by Alan Moore on 16th October 2018
There is a concept called The Total; based around what we take, make and waste. All businesses are faced with costs associated to all three. The Total encompasses ethics, business, production process, products and the world we inhabit. We have an unlimited responsibility for The Total, a responsibility that we try but do not always succeed in taking.
In a recent Deloitte study, 74% of CFO’s agreed there was a strong link between sustainability performance and financial performance. Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, added, ‘a sustainable business is a healthy business’.
Here, we have a design challenge. Can we here take less, make better and waste nothing and still boost the bottom line?
By redesigning The Total and moving costs associated to ‘taking’, ‘making’ and ‘wasting’ from the Loss column to the Assets column on a P&L, we have an opportunity to build a high performing business.
Suddenly, CFO’s are paying attention.
This re-think isn’t dependent on sector, it’s a resilient model which embraces design and purpose first and foremost.
Interface is the world’s largest designer and maker of carpet tiles. It was founded by Ray C. Anderson and incorporated as a company in 1973. It invented the concept of tessellating carpet tiles. In 1978 Interface sales had reached $11 million. The company went public in 1983. Things were looking good.
However, Interface was hard on the environment with the extraction of natural resources, the processes of manufacturing contributing to CO2, pollution and a huge landfill bill. Ray decided things had to change, and went to his institutional investors to share his vision of a company that would be fully sustainable by 2020. The response was, ‘great, but can it make money?’. Anderson proved that it could. Interface not only makes money, it has now set its goal on becoming a restorative business pioneering carbon reduction in its products.
Geanne van Arkel, Head of Sustainable Development EMEA at Interface, explained to me “We have no choice (if we want to be in business in the medium and long term)”, says van Arkel, “we have changed our goals to become a company that is restorative”. Interface now utilizes fishing nets abandoned in the world’s oceans and are prototyping a process that delivers -2kgs of carbon for every meter of carpet tile it manufactures. It has future proofed its business model and in 2018, it is a Fortune 100 company with a market cap of $1.53 billion.
But to make these financial gains one cannot treat sustainability like another Ad Word. It takes focus and participation as part of a business strategy. Konrad Brits, Founder and CEO of Falcon Coffee shared his views with me “Sustainability has become a very overused and diluted word and it has been treated as a destination. You can go through a checklist and tick enough boxes and you are a sustainable business. I always think that it is more like treading water. Delivering real sustainability requires constant activity because we live in a dynamic environment where things are changing all the time from the weather, to people, to the economy, to the availability of resources.”
In Brits and Van Arkel’s experience, a genuine transparent sustainable business model will bring financial reward. Brits explains further “I am not talking about collecting prizes and getting certifications and having plaques on the wall, just the everyday transactional execution, when the culture of your business has a positive intent. It is very, very good for business.”
Forward thinking companies are now interested in sustainable supply chain designs that additionally offer a better experience for their customers, and a better return for their investors.
Zero waste is a growing movement and a design revolution, which will make waste so valuable the last thing you will want to do is burn or bury it.
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