Green Technology Home

Magazine Home

The Interface showroom in Atlanta is the first building to attain LEED Platinum Commercial Interior certification.


Ray Anderson, continued...

What is the "old mindset"? And what should replace it?

The old mindset is the one that grips our society, that the earth is so large we’ll never run out. There’s always room for waste. The new mindset realizes the earth is finite. We cannot continue to take and take and take, either the nonrenewable or the renewable, without putting back.

Old: Our timeframe is the next year or the next quarter. Long range planning is three years.

New: Long range planning means that you have to think in evolutionary time. It’s not just for one lifetime; it has to be longer than that.

Old: The market will fix all the problems.

New: The market can be very dishonest. It can’t be a good broker if it’s blind to the externalities. Global warming is an externality that comes from burning fossil fuels. The price of these fuels doesn’t begin to reflect their true cost, factoring in the wars in the
Middle East and the cost to future generations of burning that oil today. If it did, we would be much more judicious in the way we burn that oil. You find perverse subsidies and externalities not reflected in prices all around us. Depletion of fish stocks in the North Atlantic is never included in the price of fish.

The old mindset is the one that grips society today, but we’ve managed to break with that and create a whole new worldview. It sounds grandiose, but in our organization we have a different view of reality than we did 12 years ago.

How do you inspire CEOs to embrace the “new” mindset?

I have several suggestions:

Ask your customers what they think about the environment. You might be amazed at how sensitive they are. Take a look at what you take, what you make, and what you waste, and ask yourself, “Can this go on and on and on?”

How valuable are your customers to you?  How valuable is the top line to you, the precursor to the bottom line? How long do you think you can go on and on taking, making and wasting without the cost of that overwhelming you eventually? We’re on the verge of paying that price right now, burning that barrel of oil as global warming comes on like a freight train.

I see three kinds of CEOs: those who founded their companies; those who inherited them and those who are hired to run their companies. Those who have the sense of legacy, as I did, are mostly those who either inherited or founded their companies. Founders have a different perspective. I cared a great deal about what this creation of mine turned out to be. I have two daughters. Interface is the son I never had. I want to see it be all that it can be.

It’s not just my message now. There’s a chorus, a groundswell. Ten years ago you couldn’t have dreamed of doing what
California is asking industry to do now.

What’s the best approach for government agencies that want to start thinking green? 

I believe the right place to start is in your own building. There is a good codified explanation of sustainable building now. It’s a beginning, and the standards will have to be constantly upgraded. But there’s one good consensus standard, LEED. ["LEED" refers to the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.] This is great — the field hasn’t been confused with a million rating systems.

next page



Copyright © 2006, Green Technology. All rights reserved.