You know what’s an overplayed trope? The whole “the dictionary defines [insert word here] as…” thing. I know you’ve seen or heard it. Someone is trying to make some meaningful point, whether in a keynote speech, wedding toast, or some silly blog post, and they use the dictionary as a launching-off point because they can’t come up with a more creative way to introduce the concept. It’s tired, it’s lazy, and it’s exactly what I’m about to do.
When I became the executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation in 2013, I remember reflecting on which assets of the foundation were the most valuable. The dictionary defines “valuable” as “1: (a) having monetary value or (b) worth a good price; 2: (a) having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities or (b) of great use or service.” Both the first and second definitional category are interesting in this respect.
By the first definition, it would be hard to argue that anything other than our corpus is the most valuable. Ray generously left his estate to this foundation upon his passing, and those assets allow us to do all of our work and support all of our partners. I am grateful to Ray each and every day for empowering his family in this way.
By the second definition, our corpus is also valuable, in that it is extremely desirable and useful to possess. That said, I look to another asset as our most valuable, especially in light of this second definition – the story and legacy of Ray Anderson.
Our goal is to inspire others to become environmentalists, working to harmonize business and society with our natural systems. Dollars certainly help in pursuit of this goal, but a compelling and authentic example of what to do, and why we should do it, is so much more valuable. That is what Ray Anderson and the people of Interface represent.
In our soon-to-be-released Mid-Course Correction Revisited, I spend chapters 8 and 9 updating readers on Interface’s progress up Mount Sustainability and why Interface became a more profitable company as a result of Ray’s environmental epiphany. I’d summarize Chapter 8 by directing you to Interface’s latest metrics and Chapter 9 by saying employee engagement, cost reductions, new innovations, and marketplace goodwill come together to make a compelling business case for sustainability.
At a fundamental level though, these are the two chapters that encapsulate WHY Ray Anderson’s legacy is our most valuable asset. Ray represents the virtue of doing well by doing good, which was once thought to be impossible by the world of business and industry. He proved the possible – that an enterprise can increase its bottom line returns by being more environmentally responsible. If I can simply convince others to follow in his footsteps, I will be incredibly successful in accomplishing our foundation’s goals. For that reason, the name at the top of our letterhead is truly priceless.