[tweetmeme] Ray Anderson is the founder of Interface, the company that makes Flor carpet tiles (as well as lots of less whizzy but equally useful flooring and fabric). He was a serious carpet guy, focused on building his company and making great products.

89292_254x191Then he read Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce. Something clicked: with his company’s global reach and manufacturing footprint, he was in a position to do something very real, very important, in building a sustainable world. Anderson focused the company’s attention on sustainable decision making, taking a hard look at suppliers, manufacturing processes, and the beginning-to-end life cycle of all its products.

And decided to go carbon neutral.

They call this drive Mission Zero: “our promise to eliminate any negative impact our company may have on the environment by the year 2020.”

Costs are down – and have paid for all the costs of transition. They looked at every area of the business, including helping the behaviour change needed by its customers. For example: If you can’t find a place to recycle a worn or damaged Flor tile, Interface invites you to send it back to them and they’ll do it for you. There’s no choice of environment versus economy – only environment and economy. And if a petro-intensive carpet business can do it, anyone can.

“If something exists, it must be possible.” Amory Lovins.

How do you market this stuff?

Of the three types of green marketing Flor carpet tiles are type three. The first two types are these:
1. Setting new standards, which is generally marketing as usual in the vein of ‘new and improved’
2. Share responsibility for new practices, which is often as far as most can credibly go because it involves some level of behaviour change alongside an offered product or service.

The third is more expansive (but not necessarily better)
3. Resetting cultural norms, which is impossible without a genuinely innovative game-changing product or service – like Flor carpet tiles.

A great example of this third state is Tesla’s electric-car-on-steroids. It re-calibrates perceptions of electric vehicles from medical motorised wheelchairs to seriously fast racing machines. And E-commerce has combined innovation with normal codes incredibly well – who was ever going to offer credit card details on the internet 10 years ago? Auctions became ebay, holiday buckets shops repackaged as lastminute.com, geeky social networking repackaged as friends reunited (and now myspace, bebo, facebook, and twitter). Cultural trends reset.

“The best marketing strategy is to destroy your industry before your competition does.” –Seth Godin

Often times the trick is to combine radical new products with utterly normal cultural codes – something that Carbon free carpet tiles do well. It’s partly a design challenge (as Ray Anderson explained) and partly a cultural myth-making challenge (as evidenced by the invitation to the future-thinking conference TED). But without a genuinely innovative game-changing product or service, like Flor carpet tiles, this is not an appropriate approach.

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