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  • Believe me or not, I come offering a solution

  • to a very important part of this larger problem,

  • with the requisite focus on climate.

  • And the solution I offer

  • is to the biggest culprit

  • in this massive mistreatment of the earth

  • by humankind,

  • and the resulting decline of the biosphere.

  • That culprit is business and industry,

  • which happens to be where I have spent the last 52 years

  • since my graduation from Georgia Tech in 1956.

  • As an industrial engineer,

  • cum aspiring and then successful entrepreneur.

  • After founding my company, Interface, from scratch

  • in 1973, 36 years ago,

  • to produce carpet tiles in America

  • for the business and institution markets,

  • and shepherding it through start-up and survival

  • to prosperity and global dominance in its field,

  • I read Paul Hawken's book,

  • "The Ecology of Commerce,"

  • the summer of 1994.

  • In his book, Paul charges business and industry

  • as, one, the major culprit

  • in causing the decline of the biosphere,

  • and, two, the only institution that is large enough,

  • and pervasive enough, and powerful enough,

  • to really lead humankind out of this mess.

  • And by the way he convicted me

  • as a plunderer of the earth.

  • And I then challenged the people of Interface, my company,

  • to lead our company and the entire industrial world to sustainability,

  • which we defined as eventually operating

  • our petroleum-intensive company in such a way

  • as to take from the earth

  • only what can be renewed by the earth, naturally and rapidly --

  • not another fresh drop of oil --

  • and to do no harm to the biosphere.

  • Take nothing: do no harm.

  • I simply said, "If Hawken is right

  • and business and industry must lead,

  • who will lead business and industry?

  • Unless somebody leads, nobody will."

  • It's axiomatic. Why not us?

  • And thanks to the people of Interface,

  • I have become a recovering plunderer.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • I once told a Fortune Magazine writer

  • that someday people like me would go to jail.

  • And that became the headline of a Fortune article.

  • They went on to describe me as America's greenest CEO.

  • From plunderer to recovering plunderer,

  • to America's greenest CEO in five years --

  • that, frankly, was a pretty sad commentary

  • on American CEOs in 1999.

  • Asked later in the Canadian documentary, "The Corporation,"

  • what I meant by the "go to jail" remark,

  • I offered that theft is a crime.

  • And theft of our children's future would someday be a crime.

  • But I realized, for that to be true --

  • for theft of our children's future to be a crime --

  • there must be a clear, demonstrable alternative

  • to the take-make-waste industrial system

  • that so dominates our civilization,

  • and is the major culprit, stealing our children's future,

  • by digging up the earth

  • and converting it to products that quickly become waste

  • in a landfill or an incinerator --

  • in short, digging up the earth and converting it to pollution.

  • According to Paul and Anne Ehrlich

  • and a well-known environmental impact equation,

  • impact -- a bad thing --

  • is the product of population, affluence and technology.

  • That is, impact is generated by people,

  • what they consume in their affluence,

  • and how it is produced.

  • And though the equation is largely subjective,

  • you can perhaps quantify people, and perhaps quantify affluence,

  • but technology is abusive in too many ways to quantify.

  • So the equation is conceptual.

  • Still it works to help us understand the problem.

  • So we set out at Interface, in 1994,

  • to create an example:

  • to transform the way we made carpet,

  • a petroleum-intensive product for materials as well as energy,

  • and to transform our technologies

  • so they diminished environmental impact,

  • rather than multiplied it.

  • Paul and Anne Ehrlich's environmental impact equation:

  • I is equal to P times A times T:

  • population, affluence and technology.

  • I wanted Interface to rewrite that equation so that it read

  • I equals P times A divided by T.

  • Now, the mathematically-minded will see immediately

  • that T in the numerator increases impact -- a bad thing --

  • but T in the denominator decreases impact.

  • So I ask, "What would move T, technology,

  • from the numerator -- call it T1 --

  • where it increases impact,

  • to the denominator -- call it T2 --

  • where it reduces impact?

  • I thought about the characteristics

  • of first industrial revolution,

  • T1, as we practiced it at Interface,

  • and it had the following characteristics.

  • Extractive: taking raw materials from the earth.

  • Linear: take, make, waste.

  • Powered by fossil fuel-derived energy.

  • Wasteful: abusive and focused on labor productivity.

  • More carpet per man-hour.

  • Thinking it through, I realized that all those attributes

  • must be changed to move T to the denominator.

  • In the new industrial revolution extractive must be replaced by renewable;

  • linear by cyclical;

  • fossil fuel energy by renewable energy, sunlight;

  • wasteful by waste-free;

  • and abusive by benign;

  • and labor productivity by resource productivity.

  • And I reasoned that if we could make those transformative changes,

  • and get rid of T1 altogether,

  • we could reduce our impact to zero,

  • including our impact on the climate.

  • And that became the Interface plan in 1995,

  • and has been the plan ever since.

  • We have measured our progress very rigorously.

  • So I can tell you how far we have come in the ensuing 12 years.

  • Net greenhouse gas emissions

  • down 82 percent in absolute tonnage.

