INSPIRING BROWN INDUSTRIES TO GREENUP – A CONVERSATION WITH DAN HENDRIX

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Dan Hendrix, who happens to be Chairman of the Board of Directors of both Interface and TreeZero, to discuss the foundations for sustainability at Interface, views on transitioning from a linear to circular economy and his vision for TreeZero.

What follows are excerpts from my conversation with Dan.

  • Dan, can you provide some insights into what motivated Interface to take such a risky and innovative path to sustainability back in the mid-1990’s?

When Interface started in 1973, it was a brown company in a brown industry.  As the business grew, customers, designers, associates and other stakeholders began questioning company leadership about our commitment to the environment.

Like most companies, our initial response was, we comply with the law.  In 1994, our founder, Ray Anderson, read a book,  The Ecology of Commerce, which he said impacted him like a spear in his chest.  It inspired Ray to radically change the culture of the company and set us on a journey to phase-out our reliance on petroleum for raw materials and fuel.  Ray defined our challenges on seven fronts, taking us on a journey that was like attempting to climb a summit higher than Mount Everest.

As we developed our strategic approach to sustainability – it evolved into our go-to market strategy.  We measured our carbon, water and waste footprints.  We established baselines and set long-term goals to eliminate our emissions.  We removed waste from products in ways that improved their performance.

Ray inspired our associates toward a higher purpose – that working for Interface was bigger than a paycheck – there was a better way to make carpet – one that would not harm the planet.  We all bought in – in a big way.  We changed the whole business model and pushed our industry to evolve from an industrial plunderer to a sustainable one.

  • What is the business case for sustainability?

The business case for sustainability requires creating innovations to help you deliver on your promises; capturing market share; and growing the category.  Sustainable goods and services are typically going to cost more than a commodity – because they internalize the environmental and social costs most companies outsource to the community. Innovation, along with good-will, funds sustainability.

  • What moments of truth standout from Interface’s journey toward sustainability?

Bringing our suppliers along for the ride.  Seeking advice from world-class experts and then walking the talk when others began to waver.  A real watershed moment came during a milestone update on our largest ever R&D effort – which was a project to close the loop – to enable us to recycle old carpet as a raw material to make our new products.  With mounting costs and increasing complexity, there was significant pressure to cancel the effort.  But our team reminded us that we had publicly committed to using recycled carpet; technically it was feasible; and the future success of the company rested on us delivering on that promise.

  • Is there a secret sauce to Interface’s sustainability success?

There are several ingredients that influence our success with sustainability.  A key revelation happened when we began to seriously consider how nature would make carpet tiles.  There is no waste in nature and everything in nature looks different.  First, we had to determine whether it was even possible to make every tile look different from the next.  Once that hurdle was overcome, principles that mimic nature were incorporated into our design process.  While there were some skeptics, facility operators loved the product.  It enabled them to seamlessly replace damaged tiles with new ones that did not break the existing visual pattern.   Biomimicry really helped open the $100 million plus education market for Interface.

  • How do you define circular economy ?

It’s a pretty simple concept where three stakeholders: the community, the environment and the business all benefit.  It requires that you to bring others with you – as you create a better approach to product design and production – delivering benefits to the business and environment while giving back to society. It has to be self-funding.  We dematerialized our products – light weighting them – and they performed better. We make long-term commitments to purchase from diverse suppliers.  We significantly improved the efficiency of our factories; experimented with all kinds of renewable energy options and even designed the longest landfill to natural gas pipeline project in the nation to power boilers at one of our factories.

Following Ray’s lead, I launched  Mission Zero ® in 2001 – it was a stake in ground stating what we were going to do – eliminate our carbon footprint, maximize recycled content – reduce water use while delivering a superior product and service.  After nearly 20 years, I am proud to say we are getting really close to achieving each of those goals.

  • What’s the next sustainability or business challenge for Interface?

After the world financial crisis, many businesses took a step back from sustainability, reducing the resources deployed against energy efficiency, renewables and recycling. Not Interface.

