The biggest impact most companies have on society is through the products they sell, the people they employ and the suppliers they buy from. And, of course, the effect on the environment of producing their products. If you are really committed to having a positive effect on society, that is where to start.
There are examples of major corporations that have changed. One of the most inspiring is the carpet corporation Interface and its Chief Executive, Ray Anderson. His conversion moment came in 1997, when he was asked to give a talk on the environment to sales staff. His first reaction was simply to state ‘We obey the law’, the standard defence of corporations across the world.
Reading up for his talk, he underwent a transformation: ‘I was running a company that was plundering the earth. I thought, “Damn, some day people like me will be put in jail!”’ The company set itself the mission of becoming a ‘restorative enterprise’, with a positive effect on the environment, by 2020.
Interface’s definition of this goal does not lack ambition: ‘To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions. People, process, place and profits – by 2020 – and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.’
The programme has brought direct financial benefits. The waste elimination programme alone has resulted in $433 million of savings for the company. But the key lesson is that, whatever company we work for or run, we have a choice. We can decide to have a positive effect on the world.