This weekend, the Bright Green Talent team had the pleasure of attending a panel at RMI2009 that consisted of the following environmental heavyweights: Amory Lovins: Chairman and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute; Ray Anderson: Founder and Chairman, Interface; Carl Bass: President and CEO, Autodesk; Janine Benyus: Author, Founder of Biomimicry Guild; and Paul Hawken: Author of Natural Capitalism.
Though all the panelists had incredibly interesting insight to share, Ray Anderson stood out to me with his perspective on how integrating sustainability can improve a business, such as he has seen with Interface.
Here’s a cliff notes version of what he talked about:
- The “inevitability of the environmental movement”: “Once you get it, you get it.” He pointed out that he’d never met an ex-environmentalist; that is to say, environmentalism is a lens through which you come to see and understand the world, and once you get there, you can’t go back to ignoring environmental externalities and separating growth from resource limitations.
- The business case for integrating sustainability: For Interface, Anderson said: costs are down, products are better, the people are galvanized, and they’ve received good will from the marketplace. I thought the third point was especially interesting – he talked about how he’s been able to motivate Interface’s employees behind the product and the company, and how each is now an evangelist for the company.
- Biggest dishonesty in the market: lack of carbon pricing and acknowledging externalities.
- The state of the green business movement: “still in the stage of early movers and fast followers.” The key will be continuing to push growth and competition so that the whole industry and marketplace is integrating sustainability.
- Wise words for businesses: “Play to win, rather than not to lose.” He’s been focusing on sensitizing stakeholders, employees, and everyone else to environmental issues to establish Interface as an industry leader.
- Wise words for individuals: “Brighten the corner where you are, and then make that corner as big as possible.”
Of course, we don’t want to discount the advice and perspective of the other illustrious panelists.
- Janine Benyus, the biomimicry thought leader, brought up the shift in the environmental movement that she had perceived from scientists learning about nature to learning from nature. She believes there’s been a democratization of innovation – that small, innovative companies are going to break through and help lead the change.
- Paul Hawken talked about mobilizing the younger generations, his recent commencement speech (worth a read!), and his view on the inaccuracies of macroeconomics (memorable remark to an econ student’s question: “don’t worry about the macroeconomists; one coffin at a time”).
- Carl Bass of Autodesk talked about integrating sustainability into Autodesk’s programs in order to make sustainability accessible and scalable for designers around the world, and his belief in disruptive innovation.
- Amory Lovins spoke about his work with RMI (and how he’d worked alongside a lot of the other companies represented on the panel), as well as the importance of emphasizing hope over despair: “hope requires fearlessness.”
Some other coverage of the event: