Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Retirement parties and sustainable business practices

This past weekend, I attended a retirement party of friend. After 33 years with the same company (the railroad), my friend is calling it quits. Given our current global world of employment, these types of events will become rarer and rarer, until they probably become a relic of the past.

The party was a great gathering—great weather, food, and a real nice crowd of people. Not only did I have a great time, I also met a gentleman from Bryant University, and we had an interesting conversation during our meal, about sustainability, and businesses that are doing things the “right way.”

From this conversation, I learned about Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface, Inc., the world’s largest producer of commercial floor coverings and interior products.

Apparently, Anderson delivered one of the keynotes at Bryant during the school’s recent World Trade Day. According to the Bryant representative I met, Anderson’s story is a compelling one.

Briefly, his company, Interface, decreased its use of fossil fuels by 45 percent and its net greenhouse gas production by 60 percent. It uses one-third the water it used to, and cut its contribution to landfills by 80 percent. By many important measures, Interface is an environmental success. Maybe more important, if for no other reason than to quiet critics that insist a business can’t be both green and profitable, Interface’s sales are up 49 percent, making it a business success story as Anderson strives to make the company sustainable by 2020.

Until Saturday, I knew nothing about Anderson and his company. On the basis of a conversation, I now have a business leader, who also has a book out, to look to and learn more about his model and how he marries sustainability and profit.

For more on Anderson, here's a link to a 2007 article from the NY Times.

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