We interviewed our employees and what kept coming back was the need to set more ambitious goals, ones bigger than reducing the footprint of our business, goals that solve challenges outside of Interface, including global warming.  We believe this is the most significant issue facing humanity and we felt we could not continue to discuss and practice sustainability without addressing it and putting it front and center.  And Interface associates – or better yet our ambassadors – believe it is time to double down on our efforts to reverse global warming.

We want our business to move toward positive impacts, including in our operations and our products, we aspire to have our factories to operate like forests – to evolve and take carbon from the atmosphere – and to store carbon in our products.  We call this new mission, Climate Take Back™ and we want to share it with the world.

  • What motivated you to invest in TreeZero?

I was an early investor in TreeZero.  I love the passion of the people at TreeZero. It’s an easy concept to sell, but hard to execute. I believe TreeZero has the potential to be a catalyst for change in the paper industry.   A carbon copy of Interface, pun intended.  We believe there is a better way to make and sell paper.  TreeZero can help change how people think about paper – biodiversity, deforestation, carbon neutrality, use of recycled material – matters to large companies, local governments, colleges and universities.  TreeZero is a pivot or disruptive company.  It was a natural fit to come on board and help.  Sustainability can be a huge catalyst for innovation and that’s certainly true for TreeZero, which has created an alternative to paper products sourced from trees by tapping into an agricultural waste stream. The team at TreeZero is poised to grow the company, make a positive impact on society and reduce environmental impacts.  It’s an exciting time to be a part of the journey.

  • What is your vision for TreeZero?

To provide the highest quality products and services while reducing the impact of making, selling and using paper.  Be a big influencer.  To shine a light on the paper industry and say, hey, there is a better way to do this. TreeZero is going to be disruptive.  We strive to become the alternative to recycled content paper.

  • Why should organizations and individual buy TreeZero paper?

Waste is nothing but unsellable product.  Climate change is real.  Eventually, all organizations in North America will have to report their carbon footprint and implement programs to offset their emissions.  TreeZero provides a value-added quality product that serves as a simple example of a better way of doing business.  It is a transformative product; one that helps reduce waste, deforestation and climate change.  Forward thinking companies, local governments and universities that care about sustainability love our product; and growing numbers of organizations and individuals know using it is the right thing to do.

  • Dan, can you please give us a quick run-down on your bio?

I grew up in Florida and graduated from Florida State University.  I joined Interface, Inc. a leader in the commercial carpet tile industry, in 1983. I became the chief financial officer in 1985.  I had the pleasure of working alongside Interface Founder Ray Anderson, as he put the company on an ambitious path to zeroing out our environmental footprint.  I was appointed Interface president and CEO in 2001.  I retired as CEO in March of 2017; and continue to service as Chairman of the company.

In November of 2017, I was named chairman of the board for  TreeZero .

My wife and I have two grown children.

Sustainability Pays… But, It Requires Investment

More than 400 purchasing gurus and sustainability wallahs gathered in Minneapolis for the 5th annual Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC) May 14-16. SPLC has become the premier event where professionals with purchasing responsibility and budget interact with corporate, government, university and sustainability strategists.

Circular economy, stewarding embedded water, deforestation, sustainable financing, and challenges with global recycling markets were just a few of the issues, trends and innovations that were debated, discussed and dissected.

A highlight every year is Connect, where attendees can book as many as twelve 20-minute one-on-one meetings with peers, suppliers, customers and experts.  Conversations were focused, useful information was gleaned and many a lead harvested.

More than 25 diverse organizations from Ecolab, Cubehydro, Interface, and TreeZero to the United Nations were represented in the exhibit area – a recycled train depot.

A highlight was SPLC’s 5th anniversary party held at US Bank Stadium – the Gold LEED Certified – home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Attendees were treated to a behind the scenes tour of this marvelous 68,000 plus capacity stadium that somewhat resembles a Viking ship.