  • (Applause)

  • Over the same span of time

  • sales have increased by two-thirds and profits have doubled.

  • So an 82 percent absolute reduction

  • translates into a 90 percent reduction

  • in greenhouse gas intensity relative to sales.

  • This is the magnitude

  • of the reduction the entire global technosphere

  • must realize by 2050

  • to avoid catastrophic climate disruption --

  • so the scientists are telling us.

  • Fossil fuel usage is down 60 percent per unit of production,

  • due to efficiencies in renewables.

  • The cheapest, most secure barrel of oil there is

  • is the one not used through efficiencies.

  • Water usage is down 75 percent

  • in our worldwide carpet tile business.

  • Down 40 percent in our broadloom carpet business,

  • which we acquired in 1993

  • right here in California, City of Industry,

  • where water is so precious.

  • Renewable or recyclable materials are 25 percent of the total, and growing rapidly.

  • Renewable energy is 27 percent of our total,

  • going for 100 percent.

  • We have diverted 148 million pounds --

  • that's 74,000 tons --

  • of used carpet from landfills,

  • closing the loop on material flows

  • through reverse logistics

  • and post-consumer recycling technologies

  • that did not exist when we started 14 years ago.

  • Those new cyclical technologies

  • have contributed mightily to the fact that we have produced and sold

  • 85 million square yards of climate-neutral carpet

  • since 2004,

  • meaning no net contribution to global climate disruption

  • in producing the carpet throughout the supply chain,

  • from mine and well head clear to end-of-life reclamation --

  • independent third-party certified.

  • We call it Cool Carpet.

  • And it has been a powerful marketplace differentiator,

  • increasing sales and profits.

  • Three years ago we launched carpet tile for the home,

  • under the brand Flor,

  • misspelled F-L-O-R.

  • You can point and click today at Flor.com

  • and have Cool Carpet delivered to your front door in five days.

  • It is practical, and pretty too.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • We reckon that we are a bit over halfway

  • to our goal: zero impact, zero footprint.

  • We've set 2020 as our target year for zero,

  • for reaching the top, the summit of Mount Sustainability.

  • We call this Mission Zero.

  • And this is perhaps the most important facet:

  • we have found Mission Zero to be incredibly good for business.

  • A better business model,

  • a better way to bigger profits.

  • Here is the business case for sustainability.

  • From real life experience, costs are down, not up,

  • reflecting some 400 million dollars

  • of avoided costs in pursuit of zero waste --

  • the first face of Mount Sustainability.

  • This has paid all the costs for the transformation of Interface.

  • And this dispels a myth too,

  • this false choice between the environment and the economy.

  • Our products are the best they've ever been,

  • inspired by design for sustainability,

  • an unexpected wellspring of innovation.

  • Our people are galvanized around this shared higher purpose.

  • You cannot beat it for attracting the best people

  • and bringing them together.

  • And the goodwill of the marketplace is astonishing.

  • No amount of advertising, no clever marketing campaign,

  • at any price, could have produced or created

  • this much goodwill.

  • Costs, products, people, marketplaces --

  • what else is there?

  • It is a better business model.

  • And here is our 14-year record of sales and profits.

  • There is a dip there, from 2001 to 2003:

  • a dip when our sales, over a three-year period,

  • were down 17 percent.

  • But the marketplace was down 36 percent.

  • We literally gained market share.

  • We might not have survived that recession

  • but for the advantages of sustainability.

  • If every business were pursuing Interface plans,

  • would that solve all our problems?

  • I don't think so.

  • I remain troubled by the revised Ehrlich equation,

  • I equals P times A divided by T2.

  • That A is a capital A,

  • suggesting that affluence is an end in itself.

  • But what if we reframed Ehrlich further?

  • And what if we made A a lowercase 'a,'

  • suggesting that it is a means to an end,

  • and that end is happiness --

  • more happiness with less stuff.

  • You know that would reframe civilization itself --

  • (Applause) --

  • and our whole system of economics,

  • if not for our species, then perhaps for the one that succeeds us:

  • the sustainable species, living on a finite earth,

  • ethically, happily and ecologically

  • in balance with nature

  • and all her natural systems for a thousand generations,

  • or 10,000 generations --

  • that is to say, into the indefinite future.

  • But does the earth have to wait for our extinction as a species?

  • Well maybe so. But I don't think so.

  • At Interface we really intend to bring this prototypical

  • sustainable, zero-footprint industrial company

  • fully into existence by 2020.

  • We can see our way now,

  • clear to the top of that mountain.

  • And now the challenge is in execution.

  • And as my good friend and adviser Amory Lovins says,

  • "If something exists, it must be possible."

  • (Laughter)

  • If we can actually do it, it must be possible.

  • If we, a petro-intensive company can do it, anybody can.

  • And if anybody can, it follows that everybody can.

  • Hawken fulfilled business and industry,

  • leading humankind away from the abyss

  • because, with continued unchecked decline of the biosphere,

  • a very dear person is at risk here --

  • frankly, an unacceptable risk.

  • Who is that person?

  • Not you. Not I.

  • But let me introduce you to the one who is most at risk here.