DISCUSSION Come Help Me Change The World

by Luke Robinson _______15th May 2014
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by Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, Director, Interface, Inc.

When Ray Anderson brought up my joining the Interface board eighteen years ago, he didn’t actually ask me to be on the board-instead he told me of the journey, which would come to be known as “Climbing Mt. Sustainability”. It was still new; Interface had yet to even issue the first ever corporate sustainability report, as distinct from an environmental report, which over time has become known as the “banana skin” report-nick named for the composition fiber of its cover. That was early 1997, shortly before the company’s seminal evolutionary meeting in Maui, Hawaii . That early “tribal gathering” brought together people from the entire strata of Interface people; line workers from every factory site and executives from every continent.

Elected in February 1997, I had attended my first board meeting by then and was on a steep learning curve of the woof and warf of the carpet and commercial textiles business.

Ray and I were both on President Clinton’s Council for Sustainbale Development known for the six years of its existence as the PCSD. Ray had joined as “corporate co-chair” after the retirement of Dave Buzelli the previous co-chair. I had already been on the PCSD for two years since its earlier days. We were all captivated by Ray, by his Southern charm and deep conviction. Ray and I would serve on four different boards together in the fifteen years we worked together as well as serving on a number of US government delegations at critical UN conferences.

My perspective on Mission Zero and the past twenty years of the Interface journey since Ray’s “Epiphany” is framed as both an “insider” on the board and as an “outsider” who has labored in the broader sustainability world both domestically and internationally, since 1987 when the Brundtland Commission issued “Our Common Futue” and first coined the term “sustainable development”.

It is difficult to over-state the role and influence Interface has had as a beacon of sustainability; as an organizing force in the shift from the traditional “take-make-waste” model of manufacturing and production. The awards and design honors as well as the consistently high rankings by the A&D and OEM peers speak to our leadership and influence both in our specialized world and beyond. However beyond the boldness and creativity, I think the Interface commitment to TRANSPERANCY has been key in creating and keeping the trust of our allies-partners and critics alike. The boldness of Ray’s leadership has been central but so too has been the engagement of the entire Interface workforce from the shop floor, to design desk, from research chemists to the regional sales force. The Interface “people, product, planet, power of one” that came out of the Maui meeting plus the creation of the Interface Dream Team having Ray as captain and coach has been a labratory  of innovation and creativity with cutting edge thinkers and most importantly “doers” in charting the way forward, including my colleagues on the board.

If Ray heard about or read something that intrigued him, right away he would call up, introduce himself and invite the author to meet, to explore what their perspective or idea could mean for our work at Interface and for “Tomorrow’s Child”.

One of my most exhilarating moments came when WNSF, the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future for which I am currently ED, unanimously voted Ray as the first, and to date only man to receive the Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year Award in 2010. He was thrilled! I thought of his response when he had delivered an especially challenging speech at an earlier GLOBE Expo. An audience question asked after Ray’s litany of ecosystem decline, what could possibly give you hope? Without pausing, without missing a beat, Ray said….

“the ascendency of women in business, the professions, government and education. This is one of the most encouraging of all trends, as women bring their right-brained, nurturing nature to bear on the seemingly intractable challenges created by left-brained men and their pre-occupation with bottom lines and other “practical” considerations. After all, it’s the practical and pragmatic that got us into this mess. Surely, a different kind of thinking is needed to get us out.”

As I write this I am leaving the 2014GLOBE conference in Vancouver, the twelfth in the past twenty-four years. In 2014-twenty years in and twenty years on; I sense a momentum that is finally catching fire widely enough to push society forward up Mt. Sustainability and in to the “Age of Sustainability” past the carbon laden weight of the Industrial ERA. At interface we still have some deep gorges to cross…..some steep cliffs and probably a few blind spots on the way to being the truly restorative company Ray envisioned…..

“to put back more than we take from the earth and to do good for the earth, not just no harm. How do we leave the world better with every square yard of carpet we make and sell”………………

Our compass and commitment are clear; our conviction solid, strong and steady. Interface will get there of that I have no doubt. I only hope and have to have faith that Ray’s spirit which guides us still-knows his work goes forward and just as when he asked me back in 1997, indeed has changed the world!

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