Institute of Human Excellence
A Conversation with Ray Anderson

John: When we last met in London at Be the Change, you said that the particular corporate path you chose is pretty lonely at times.

Ray: It still is!

John: How did other business leaders, your colleagues, respond to you in the beginning?

Ray: Nobody noticed. They’re too busy running their own businesses. Not totally so. Sometimes they do call and inquire how did this and how they might do something similar. When we talk, they begin to get interested. Of course, there is room for big advances in all businesses in these areas, but most of them just bolt on a green thing here and there and think they are doing it. What you have to do is redesign the whole business. That was when we found the huge waste elimination possibility, addressed it, and had a net gain right from day one. It was not deliberate, it just happened.

John: How did your staff, suppliers and customers first respond to your changes?

Ray: It took a while. At first they thought it was just the initiative of the month. But it didn’t go away. When they saw the waste elimination, more people got involved and became interested. As we made progress, we gained the goodwill of the marketplace. That is all important.

John: If you were to recommend to another business leader how to get started on such a path, what would you advise?

Ray: There are so many things, but if I was to select one, I guess I would say, “Imagine you had to make a speech to the whole company about your environmental vision beyond compliance. Then go and read up for it.” There is plenty of information available. I would recommend two books, The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken and my book Mid Course Correction.

You know, for a sustainable world the knowledge is all there; you just have to get people into the right mind-set. But you know a colour-blind person just can’t see the colour. We need perceptivity and receptivity.

Then I would say, talk to your customers and ask what they think and what they want. Ask your technical people to find the answer to the question, “What do we take from the earth?” It will be a lot, much more than they think.

John: How can one wake up sleeping business leaders? How tough can one be with them, without scaring them off?

Ray: I know someone who once said to the CEO of a major oil company, “Your Company stands for nothing.” That got his attention!

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