US Bank Stadium is 100% powered by renewable wind energy.  Rainwater is collected, stored, filtered and slowly recharged into the local aquifer – eliminating the need to pump runoff into the city’s sewer system.  Nearly all packaging used in the stadium is compostable.  Administrative offices use 100% post-consumer recycled paper.  As host of Super Bowl LII, 91% of all game day waste, more than 63 tons, were recycled, composted, reused or donated.

The 6th Annual SPLC will be held in Portland, OR in mid-May 2019.  TreeZero plans to attend again because we’ve seen the ROI in a number of ways, not only in our business deals coming out of the Summit, but also the invaluable brand visibility in front of hundreds of sustainability and procurement leaders.

News Round-Up: Investing in Sustainability

There are many ways you can incorporate sustainable practices into your personal and professional life.  From recycling at home to encouraging your company’s supply chain to adopt sustainable practices, sustainability is becoming a part of our everyday lives. Another way to impact your sustainability goals is through socially responsible investing or sustainable, “green” or ethical investing.  Investors employing this strategy seek to consider both financial returns and social good to bring about a social change. This Round-Up covers several interesting items related to “the news” on sustainable investing.

 

 

Feature Story

Interest In Environmental, Social and Corporate Governing (ESG) Investing Rises Around The World, Study Says

Over the years many investing trends have come and gone, but ESG investing appears to be here to stay.  In Schroders Global Investor Study 2017,  78 percent of more than 22,000 investors claimed that sustainability is more important than it was five years ago. Sixty-four percent claim that they have increased their allocation to sustainable funds over the last five years.

Schroders said that sustainable investing was the most commonly selected choice from a list of investment topics that investors said they would like to learn more about, ahead of topics like asset classes and the effects of compounding (Tweet about this)

 

 

 

Highlighted Stories

 

Additional News

 

Important Resources

 

See you next time!

 

Jeff Foote

 

News Round-Up: Food Waste

Of the estimated 133 billion pounds of food that goes to waste every year, much of it is perfectly edible and nutritious.  Wasting food also means wasted water. The impact on the environment continues when food waste goes to landfills where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times worse than carbon dioxide.

This is an arena where doing the wrong thing just makes no sense at all. We can learn that eating the things we waste can save tremendous amounts of money. It can feed those around us who go hungry. It can make a dent in climate change. And it can taste awesome.

Feature Story

WASTED! THE STORY OF FOOD WASTEAvailable Everywhere October 13 – In Theaters, On Demand, Amazon and iTunes – WASTED! THE STORY OF FOOD WASTE aims to change the way people buy, cook, recycle, and eat food. Through the eyes of chef-heroes like Anthony Bourdain, Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Massimo Bottura, and Danny Bowien, audiences will see how the world’s most influential chefs make the most of every kind of food, transforming what most people consider scraps into incredible dishes that create a more secure food system. WASTED! exposes the criminality of food waste and how it’s directly contributing to climate change and shows us how each of us can make small changes – all of them delicious – to solve one of the greatest problems of the 21st Century. (Tweet about this)

Highlighted Stories 

Additional News

Important Resources

 

See you next time!

 

Jeff Foote

 

Power of One: 4 Ways You Can Take on Climate Change

Have you heard about the Power of One?

There has been a lot of talk in the news about climate change, from record-breaking heat to more extreme weather events.

 
These stories are a great opportunity to recognize the toll these changes can take on people. This awareness lets us zone in on who are especially vulnerable and what kind of help they need.
 
To be honest, the gravity of the problem can feel overwhelming.
 
Trying to solve such a big, complex challenge can leave you feeling helpless or powerless. And however unlikely it may seem that one person can make a difference, one person actually can.
 
It’s the idea behind the Power of One.
 

“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” 

 
While we each have individual journeys, and alone our strength may seem small, it’s not. There is an entire group of supporters and like-minded individuals around us who are discovering with us and helping us as we go.
 
