On August 31, 1994 — exactly 25 years ago tomorrow — a meeting in a shabby, windowless hotel conference room just outside of Atlanta would become a major early milestone in the conscious business movement. Lest this major anniversary slip by unnoticed, we’ve rushed to complete a scene that tells the story of that meeting as told by three of the 18 people who were there, and who would go on to achieve what conventional wisdom thought was impossible.
“It was a vision that absolutely transcended compliance.”
The meeting was the first convening of a task force within the world’s largest carpet company at the time, Interface. The group had gathered to answer a question from a customer: what was Interface doing for the environment? Invited to give the opening keynote and share his environmental vision for the company, CEO Ray Anderson was stuck on legal compliance (what more was there?) and desperate for inspiration. By coincidence (or divine providence) Paul Hawken’s book appeared on his desk. He read late into the night; it caused an epiphany and Anderson found his environmental vision.
In 2008, he wrote of that night this way:
“It was a vision that absolutely transcended compliance. It would be so much more than an answer to reassure our customers and more than just a call to arms. It was a call to lead and a call to hope loud and clear and powerful enough to energize a corporation and, with any luck, start a chain reaction throughout industry — not just ours, all of industry. A vision certainly big enough to give me a new purpose in life.
“I got up from bed to get a glass of water and stopped in front of a mirror. I looked at myself long and hard, and thought, why not? August 31 came and I stepped into that conference room.”
Here is the scene:
In the 25 years since that meeting, Interface has achieved milestone after milestone, overcoming dizzying technological challenges, and despite (they would say because of) two major recessions, and intense public market pressures, the Interface team, animated by the clarity of Anderson’s vision, would go on to do what conventional wisdom said was impossible. As they did, Mr. Anderson was asked to chair an environmental business task force for the Clinton White House, and leaders from Wal-Mart, Nike, Google, PepsiCo, GE, Unilever, Virgin, and many more looked to Interface for inspiration and guidance.
With the clock ticking on its self-imposed deadline to achieve its sustainability mission by the end of 2020, Interface is finishing strong. In January of this year, Interface announced, among other impressive achievements, that it has reduced its waste to landfill by 91 percent, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent, and it now runs all of its factories on 100 percent renewable energy.
Erin Meezan has been charged with building on the Interface vision for the last 15 years, and you can hear from her on Conscious Company’s Live Q&A on September 6.
Meezan is one of the incredible people featured in Come Clean, the upcoming feature documentary telling the story of the Interface transformation. It is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2020. You can find the trailer below.
Finally, if you are in the Atlanta area, be sure to get tickets for True Nature, an event about business environmental leadership on September 12. Paul Hawken is headlining, and Nathan Havey will be there to talk about this film project.