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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Company Aims for Zero-Waste

A beacon of serious corporate light on industrial environmentalism shines forth from the darkness of one massive corporate lobby network after another against public efforts to do something about air pollution, global warming, ozone depletion and other corporate damage to the ecological commonwealth.

The light (and action) hails from the Interface Corporation in Atlanta, Georgia (770-437-6800) which is the nation’s second largest commercial carpet/tile manufacturer with plants around the world. Under its precisely visionary Chairman, Ray C. Anderson, Interface is undergoing a complete recasting as a company to become a closed loop, sustainable enterprise. It is determined to come as close as a zero-waste, total-recyclable renewable energy corporation as there is in the world.

To Anderson, pollution is gross inefficiency with a vengeance. Here is the way he defines the problems:

1. “Industrial processes generate enormous amounts of waste which cannot be assimilated by nature or reused by industry. The volume of waste reflects inefficiencies which degrade the environment, harm the economy and reduce customer value.”

2. “Though less visible, industry creates more molecular garbage than solid waste. Small concentrations of poisons, persistent man-made chemicals, greenhouse gases and localized heating are affecting all living systems, accumulating animal tissue, fouling water and air systems, affecting reproductive cycles and changing our climate.”

3. “Modern industry has become dependent on the availability of seemingly inexpensive energy from fossil fuels: oil, coal and natural gas. Their combustion destroys a valuable source of feedstock and is the main cause of global climate change.”

4. Industrial systems are linear, take-make-waste systems. Natural, cyclical, living systems are destroyed when resources are depleted and waste accumulates in the biosphere.”

Anyone who thinks Ray Anderson is just beating the drums of “greenwashing” has only to listen to his lectures and look at the company’s last three years after the awakening of Anderson when he read Paul Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce.”

From top to bottom of the company, all hands are on deck meticulously adopting cyclical material flows. Tens of millions of dollars are being wrung out of past wasteful (i.e. polluting) ways of conducting company business.

Inside Interface’s latest “Sustainability Report,” is one of many descriptions of its objectives: “Interface’s ultimate vision is to create completely benign and renewable products which do not depend on petrochemicals. Carpet and fabric companies are actively researching 100% natural fiber products made from industrial hemp, flax, and natural dyes.”

It is not clear how Interface is going to fail. Its determination and achievements in such a short time are becoming institutionalized within the company. Its ecological strategies are intimately coupled with shareholder and customer value so there is no contrived zero-sum tension between doing well and doing good.

Soon the company will start getting its deserved mass media attention. Soon the public will see the contrast between Interface and those slick corporate propagandists whose modern day ludditism keeps telling the American people that it is too expensive or impossible to control wastes, curb pollution and move toward sustainable forms of solar energy.

In the meantime, send for a free copy of Interface’s Sustainability Report by calling 1-800-336-0225.