This is fun and exhilarating and fulfilling. Because change only happens when individuals act. As Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
 
So, let’s get started. Here are four ways you can raise your voice, take action and get involved to take on climate change.

countdown-climate-change

 

Arm Yourself with Education

The New York Times published a new report from scientists at 13 federal agencies. The study found that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change. So, how do you get involved? Do your research! This will help you learn how to change some of your behaviors to reduce your impact on the environment.

new-york-times-climate-change-report-epa

Follow Your Money

Do you invest? Become a shareholder activist. One way to combat climate change be selective about the companies you invest in. Are you researching their sustainability policies? Making an impact takes more than just recycling; we must avoid funding bad practices. Think about investing in companies that use clean, safe renewables.
You can even drive change with your smartphone! With apps like Buycott or OpenLabel, you can scan product bar codes and spot harmful products. These apps also help you find companies like TreeZero that have strong sustainable products.

open-label-buycott-sustainability

Use Fewer Resources

There’s a good chance you’re already doing some of the things that help reduce your own carbon footprint, such as:
  1. Using energy-saving light bulbs
  2. Reducing meat consumption or buying locally produced food
These small steps are vital. Also consider:
  1. Reducing your water usage
  2. Walking or riding your bike
  3. Taking public transportation
  4. Carpooling with a friend or coworker
Conserving resources is good for everybody, especially the planet.

printing-environment-sustainability-alternative

Advocate

Use your voice and let others know what you’ve learned about great sustainable practices. Talk with your family and friends. It’s great that you want to change your habits, but the real magic happens when you convince others to adopt greener lifestyles. This sets off a ripple effect, as one person tells two more and those two tell two more, and so on.
 
Remind your peers that working together can make a greater difference. Get involved with conservation and volunteer to protect local green spaces. Consider asking local lawmakers to encourage projects that improve the environment around you.

 

Now you can go forward with confidence knowing that you can take on climate change and make a difference. As Jane Goodall said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Oh, and never forget about the Power of One.

 

Solutions to Climate Change: A Review of Drawdown edited by Paul Hawken

Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reduce Global Warming, brilliantly edited by Paul Hawken, is just what we need. Its a straight forward narrative providing over 100 solutions to global warming. Simply reducing carbon emissions below an arbitrary percentage, from a randomly selected base year, is not enough to stem the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

Drawdown is the collective work of a qualified and diverse group of researchers from around the world. They were tasked to identify, research, and model the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.

The title of the book is derived from an atmospheric term. According to Paul Hawken, “drawdown is that point in time at which greenhouse gases peak and begin to decline on a year-to-year basis.” Hawken’s goal of the Drawdown project was to identify, measure, and model substantive solutions to determine how much we could accomplish within three decades.

Read more: Pedaling to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Bike to Work Day

Much of the systems, knowledge and technology we need to deploy to create a meaningful drawdown of GHG (greenhouse gases) already exists. Yet, a blueprint to get them to work in unison did not. Until now. Drawdown provides such a roadmap using systems thinking. Hawken sets forth in Drawdown that “we found a plan, a blueprint that already exists in the world in the form of humanity’s collective wisdom, made manifest in applied, hand-on practices and technologies that are commonly available, economically viable and scientifically valid.”

In fact-filled, one-to-three page vignettes, Drawdown offers and ranks its solutions – most feasible today – and projects the potential impact (in gigatons) of reduced CO2 as well as global implementation costs and potential financial savings. Solutions are organized into seven sectors – Buildings and Cities, Energy, Food, Land Use, Materials, Transport and Women and Girls. The solutions presented range from afforestation, electric vehicles and food waste reduction to recycled paper, regenerative agriculture and refrigeration management.

Drawdown is a must read for business, NGO and government leaders regardless of their organization’s sustainability efforts or positioning on climate change. Each solution is described in concise, superb prose that will inspire practical application for any organization interested in reducing its impact on climate change.

