I did a piece on Ray Anderson on Sustainable Lens last night. Here’s some of my favourite quotes:
On more happiness and less stuff:
More happiness with less stuff, all made sustainably.
(via Environmental Leader)
The industrial system takes too much, extracting and frittering away Earth’s natural capital on wants, not needs,” he wrote. “It wastes too much. It abuses too much. It takes stuff and makes stuff that very quickly ends up in landfills or incinerators—more waste, more abuse, more pollution…
On what counts as waste:
We began to tackle the face of mountain we identified as waste. We defined waste, by the way, as any cost that we incurred that does not add value to our customer and that translates to doing everything right the first time, every time. It’s not just waste material, scrapped and low quality and so forth. If you send something to the wrong destination and have to get it back and reship it — that’s waste. If you incur a bad debt — that’s waste. So we defined waste very broadly and over time we actually said that any energy that comes from fossil fuel by our definition is waste and we need to eliminate it. We really began to think in different ways about our business in terms of climbing this mountain and it became very clear very quickly this was the smart thing to do. Not only did we start to generate answers for those customers, they embraced us for what we were trying to do. The goodwill in the market place has just been stunning. The rest of the business case is pretty simple. I cost it down not up.
On green products:
We don’t believe anybody (ourselves included) can make a green product in a brown company
(via Tree Hugger)
Well, we’re climbing the mountain. You can picture in your mind a mountain. The point, the top, symbolizes zero footprint. And we studied that mountain very, very carefully. And we’ve finally determined there’s at least seven faces of that mountain. And when you define those seven faces of the mountain, we found ourselves defining a process for climbing the mountain that’s very much like nature.
Nature runs on sunlight. Okay, we want to run our factories on sunlight. But we first have to reduce energy to that reducible minimum if we can even hope to afford renewable energy. Nature is cyclical and nature does not waste. One organism’s waste is another’s food. So we are getting our products back at the end of their useful life and converting them, reincarnating them life after life.
We’re closing the loop nature’s way. We’re recycling other people’s products, too, into our own products. So that’s emulating nature again. And nature’s beautiful, too. And our designers are not sacrificing anything in beauty to achieve the reduced footprint. See, designing for sustainability is a very interesting lens in which to approach the design process. And there is no need to compromise beauty. There’s no need to compromise performance. There’s no need to compromise either aesthetics or functionality for the sake of sustainability.
In fact, we have pledged to our customer never to knowingly force an inferior product on them in the name of sustainability. Now, how is that like nature? I have a little trouble making that connection but nevertheless it’s our commitment not to be guilty of greenwashing. Nature is not guilty of greenwashing. I guess there’s the connection.
(via Tree Hugger)
On questions from customers:
In 1994, in our twenty-second year, we began to hear a question from our customers: What’s your company doing for the environment? And we had no good answers.
(via Tree Hugger)
On one mind at a time:
I have asked myself over and over for nearly 11 years, and I ask you, how would a living planet—the rarest and most precious thing in the universe—lose its biosphere, i.e., its essential livability? We take it for granted and don’t want to believe losing it is even possible. But, think about it, and you know, if Earth, someday in the distant future, has lost its livability—its biosphere—it will have happened insidiously:
One silted or polluted stream at a time;
One polluted river at a time;
One collapsing fish stock at a time;
One dying coral reef at a time;
One acidified or entrophied lake at a time;
One over-fertilized farm at a time, leading to one algae bloom at a time.
One eroded ton of topsoil at a time;
One developed wetland at a time;
One mansion built on a fragile marsh hammock at a time;
One disrupted animal migration corridor at a time;
One butchered tree at a time;
One corrupt politician at a time;
One new open-pit coal mine in a pristine valley at a time;
One decimated old growth forest at a time;
One lost habitat at a time;
One disappearing acre of rain forest at a time;
One political pay-off at a time, resulting in one regulatory roll-back at a time;
One leaching landfill at a time;
One belching smokestack or exhaust pipe at a time;
One depleted or polluted aquifer at a time;
One desertified farm at a time;
One over-grazed field at a time;
One toxic release at a time;
One oil spill at a time;
One breath of fouled air at a time;
One-tenth of a degree of global warming at a time;
One exotic disease vector at a time;
One new disease at a time;
One invasive species at a time;
One perchlorate contaminated head of lettuce at a time. (Perchlorate is rocket fuel, and it is in the ground water of the San Joaquin Valley, of California thanks to Aerojet General.)
