Worldwide Research role of leadership in integrating sustainability in core business and operations of companies – part 4.

Final part of the interview with Lindsey Parnell CEO at Interface Flor

So how do you deal with everyday dilemmas’, like should we put our money in making our building more sustainable or a new recycling machine or training our sales people in sustainability, how do you choose? 
“If you didn’t have dilemma’s, doing business would be a software programme!” Lindsey laughs. “You have to base decisions on incomplete information, but we also take sustainability into the equation every time. When you launch a new product, people need to hear what’s sustainable about it.”

You have achieved already a lot as a leader in sustainability but the last part is always the most difficult in climbing what you call  ‘Mount Sustainability’. When you get past the low hanging fruit on your way to mission zero but also to achieving a positive  impact, what are the major next steps for you and how are you going to achieve them?
“Looking ahead the most challenging are the technology requirements. How do we work without virgin petrochemical materials.  The energy bit we can fix. Throughout Europe we use green tariff electricity, although it’s not as easy to get. We are also looking at bio fuels, not palm oil but for example waste cooking oil. What’s more difficult is nylon. Our clients always ask for carpeting  to last 10 years although they only use it for 5 years. If only they would ask for 5 years because then we could apply biodegradable or natural materials instead of bullet proof stuff like nylon. We have suppliers now that are willing to help us recycle the five year old carpet. We want to engineer fit for purpose instead of twice the purpose. This is a major challenge throughout society: we want to own over engineered stuff but we throw it away before its use and then it’s very difficult to recycle.  This asks for new completely new thinking. Just like Evergreen lease. We got loads of press on this but people don’t buy it. Because this asks for different people to cooperate and provide the service together.“

How do you facilitate your people in developing new thinking, in going beyond minimising their negative impact to creating more positive and ‘restorative’ impact on sustainability ? What role does HR play in developing new thinking? At some companies, HR provides training to high potentials in sustainability leadership where they learn to realise sustainability ideas in the core business or operations of the bank.. Do you have something like this for your talents?
“Hmmm…We don’t really involve HR in this.  Part of new thinking comes from the ongoing internal pressure for sustainability and business and part from ongoing training and recognition for good ideas. We don’t have a training programme for high potentials; the ideas filter up through  business. We have never had a lack of sustainability ideas but we are terrible at realising them and turning them into a commercial reality. Because of who we are we, as a management team, see all these opportunities and look for ways to realise them. I have just promoted an innovations director, put a team around him, fast tracked a young new innovations VP director Miriam … in Barcelona, put some investment capital into it. The VP then reports directly to me. The team collaborates with other parties in a new way often in a joint venture around an innovation so we can do this kind of new stuff. This is a new model how we try to do things better so no good sustainability ideas go to waste. It’s more a learning curve for us, than an HR task.”

Could the thinking and process that the innovations department or VP /Miriam follows be something that HR could use  for others to learn from to elevate their sustainability ideas into a solid business plan and implementation? 
“Well sure. I could see the need for this.  As we are spinning off to many individual businesses, we will be needing more general managers which we don’t have. We now work with functional managers who have worked their way up within their own silo. I am one of the only general managers, but they will also need to know about marketing, sales, finance etc. Preparing them is an HR function. This could well be one of our next steps!”

What question have you never been asked but would you love to answer?
“What fascinates me is the transition that society has to make. A hundred years ago, material scarcity was an issue and labour was abundant; now it’s reverse, we very wasteful on materials and very scarce with labour. Things were never wasted and were recycled until they disappeared into air. Society then was driven by scarcity, poverty and inequality. Of course we need technology to create close loop cycles. But do we wait until we are forced by the same drivers again or do we get smart and act beforehand? I am just really curious!”

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