Industry needs to rethink how
it deals with ecological concerns

Ray Anderson founded Interface Inc., a carpet tile company, in 1973. Now chair and chief executive officer of the company, the largest and most prosperous of its kind in the world, Anderson told an Ethics Center audience during a Feb. 25 address of his plans to make Interface "the prototypical company of the 21st century" with its pioneering efforts on behalf of ecological and environmental matters in business and industry

Anderson's interest in industrial ecology began when he was asked to deliver a keynote address on the environmental vision of business. At the time, "I didn't have a vision-I was only interested in compliance with standards," he said. When someone sent him a copy of Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce, however, everything changed.

Anderson learned that "every living system that makes up the biosystem which contains and nurtures all life every part of it is stressed and in decline" due to abuse begun during the Industrial Revolution. After learning in detail some of the eventual and chilling consequences of living in a world with little regard for its ecosystem, Anderson not only made this topic the focus for his keynote address, but he decided to make Interface a restorative and sustainable company as well. Sustainability, a term Anderson used throughout the evening, can be defined as letting companies meet their own needs while allowing future generations to do the same. In other words, "taking nothing from the earth that's not redo-able."

Confident that Interface will reach sustainability by the year 2000, Anderson founded Ecosense, "our internally focused effort to do what's right." He maintains that "the first industrial revolution didn't work so well. Let's have another one."

The next 70 years will be decisive, Anderson contended. "We have less than one lifetime to reverse the processes and decide our fate."

"Reinventing civilization is a tall order," he continued. "Either we do it, or nature will do it for us-or to us. Only business and industry are strong and important enough to do this. Unless someone does this, no one will.

"There is a limit to what the earth can supply and endure," he added. "When the earth runs out of resources and the ecosystem collapses, future generations will be left to hold it up."

Interface's quest for sustainability is based on four standards: substances from the earth's crust cannot escape to the ecosphere; manmade products must not escape into the ecosphere; the productivity of nature must not be diminished (i.e., trees and their production of oxygen); and there must be a fair and efficient use of resources to meet human needs. "The answer is resource efficiency," Anderson emphasized. Through reorganizing his business and speaking out on actions that encroach on nature, he hopes to make Interface an example to other companies.

"It's the greatest challenge of all time," Anderson concluded. "But imagine the view from the top of that mountain, higher than Mount Everest."

-Danielle Service

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