Last Friday evening I drove up two hours to Valpo University. The Business Department at Valpo has an annual lecture series, and this year’s topic was Sustainable Business. I have no real connections with Valpo, but when I got a notice about the lecture from an associate, I followed the link to a video clip about the keynote speaker, Ray C. Anderson. If you’ve followed my posts with the tag “Environmental Sustainability” you won’t be surprised that I made the trip.)

Anderson gave a compelling talk. He is an industrialist – actually an industrial engineer by training. His company, Interface Global, is a $1B carpet and floor coverings company. Fifteen years ago Interface began climbing what he calls “Mount Sustainability”, with the goal of meeting the United Nations definition of sustainability by 2020:

”Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

I really appreciated the fact that Anderson is rooted in the industrial world and is actually doing something. At the risk of oversimplifying it sometimes seems like there are two camps in the environmental debate: the environmentalists who have all the theories and spend their time throwing stones and distrusting the industrialists, and the industrialists who focus on “the message” and are mostly not doing much besides “greenwashing.”

Anderson had the passion of an environmentalist and the discipline of Six Sigma Black Belt.

His talk oscillated between the macro and the micro. On the macro level he addressed issues of species extinction, depletion of resources, and the burden of industrial waste. On the micro level he dove into details of specific projects (very Six Sigma-like) where his company has reduced energy use and waste, switched to renewable power sources, and taken responsibility for recycling their products at the end of the product life cycle.

Another thing that impressed me was the fact that there were probably about 100 undergrad business students who gave up their Friday night to come to an evening of lectures. How cool is that?

I bought Anderson’s latest book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. When he signed it we talked briefly about all the gap between his company and the manufacturers who didn’t seem to see beyond the end of the quarter, much less a five year plan, much less to the next generation. His parting comment? “One mind at a time. One mind at a time.”

I don’t think I’ve ever plugged a book before in this blog. I urge you to buy Anderson’s book, and watch some of the videos floating out there on the internet. Pass it around your office and to your CEO.

And he got me thinking about what’s next on Hertzler Systems’ sustainable business journey.

One mind at a time.

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