Ray Anderson and Interface Inc. have a stunningly simple agenda for the 21st century.
1) Eliminate waste.
One of the masterstrokes of President and COO Charlie Eitel, 47, has been to change the terms of debate about manufacturing and processing waste. He doesn't want to argue about how much people are reducing waste - he wants zero waste. "Waste drives me nuts," Eitel says. Until each process has zero waste, there's nothing to talk about.
2) Make emissions benign.
As an initial priority, the company's 26 manufacturing plants are focusing on the elimination of the most toxic effluents.
3) Shift to renewable energy.
The company's new vice president for sustainable energy development, Mike Bennett, 46, plans to reduce routine energy use, then gradually to change how products are made, and then to move to solar power. The company will install its first solar array at the Bentley Mills factory in Los Angeles later this year.
4) Close the loop.
New nylon carpet should be made from discarded carpet. New cubicle fabric should be made with discarded cubicle fabric. Interface's R&D group, operating according to the laws of nature, sees waste as a resource.
5) Make transportation efficient.
The company is looking at everything it moves - people to meetings, supplies to factories, products to customers - to find less wasteful ways of doing business. It is also developing ideas like "swappable manufacturing capacity": A product will be made not by the division that sells it but by the division whose factory is nearest the customer.
6) Teach sustainability.
Interface wants its employees, suppliers, and customers to have a clear understanding of the natural environment, of the company's drive toward sustainability, and of the relationship between the two.
7) Redesign commerce.
Interface is building a network of sustainable commerce through education and by supporting market incentives that reward sustainable business practices.
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.