- THE MAGAZINE
ATLANTA, Ga.--Interface, Inc., the world's largest commercial carpet manufacturer, once dumped hundreds of gallons of wastewater and some 900 tons of pollutants each year. However, an effort begun in the mid-1990s to cut waste and decrease harmful emissions has saved the company $144 million over the last six years.
Interface's efforts are no longer uncommon in Corporate America. Research shows that environmental stewardship decreases a company's operating costs and attracts customers concerned with the environment. The result can also be enhanced stock prices.
According to University of Oregon professor Michael Russo, "environmentally sound companies are financially healthier companies." Russo is coauthor of a study comparing companies' environmental performance to profitability.
Russo, together with Paul Fouts of Golden State University, followed 243 Fortune 500 companies for two years. Keeping track of their environmental records, the researchers found that firms with the highest returns on their assets had built reputations of going above and beyond their competitors in pollution control or waste reduction.
Similarly, a recent Vanderbilt University study found that eight times out of 10 environmentally sound companies outperform their higher-polluting counterparts. One reason, says Russo, "If you're less wasteful, you're probably running a lean operation."
Some companies have taken the cost-effectiveness of environmentalism to new corporate levels, even revamping business approaches. Xerox Corporation now leases many of its products so it can recycle parts and reduce pollution.
Interface CEO Ray Anderson says it pays to be green. "We're saving money and winning business," he says. As an example, he points to a recent sales meeting at a hotel resort in Hawaii. There, Interface workers devised a way to cut the hotel's propane and water consumption by half. Interface was later awarded a million-dollar contract to supply the resort's carpets.
Interface (www.interfaceinc.com) is the largest commercial carpet manufacturer in the world. Headquartered in Atlanta, Interface has manufacturing locations on four continents and offices in more than 100 countries.