Ray Anderson is a businessman who admits he never thought much about environmental sustainability or corporate responsibility. As CEO and chairman of Interface, a mid-size manufacturer of carpeting and floor tiles, Anderson, for years, simply focused on growing his
company. Then, one day in 1994, that all changed.
A group of Interface employees asked Anderson to make a presentation on the company's "worldwide environmental vision." After accepting the invitation, however, Anderson quickly lost heart. "I didn't want to make the speech, because I didn't really have any vision," he says now. "The only thing we did as a company was follow the law - comply."
About that time, a friend handed Anderson a book written by environmentalist Paul Hawken, titled The Ecology of Commerce. One night, as Anderson read through the book's vivid descriptions of destruction wrought by industrial activity, he began to weep. "It struck me like a spear in my chest," he says. By next morning, Anderson's sense of mission had changed radically, after 20 years of running the company. Even though he had no idea how his proposals would affect the business - or even what exactly he would propose - Anderson decided that his company had a moral duty to transform itself into an ecologically sustainable operation.
While obviously not all CEOs feel the same moral imperative, there is something deeply attractive about the idea that some companies are green while others are polluters, that some employers are enlightened while others exploit their workers, that some companies are essentially "good" while others are "bad." Research shows that people want their dollars to support companies that at least try to do well in the world. Many will go out of their way and spend a little more to feel their purchases have not supported sweatshop labor or damaged the environment too much.