Looking back, it was a serendipitous moment.
We were on a coffee break, at the Responsible Business Forum in Singapore. On a tall bar table, where I stood, sat a bowl full of branded M&M’s, in all the vibrant colors of the Sustainable Development Goals. An unusual treat for a coffee break.
Also at the table a couple of strangers. To break the ice, I attempted to make small talk. Little did I know where it would lead. They introduced themselves, as being from Interface.
I hadn’t heard about Interface – a computer company – I thought. Then they mentioned, they made carpets. As I munched on the branded M&M’s I jokingly suggested that Interface should print the goals on carpets, to build awareness.
An idea was planted.
A few months later following a couple of phone calls, and a visit to the factory, the idea became reality, when we were presented with the first prototype carpet tile: End Poverty – the first of the 17 goals.
The SDGs mesh with Interface’s mission to be as sustainable as possible, but it was not always this way. Interface was once like most others in the synthetic carpet business. The industry is notorious for using non-renewable oil, and discarded carpets leach toxic chemicals into the soil and contribute to methane emissions.
But one day after reading a book by Paul Hawken, the founder of Interface Ray Andersen had an epiphany. It led him to transform the company to focus on sustainability. He introduced recycling, focused on energy savings, and where possible sought out sustainable practices.
Year by year, over more than a decade, Andersen and Interface achieved remarkable progress that resulted in them being ranked third, in the “2017 Sustainability Leaders”.
Recognized a pioneer in sustainable business practices, Andersen was invited to do a TED talk, in 2009. In his speech, viewed by almost a million people, he proposed the ‘environmental impact’ equation, a way to calculate the impact of humans on the environment. It is now seen as a formula for businesses to develop sustainably and recently announced that all products sold globally will be carbon neutral.
This historic chapter of the company has been so compelling that it is said to have inspired tens of thousands of people, including many businesses, to follow a sustainable path.
On our visit to Interface, we were introduced to the company’s seven steps for operating a sustainable business, which include: waste management, carbon emission reduction, social development, and business innovation. For instance, instead of using glue as an adhesive Interface uses eco-friendly alternatives. Their factory is LEED certified – a rating given to sustainable buildings that are environment friendly and energy efficient.
If we are to achieve the SDGs, more businesses must embrace Ray Andersen’s vision and Interface’s commitment to sustainable practices. For us, the SDGs carpet is another reminder of what needs to be done, and how imperative it is to engage with the private sector.
What started out as a joke, has led to a new partnership. A testament to the fact that through cooperation, sharing experiences, and advocating for the SDGs, we can inspire others, and work together to make the world even a better place.