What Drawdown makes clear is that no government, NGO, international conglomerate or philanthropist can solve climate change alone. It is going to require an all-of-the-above strategy with worldwide collaboration. Using Drawdown as a playbook, we have an opportunity, as Hawken states, “…to see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius.”

I encourage you to buy a copy of Drawdown, read it and implement relevant suggested solutions. My hope is that, like me, you’ll come away with a sense of optimism and promise dispelling thoughts of doom that we can’t solve the climate crisis.

About Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken has written seven books published in over 50 countries in 29 languages including four national bestsellers, The Next Economy, Growing a Business, and The Ecology of Commerce, and Blessed Unrest. Natural Capitalism, co-authored with Amory Lovins, was read by several heads of state including Bill Clinton who called it one of the five most important books in the world. He has appeared on numerous media including the Today Show, Larry King, Talk of the Nation, Charlie Rose, and been profiled in articles including the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Washington Post, Business Week, and Esquire.

His writings have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Resurgence, New Statesman, Inc, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones, Utne Reader, Orion, and other publications. He founded several companies including the first food company in the U.S. that relied solely on sustainable agricultural methods. He has served on the board of several environmental organizations including Point Foundation (publisher of the Whole Earth Catalogs), Center for Plant Conservation, Trust for Public Land, and National Audubon Society.

Want to Read More by Paul Hawken

  • The Next Economy (Ballantine 1983)
  • Growing a Business (Simon and Schuster 1987)
  • The Ecology of Commerce (HarperCollins 1993)
  • Blessed Unrest (Viking, 2007)
  • Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Little Brown, September 1999)
  • Carbon, The Business of Life, to be published by Penguin Random House in 2018.

Recent Posts

News Round-Up: Making Climate Change History

There has been a great deal of discussion regarding climate change in the news over the past few weeks.  The climate change debate is not new and unfortunately is not going away anytime soon.

The climate is changing, we have known it for a long time, and we can and must take action to stem the tide.  This Round-Up covers several interesting items related to “the news” on climate change.

 

Feature Story 

 The three-minute story of 800,000 years of climate change with a sting in the tail (Phys.org)

There are those who say climate has always changed, and that CO2 levels have always fluctuated.  That’s true. But its also true that since the industrial revolution, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have climbed to levels that are unprecedented over hundreds of millennia. Here’s a short video to put recent climate change and CO2 emissions into the context of the past 800,000 years. (Tweet about this)

 

Highlighted Stories

  • Thomas Edison – Renewable Energy Visionary (Thought Co) – In 1931, the same year he died, Edison confided his concerns to his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, who by then were retirement neighbors in Florida, “...we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” (Tweet about this)

Additional News

Important Resources

See you next time!

Jeff Foote

 

 

Weekly Round-Up: Combatting Deforestation

What do you think about when you think of trees?

Technology usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

You think of them for the shade they offer, the fruits they bare or even as a raw material for paper! But UK company BioCarbon Engineering recently revealed how quickly hundreds of trees could be planted – how entire ecosystems could be restored – with the use of drones.

Competing in the Drones for Good Competition, they utilized technology as an enabler showing how to reach difficult places and plant trees where they are needed.

The results are a brilliant and creative way to combat deforestation.

Feature Story

Oxford Based Company Plans to Use Drones to Plant One Billion Trees Per year (BioCarbon Engineering)

Can you plant a billion trees in a year? Oxford-based company BioCarbon says it’s not just possible – it’s already under way.

The company’s system works in two stages: first, a drone flies about and maps out the land, gathering intel on terrain, nutrients, and biodiversity.

Next, a planting drone fires biodegradable seedpods at targeted positions. Multiply that by 150 swarms of 6 drones each, BioCarbon believes it could eventually scale to 10s of billions of trees planted each year. (Click to Tweet)

Highlighted Stories

Additional News

Important Resources

Recent Posts

See you next week!

