When Interface’s Ray Anderson founded his commercial carpet company, he’d never heard of ‘sustainability.’ Now his company has turned it into a competitive advantage. Here, a timeline for how one CEO’s ‘mental model’ changed.
In 1994, when Interface Inc.’s founder and CEO Ray Anderson began to think about his legacy, it made him uneasy. Deep down, Anderson realized that the business model of the commercial carpet manufacturing company he had founded 20 years before was based on “digging up the earth and turning petroleum and other materials into polluting products that ended up in landfills” — not something he wanted his grandchildren and great-grandchildren to remember him by. So at age 60 Anderson broke with the old model and began anew. Standing up to naysayers (whose ranks included associates, suppliers and Wall Street analysts), he set out to transform Interface from a traditional business built on consumption and waste to one whose focus — that is, beyond profitable growth — would be zero waste and restoring the earth. Since the start of the journey, Anderson and his associates have confronted technical barriers that no one could have anticipated. But inch by inch, kilowatt-hour by kilowatt-hour, recycled pound of carpet by recycled pound of carpet, Anderson’s vision has moved closer to reality. In addition to becoming increasingly efficient in its energy and materials usage — for example, 89% of Interface’s global electricity and 28% of its total energy come from renewable sources — Interface prides itself on its ability to turn an increasingly large percentage of its carpet into new product. It is also proud of the influence its sustainability efforts are having on other companies. This article presents a timeline showing how Anderson’s “mental model” changed and how he and his company moved along the road to sustainability.