Cloning Ray Anderson

Interface Flooring is regularly quoted as the company internationally that has fully integrated sustainability into its business strategy.
A sustainable planet will need a lot more fully integrated sustainability businesses, so the question that comes to my mind is “How can we create more Interfaces?”

What happened???

In his book “Mid Course Correction”, Interface CEO (at the time) Ray Anderson says he was asked to give a talk on environmental issues. In researching the talk, he read “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawkens (amongst other books).

Anderson was so struck by what he learned that he changed the direction of Interface – big
time. He enrolled people at all levels of the organisation, and challenged them to create a
different business.

Again, this is about using a positive mindset to engage diverse groups and generate truly creative solutions.

The leadership key

Anderson’s approach is very much in line with the classic saying:

“Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done.” (Warren Bennis)

Ray got his team together, taught them the issues and the basic principles, then let them get on with it.   He coached them to achieve their results, he didn’t do it for them.

WANTED: more Ray Andersons

Sustainable business collaborationRay Anderson had two key strengths:

  • The ability to see the opportunities inherent in the sustainability challenge.
  • The ability to lead.

To duplicate him and the results he created at Interface, we need to develop powerful leaders, with overall optimism and an understanding of the strategic advantages of positive sustainability.
The business world is short on both qualities. Far too many leaders are operating in survival mode. Their mindset is negative rather than positive, and as they work their 70+ hour weeks they are concerned with short term issues. “Green” as a positive business strategy is beyond them.

Formula for sustainable business

Here’s our formula for sustainable business:

  • Develop the personal capabilities of the business lead teams so that they have a sustainable quality of life.
  • Develop the personal capabilities of the business lead teams so they can become skilled business leaders, building great teams that create great results.
  • Train the business leaders in the core economics of sustainability so they can design their own goals.

Technology is the LAST step

Appropriate, strategic technology is the final phase in the good-to-great business cycle. Trying to implement technology answers to people problems doesn’t work and never has.

People work on what they want to work on and change what they truly want to change. Positive motivation and great leadership will be as important to future sustainability as hyper cars and hydrogen fuel cells (actually, probably more so).

Start with leadership for truly sustainable results

If you’re working on a sustainability program, start investing in leadership today – leave the technology until you have the leaders who will get people wanting to use it.

(Originally published in Balance3 Update, November 2006).

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About Leigh

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Leigh is the principal of the business innovation practice Balance3 and her clients have included corporations such as Amcor, National Foods, Dair, SPC Ardmona, Kobelco, Corporate Express and New Balance as well as a range of smaller businesses and individual clients.