Case Study - Business Community Sustainability

Industrial ecology builds community sustainability

Business communities have arisen as new important players in the purist of community sustainability. As the following quote illustrates, business communities who employ sustainable practices and strive for community sustainability can make a large impact on local and global community sustainability. "Business is the largest, wealthiest, most pervasive institution on Earth, and responsible for most of the damage. It must take the lead in directing the Earth away from collapse, and toward sustainability."
- Paul Hawken, Ecology of Commerce.

Interface, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Interface, founded in 1973 is the world's largest producer of commercial floor coverings and sells 40 percent of all the carpet tiles used in commercial buildings in the world. Interface is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and has 25 production facilities in six countries, sales offices in 110 countries and 6,300 employees. Annual sales are over $1 billion (U.S.).

The CEO, Ray Anderson decided that his mission would be to make Interface the global leader in industrial ecology. A research division was created, called EcoSense, to help Interface businesses examine all manufacturing processes and to analyze the environmental impact of each step on product quality, process efficiency and the environment.
Today Interface has over 400 sustainability initiatives. Eighty members of the Interface task force meet twice a year to discuss challenges, progress and continue their education regarding sustainability. Interface has several sustainability goals including, to create zero waste, reduce toxics, invest in alternative energy, increase energy efficiency, increase reusable, recyclable and natural materials, and to eliminate the use of petrochemicals for transportation and reduce transportation-related emissions. They have had several success in all of these areas for example engineers in one Interface factory found 25 different waste streams and calculated that by eliminating them, they could save $70 million in disposal costs. Solid waste was reduced company-wide by 2,874 tons and Interface's research unit is experimenting with ways to recycle the carpet fiber and backing and experimenting with natural gas-powered fleet cars. These many efforts are paying off for Interface. Immediately following the implementation of several sustainability reforms company sales increased by $200 million even though Interface used no more raw material than previously. This saved the company $29 million (US) in one year.

There are countless examples of business of various sizes adopting sustainability guidelines and accomplishing significant cost savings, producing higher quality products and entering high value niches that increase both revenue and profits. Networks of sustainable business communities foster larger sustainable communities.

(Adapted from the work of I. Shaver, 2011)