Here’s a story about Ray Anderson, the founder and CEO of the Interface Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial carpeting. This was carpeting that was all petroleum-based (as was standard for the industry), all completely unrecyclable, all destined to end up in landfill dumps—tens of thousands of tons of it every year.
A couple years after Ishmael was published, Ray read two books. One was Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce and the other was Ishmael. Up to that time, Ray Anderson had made it his policy to be in full compliance with all relevant regulations—none of which prohibited the use of petroleum or required products to be recyclable.
But when he read these two books, he saw that being merely in compliance is not nearly enough. He made up his mind to do three things: first, to eliminate petroleum from his carpeting, second, to develop carpeting that could be 100% recycled—into materials from which all his new carpeting would be made (all of which meant spending millions in research and development), and third, to encourage his customers to think differently about their floor covering needs.
Instead of buying carpet and discarding it when it was no longer serviceable, he would lease them carpet. When that new carpeting was no longer serviceable, he’d take it back to be recycled totally and replace it with carpeting made from totally recycled materials.
These were goals he intended to reach before the end of the century. What they added up to was creating a truly sustainable business, offering recyclable products made entirely from recycled materials—zero waste and zero contribution to landfill. So successful was Ray Anderson in pursuing these goals that—in two years flat—he become recognized as a world leader in the development of sustainable industry.
Not only had he set new goals for himself, he inspired others to set new goals—and, incidentally, forced his competitors to set new goals in order to remain competitive. Thus he not only transformed his own business, he transformed an entire industry—all because two books changed his mind.
Can you imagine what could be accomplished in the world if a thousand people with Ray Anderson’s influence had a mind as thoroughly changed as his? And the way we get to them is by changing all the minds we can wherever we are—never forget that wonderful possibility that there are only six degrees of separation between you and one of those thousand.
updated: 23 Jan 2014