Anderson, Ray C., with Robin White. Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose —Doing Business by Respecting the Earth. New York: St. Martins Press, 2009. Pp. xvi + 302. Hardcover, $25.99.
Ray Anderson is the founder of Interface, the dominant company in the rug tile business. He describes why and how he worked to reduce the company’s environmental footprint to get close to zero. One reason why was that a customer asked what the company was doing for the environment. Another reason was reading Paul Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce. One approach to a zero footprint is to eliminating waste. Other approaches involve making emissions benign, increasing efficiency, using renewable energy, copying nature’s way though closed-loop recycling, and promoting resource-efficient transportation. Two other approaches are to raise people’s sensitivity toward sustainability and to redesign commerce to ensure accurate costs. The approach to eliminating waste is to define it, then measure it, then create a baseline number for a facility, then encourage that facility to reduce the waste by 10% each year, and, finally, making sure everyone knows how the facility is doing and how it compares to other facilities. In working toward benign emissions Anderson looks at his own plants but also at those of his suppliers, using a “trust but verify” approach. An unexpected benefit of using solar energy is that customers seek out products made with renewable energy so sales of such product increase, decreasing the payback period of the solar electric system. After running the numbers, Interface found that rail transportation uses about 25% of the BTUs per ton-mile required by trucks (and much less than air.) Transportation efficiencies were also gained by redesigning the rug tiles to weigh less. A company and its suppliers are people, and social sustainability is an important part of environmental sustainability. Interface, whenever possible, sources locally available materials, draws on the skills of local artisans, and works with local NGOs to create earning opportunities for communities. Anderson makes a fervent plea for a change in attitude toward the earth, drawing on the biblical tradition of being a shepherd. He calls on universities to be a leader in the awakening of sensitivity. Throughout the book he emphasizes that fairness and efficiency are linked. Being inefficient is not fair to those who have little to waste, nor is it fair to consign the disadvantaged to live next to waste disposal places or smoking factories. It is not possible to earn profits indefinitely at the expense of the environment nor at the expense of the people who live near you. Anderson is different from many who write about environmental sustainability because he has succeeded in greatly reducing the harm done by his company on the environmental while continuing to be economically sustainable. He writes with eloquence and passion. Inspiring!