One chloro-fluorinated or methyl-brominated molecule of ozone at a time, creating a deadly hole in the ozone ultra-violet radiation shield;
One poorly designed carpet at a time;
One thoughtlessly designed building or building interior at a time;
One misplaced kilogram of plutonium at a time;
One more ton of spent nuclear fuel at a time, looking for a safe and secure home for 240,000 (!) years;
One advance of urban sprawl at a time;
One insensitive or uninformed architect or interior designer or facility manager or manufacturer at a time;
One songbird at a time;
One PCB-laced orca, one whale, one dolphin, one trumpeter swan, one mountain gorilla, one polar bear, one leatherneck turtle at a time;
One entire wild species at a time; and
One poverty-stricken, starving, diseased, or exploited human being at a time;
That is how it would have happened, and we know that it is happening already just that way—so many ways! You could make your own list, just as long without any duplication. It is a long, long slippery slope, and we are on it. That is the first trend. We are losing one strand of the web of life at a time, inexorably, and it will not stop until either we homo sapiens come to our senses, or we, too, are gone and can do no more damage. If we do come to our senses in time, that will happen one changed mind at a time.
Do you see, it is all a design problem? For you designers here, here’s the crux of my message: It is very important to the future of humankind that any of you in design form a very clear understanding of “ethical design”—design for sustainability and commit to it for a lifetime. Truly, though, are we all designers.
A sustainable society into the indefinite future…depends totally and absolutely on a vast re-design triggered by an equally vast mind-shift—one mind at a time, one organization at a time, one technology at a time, one building, one company, one university curriculum, one community, one region, one industry at a time, until the entire system of which we are each a part has been transformed into a sustainable system, existing ethically in balance with Earth’s natural systems, upon which every living thing utterly depends—even civilization itself.
There is no more strategic issue for a company, or any organization, than its ultimate purpose. For those who think business exists to make a profit, I suggest they think again. Business makes a profit to exist. Surely it must exist for some higher, nobler purpose than that.
I used to think that my job didn’t have anything to do with the environment. Then I realized that my job, as well as everyone else’s job, impacts the environment in some way. And now advocating for sustainability has become my No. 1 responsibility.
On the business case:
There is no question in my mind, based on our experience at Interface, that there is a clear, compelling, and irrefutable case—business case—for sustainability; yet the skeptics remain. So, given the skeptics’ reluctance, even disdain, and unwillingness to accept my case, I have begun to challenge the skeptics to make their case. More precisely, I would like to hear the business case for:
Double glazing the planet with greenhouse gases; and while talking about the cost of preventing global warming, please address the cost of not preventing it.
- Destroying habitat for countless species, about whose connection to humankind, in many, even most cases, we haven’t a clue; ecological ignorance abounds in our culture. Paul Hawken says the average American can name 1,000 commercial brands and maybe 10 plants.
- Poisoning air, water and land;
- Disrupting pollination and photosynthesis (that ought to be a good one!);
- Over-fishing the oceans to the point of collapse;
- Destroying coral reefs, forests, and wetlands (the beginning of the food chain that leads to us at the other end !);
- Depleting or polluting aquifers upon which food production is so dependent;
- Destroying the life support systems of Earth.
As Paul asks, what is the business case for an economic system that says it is cheaper to destroy the earth than to take care of it? How did such a fantasy system that defies common sense even come to be? How did we—all of us—get swept up in its siren’s song.
What is the business case for destroying the basic infrastructure of civilization itself, the natural systems upon which everything depends, including the economy? For what economy can even exist without air, water, materials, energy, food, plus climate regulation, an ultra-violet radiation shield, pollination, seed dispersal, waste processing, nutrient cycling, water purification and distribution (natural filtration and the hydrologic cycle), soil creation and maintenance, flood and insect control – all supplied by nature and her natural systems. The economist would say, all these are externalities and do not count in the financial system? Talk about a flawed view of reality! Without any of them, there would be no economy in the first place? How can it be good business to externalize them and assume license to destroy them by arbitrarily saying they don’t count.
I am waiting with baited breath for the answers, so I can correct my errant ways. Of course, there are no answers, and therein lies the inevitability of sustainability. It’s only a question of how much pain before a growing sense of ethics gets us off the slippery slope and we opt for survival.