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Ray Anderson, continued...

What about the hundreds of thousands of individual government employees in California, or in other states. How can they be encouraged to green their workplaces?

Have you ever met an ex-environmentalist?  There’s no such thing.

Once people get it, they cannot un-get it. For every one who gets it, there’s one less of the ones who don’t. There’s an inevitability that this has to happen and will continue as more and more people get it. To me that’s the most encouraging thought — that there’s no turning back. It doesn’t matter who’s in office.

What are the government’s greatest strengths in regard to greening communities?

They have purchasing power. They have taxation power, which may be their greatest power. Government has the ability to create reverse subsidies and to create good subsidies. Government creates incentives through its taxation system. Its taxation ability can begin to address environmental externalities and get them reflected in pricing; for example, taxing the barrel of oil and then reducing the income tax – shifting taxes from good things to bad things.

Government also has convening power. Governor Schwarzenegger can bring people together and say, “Here’s what I want.” Government has its recognition power – here are the good companies and here are the bad ones. Government has regulatory power – the stick that goes hand in glove with the carrot. Regulatory power can be used to deal with those companies that are recalcitrant.

What else can be done to ensure sustainability, in government or in business?

When people talk about sustainability they talk about a three-legged stool. Business can’t be sustainable without the three legs: the environment, making a profit, and social equity. I don’t like the analogy of the three legged stool. I’d rather see it as a three stage rocket to put that payload into orbit.

Social equity has been the hardest for us to come to grips with. I know there are three billion people on earth living on less than two dollars a day, but I don’t know what to do about it. I know that there are uneducated children in my own community but I don’t know what to do about it.

We encourage our people to find their own road to help solve these problems. They volunteer to do all kinds of things in their communities. You can’t keep up with it. It all sums up to an effort to live more productive and mindful lives. We’ve got a formal program to seek out teachers in local schools who want to do environmental projects. You’d be amazed at what $500 will do in the hands of a teacher, and we do that around the world.  

A lot of companies have gotten in trouble because they don’t pay attention to labor practices, especially if they are sourcing from
Asia. They have to understand that they are the supply chain. Nobody stands alone. The state of California is the supply chain for all the goods and services that the state consumes.

You have to think holistically. You can’t make a green product in a brown company, and you can’t have a green company without a green supply chain. We have a massive reconstruction process before us, a change in the entire society. It happens one mind at a time.

Any last thoughts?

Anytime there’s a paradigm shift you have the early movers, the fast followers and, at the other end, the never-movers. In between you have the vast middle ground who will move when they get inspired or when they say, “Hey that’s the way everyone’s doing it now.” Because of this, recognition is important – lift up the heroes.

Our customers asked a simple question: “What are you doing for the environment?” It started a little bitty snowball and then it gathered momentum.
The power is with the people in the marketplace. Everybody with purchasing power can ask the same question of a supplier. It makes people think and it will stop them in their tracks. It sure did us.

Interface, Inc.

Interface Sustainability Website



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