Jeff Foote

World Environment Day: Connecting People to Nature

Connecting People to Nature is this year’s theme for World Environmental Day.  World Environment Day, celebrated each June 5th, was first designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972.  In 100+ countries, this day is the UN’s signature annual event for encouraging environmental stewardship. From your backyard to your favorite national park, nature is closer than you think. It’s time to get out and enjoy it.  Be a part of a world-wide event and share your photos and videos using #WorldEnvironmentDay or #WithNature.

Rocky Mtns naturewaterfall colorado nature

I frequently spend time outdoors to connect with nature.  A hike along the Chattahoochee River or a walk or swim in my neighborhood brings me closer to nature. My travels take me across this country and the globe –  to all the seven continents.

colorado rocky mtns

The Rocky Mountains: the majesty of nature

Recently, I witnessed the majesty of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  The colonies of aspens, magnificent elk, soaring golden eagles, playful prairie dogs and yes, even snakes, took my breath away.

No matter where my travels take me, I’m always amazed by nature’s grandeur, stunning beauty and the plethora of free environmental services such as clean water and oxygen to soil and pollination.  Today few organizations or individuals directly pay for the environmental services received from nature.  Compounding this free rider status, many of the related externalities (waste) of commerce based on extraction of natural resources are not accounted for on the cost ledger of our organizations. If we don’t start accounting and paying for these environmental services that we all enjoy – how will our quality of life be impacted?  What are the risks to our businesses?  At a minimum, might we all be ignoring an enormous bill that is already past due?

I would argue that the status quo is unsustainable.

As much as 80% of the environmental impact of a brand comes from the activities of our supply chains.  Businesses, NGOs and governments all have opportunities to collaborate with suppliers and partners to protect and preserve the environment.  Here are some questions to consider posing across your supply chain:

  • How can we mimic nature to improve our products and services?
  • Do you collaborate with your key suppliers to measure and set reduction targets against use of energy, water, waste and packaging?
  • What waste streams are generated along each point within your supply chain that should be reduced, eliminated or examined for potential sale or donation to other organizations?
  • Do individual departments set budgets for use of energy, water, office supply use?
  • Does your organization report greenhouse gas related emissions publicly?
  • Are water-related risks or deforestation-related risks publicly reported by your organization?
  • How do you trace the origin of ingredients, raw materials and supplies and manage the quality of your direct suppliers?
  • What benefits do or can your service or product deliver to society?
  • Do your brand managers tour and experience the entire supply chain of your business?
  • What new initiatives should you pursue to help connect with nature as a way to enhance the influence and growth or your brand, while protecting and preserving the environment?

This World Environment Day, I encourage you to take steps to connect your brand, organization and yourself more closely with nature.  If you are not routinely asking questions like those above to your suppliers, my question to you is, what do you have you to lose?

Pedaling to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Bike to Work Day

Friday, May 19th is Bike to Work day. It’s time to swap out your car keys or subway card for two wheels. Will you be a participant?

Why Should You Bike to Work?

There are many reasons including staying fit, saving money, or avoiding traffic delays.  The reason we at TreeZero like best is that it helps reduce your carbon footprint.  According to The League of American Bicyclists, 40% of all trips in the U.S. are less than two miles, making bicycling a feasible and fun way to get to work. biking to workWith increased interest in healthy, sustainable and economic transportation options, the number of bicycle commuters in the U.S. more than doubled since 2000.

You can do it
It sounds simple because it is. Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or a beginner, Bike to Work Day is your chance to give it a try. In fact, many of the largest U.S. cities will host Bike to Work Day events.  Your effort make a difference. Many people who participate in a Bike to Work Day promotion as first-time commuters become regular bike commuters. Everyone’s commute is improved when people ride a bike. 

Do it for fun
Leave the car at home and dust off the bike. Enjoy your commute for once. Notice the people, the buildings, the trees and much more.family biking together Then you don’t have to limit yourself to just bicycle commuting to work. Try riding your bike whenever possible. Ride with  your entire family. Maybe it’s a trip to a local farmer’s market or just exploring your city – just remember to have fun!