
Anderson concluded that sustainability initiatives are good for business. “The business case for sustainability is crystal clear,” he said. Better design means new products and more marketshare. A shared purpose gains employee loyalty. Goodwill, he said, may be Interface’s single greatest asset, and the single greatest advantage his company has.
His inspiring rallying cry at the end of his speech was, “If a company in a petro-intensive industry can do it, anybody can. So let’s get on with it!”
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and hopes that someday, the green economy will simply be referred to as…the economy.