If you have visited the GSA website in the last year, I am sure you have noticed that we will have an item or two related to sustainability linked from our home page. I like to think of sustainability as concentrating on the synergy between business and the environment.
GSA’s sustainability plan involves the entire agency, whether by reducing energy consumption in Federal buildings, increasing renewable energy generation and reducing fleet petroleum consumption, reducing emissions from employee commuting and business travel, greening the Federal government’s supply chain, or diverting GSA nonhazardous waste from landfills.
Administrator Martha Johnson has made sustainability at GSA a critical part of our day-to-day planning. Earlier this year, we visited Interface/FLOR International, the largest commercial carpet manufacturer in the world*. The reason we chose to visit FLOR was its reputation as a leader in responsible, sustainable manufacturing. Sixteen years ago, Ray Anderson, its Chairman and CEO, committed to becoming the ‘first name in industrial ecology worldwide.’ Ray Anderson is very passionate about the responsibility to protect the environment. You can listen to Ray speak on sustainability.
Used carpeting typically goes into a landfill, but FLOR has created a number of business practices to profitably take in used carpeting (theirs and other manufacturers’) to recycle and reuse in new products. FLOR’s ‘Mission Zero’ has reduced energy consumption, water consumption, and solid waste generation, while increasing use of renewable energy resources and recycling.
One aspect of FLOR’s product line that impressed me was their use of “biomimicry” in the design of their carpet patterns. In nature, there is no formal pattern but forms blend together harmoniously. So FLOR creates its tiles such that tiles from one production run can be laid next to tiles from another production run, and they blend in together (but don’t “match”). This reduces waste – no need to trash those carpet tiles that do not match perfectly. They have studied how geckos cling to the side of buildings, and have created a similar method to adhere carpet to the surface below without using heavy glues or adhesives.
Our visit to FLOR reminded us that it is possible to balance our mission with a concern for the environment. We need buildings, but we can reduce energy consumption; we need employees to commute and travel, but we can telecommute and teleconference; we can supply the government’s needs, but we can do it in a ‘green’ manner. We were all energized to return home and prove GSA can do it.
If you would like to read more on this subject, Ray has a book “Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise, the Interface Model.” I would also recommend “Cradle to Cradle,” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and “Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage,” by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston.
Let me know what you think about our sustainability challenges, balancing business and the environment.
*As always with my blog, this is not an endorsement, but I think it is an interesting example of innovation and sustainable business practices.