Ray Anderson, Chairman of Interface, message delivered at Londonís Royal Society of Arts:
The industrial paradigm is shifting. When paradigms shift, the early movers win. Look at Toyota and its hybrid gas / electric technology, it is a striking example. Toyota the early mover wins big.
What about purpose? What I found perhaps most difficult to understand is why donít more CEO s get it, it is so clear to me. Why donít they get it with their minds if not their hearts?
And maybe I can venture to answer my own question. CEO s come in three basic types. There are those who founded their company, there are those who inherited their company and those hired to run their company. The time horizons are very short for the latter type, maybe the ten years only, ten years, five years is long-range planning, therefore a truly long view, much less a sense of legacy, is rare and often non-existent.
For the most part itís only among founders and sometimes inheritors that this sense of legacy assumes surpassing importance. And maybe this explains why we have such a terrible short-sighted legacy in the present system.
The system has been getting more and more this way, extractive, linear, abusive, wasteful since Thomas Newcomenís invention of the steam driven pump in 1712, the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 293 years ago and as
Harvard biologist, Edward Wilson says, the industrial system is replete with individual advances that made total sense in the short-term, but have been disastrous cumulatively in the long-term, those insidious, cumulative abuses happening one at a time. But a new Industrial Revolution is happening and itís happening right now and itís ushering in a new era of renewable, cyclical, benign and wastefree industry. Finally the possibility is emerging for us to leave a long-term legacy of sustainability to our grandchildrenís grandchildren for which theyíll thank us rather than curse us.
As a founding CEO and now Chairman and former CEO, I can say to all CEO s and to investors as well, it is a better way to bigger profits, try it. Risk management, survival, markets, people, products, processes, profits, purpose; what else is there. Surely these are the basis of shareholder value and they make the business case for sustainability, they are enhanced, all are enhanced by intelligent mindful appreciation of place, this rare and beautiful place called Earth.
Iíve made the business case for sustainability over and over and over, as I have with you in terms of survival, the macro case, risk management, markets, people, processes, products, profits, purpose, shareholder value, all based on focusing proper attention to place.
Thereís no question in my mind, based on our experience at Interface that itís a clear, compelling and refutable case, yet the sceptics remain.
So given the scepticsí reluctance, even disdain and unwillingness to accept my case, I wish to challenge the sceptics to make their case. More precisely, Iíd like to hear the business case for double glazing the planet with greenhouse gases and while talking about the cost of preventing global warming, please address the cost of not preventing it.
Iíd like to hear the business case for destroying habitat for countless species, about whose connection to human kind in many or most cases we have not a clue. Ecological ignorance abounds in our culture. Paul Hawken says an average American can name a thousand commercial brands and only about ten trees. Maybe with you itís 500 commercial brands and 20 trees.
Iíd like to hear the business case for poisoning air, water and land. Iíd like to hear the business case for disrupting pollination and photosynthesis - that ought to be a really interesting one.
Iíd like to hear the business case for over-fishing the oceans to the point of collapse, for destroying the coral reefs, forest and wetlands; the business case for depleting and polluting aquifers upon which food production is so dependent. Iíd like to hear the business case for destroying the life support systems of earth.
As Paul Hawken asks, what is the business case for an economics system that says itís cheaper to destroy the Earth than to take care of it? How does such a fantasist system even come to be? It defies common sense, how did it even come to be in the first place?
What is the business case for destroying the basic infrastructure that under guards civilisation itself, the natural systems upon which everything depends, including the economy. For again, what economy can even exist without air, water, materials, energy, food plus climate regulation an ultra-violet radiation shield, pollination, seed dispersal, waste processing, nutrient cycling, water purification and distribution, natural filtration and hydrologic cycle, soil creation and maintenance and insect control. All supplied by nature and her natural systems.
The economists would tell us that all these are externalities and they do not count in the financial system. I beg to differ. Without any of them there would be no economy in the first place. How can it be good business to externalise those and take licence to literally destroy them. Iím waiting with bated breathe for the answers so I can correct my errant ways. Of course there are no answers to that and therein lies the inevitability of sustainability.
Itís only a question of how much pain before a sense of ethics drives human kind to get off the slippery slope and opt for survival.
I thank you for your attention. Ray Anderson, Chairman of Interface
Comments are welcome - Rick