The term “sustainability” is changing.

For businesses to consider themselves “sustainable,” which many leaders and the public say is a priority, they must understand the changes afoot.  Erin Meezan, vice president for sustainability of Interface Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpet, addressed this very topic with nearly 600 Broad College of Business Global Business Law students.

Erin Meezan gives a presentation.

To 600 Global Business Law students, Meezan revealed the changing landscape of sustainble business operations.

“We need to stop thinking about how to merely limit the damage caused by climate change and start thinking about how to create a climate fit for life,” Meezan said.

Ray Anderson, founder of Interface, admits that when customers used to question his company’s environmental stewardship, he didn’t have much to say. But after reading The Death of Birth, a light bulb went off and he knew something had to change. Anderson recognized that if he couldn’t make his company sustainable, perhaps the company didn’t have a place in this sustainable world.

Interface is working toward the goal of operating 100 percent sustainably by the year 2020.

While Anderson feels the moral obligation to cultivate a sustainable business, he realizes that not all customers or corporate partners feel the same. However, in today’s world, if a business is not taking steps to become sustainable, it is a huge risk. The environmental implications are too big and customers, employees, stakeholders, all have members who demand this from our nation’s companies.

Today, when asked what Interface’s business case is, the corporate response is, “What is the business case for ending life on Earth?”

For the past 20 years, the company has issued a sustainability report to customers to ensure complete transparency, which earns both stakeholder and customer respect and trust.

Interface notes their value as a company comes from customers, employees, investors, and the environment, all of which the company works for equally, living up to the expectations of their multi-stakeholders.

In addition to this, Meezan discussed the financial rewards for implementing sustainable business practices: businesses save on energy use, water use, and will be able to stop paying to throw waste away. All of these factors lead to direct bottom line impacts which are huge.

“Strategy should not just be a reduction mindset, but rather a climate fit for life. Life thrives in a benign climate. We have changed the conversation goal at Interface to a goal fit for life. We’ve created a business strategy and have shown other Companies where we see a way to do this,” Meezan said.

Interface’s new mission, Mission Zero encompasses the new challenge, “Climate Take Back.” Here, the company’s reach extends beyond Interface and their goals for 2020, but rather into our world’s population as a whole. Interface is convinced a fundamental change needs to happen in the global response to climate change.

Climate Take Back has four main steps that will help change the mindset and aid in changing the conversation about climate change, including other businesses.

  1. Live zero. Aim for zero negative impact on the environment.
  2. Love carbon. Stop seeing carbon as the enemy and start using it as a resource.
  3. Lead the industrial re-revolution. Transform industry into a force for the future we want.
  4. Let nature cool. Support our biosphere’s ability to regulate the climate.

Meezan left students with the knowledge that they are the future of our world and responsible for its’ well-being. She urged students to always maintain a sense of optimism, as that is what the future of all companies need most to continue to change the way business’s reach sustainability.