The Greenest CEO In America Comes To Public TV

It wasn’t until recently that American business started discovering that what’s good for the planet is also good for the bottom line. In fact, the link between green and profit is still pretty hidden, especially from consumers. It shouldn’t be: thus the national television rollout of So Right So Smart.

Ray Anderson, the "greenest CEO in America" (sorightsosmart.com)
Ray Anderson, the “greenest CEO in America” (sorightsosmart.com)

The award-winning feature revolves around the true story of entrepreneur Ray Anderson, owner of Interface, the world’s largest designer and maker of carpet tile. Anderson started the company and achieved success, but something was missing. After a “Eureka!” moment when he saw the link between successful business and a healthy planet, he began transforming his enterprise into an environmentally sustainable international corporation.

Surprising many, the profits grew and grew. Anderson had succeeded in marrying industry and ecology. The Washington Post called him “the Greenest CEO in America.” He called himself a “radical industrialist.”

The basic tale of Anderson’s astonishing conversion comes to us straight from the man, before his untimely death from cancer. I watched with interest as this very relaxed, likable guy narrated the tale of his epiphany with geniality and smarts. Interviewed by The New York Times, Ray—it’s so tempting to use his first name—talked about the massive differences his ethical approach has made:

“I always make the business case for sustainability. It’s so compelling. Our costs are down, not up. Our products are the best they have ever been….  And the goodwill in the marketplace—it’s just been astonishing.”

Look closely. Not bark. Sustainably manufactured carpet (Interface)
Look closely. Not bark. Sustainably manufactured carpet (Interface)

His successor, Dan Hendrix, wholeheartedly agrees. They have greened Interface with methods as common-sensical as coordinating delivery schedules in the same city, rather than just shipping orders out at random. They’ve also put in place wide-reaching and esoteric methods like recycling nylon fishing nets, which would otherwise disrupt the marine ecosystem. Interface has reduced yarn scrap by 54% and curtailed PVC use in its operations. Mission Zero completion date is 2020.

Bracketing the greenest CEO’s billion-dollar success story are interviews with top executives of other large corporations who have come to similar conclusions. You may be surprised to see some of the names featured in the film—Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, Doug McMillon of Walmart, and Paul Murray of Herman Miller. Executives of Green Mountain Coffee, Seventh Generation, and the New Belgium Brewery appear as well.

All these companies have demonstrated environmental stewardship that has fostered product gains. Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue, may come as the greatest surprise here, but despite other issues, the company has shown leadership by implementing sustainability in all its US locations (retail stores, handling and warehouse facilities, even the company headquarters). Expenses have dropped as a result.

I was glad to see that along with testimony from top execs, So Right So Smart presents current professional thinking about the state of the environment and our paths toward sustainability. Amory Lovins, Paul Hawken, John Picard, David Suzuki, Janine Benyus, and Jonathan Lash share with us the many benefits of ecology-minded commerce. Says professor Paul Connett, “If you make the time frame long enough and you make the space long enough, there is no difference between ecology and economics. They are the same subject. You just need to look at it from the perspective of the whole planet.” Says Rocky Mountain Institute’s Lovins, “There is no waste in nature. Everybody’s waste is somebody else’s food.”

Daryl Hannah and Robert Redford (Legal Eagles)The filmmakers punctuate their story with some easy animations that explain the sustainable science and economics behind business success. Blade Runner film celeb and activist Daryl Hannah weaves the stories together. The picture has screened at world festivals (list here) and has also played in theaters.

So Right So Smart comes from a dedicated team headed by cinematographer Justin Maine (Super Knocked Up). The production work was primarily conducted by a 3-person MagicWig crew. Maine says “A photo or moving image tells the kind of stories I want to tell. For me it all happens in the viewfinder…. Our film is the result of some amazing collaborations of many talented people!” As the greenest CEO, Ray Anderson, put it, So Right So Smart satisfies “a lot of hunger out there for a message of hope.”

The documentary about pioneering green business practices is now coming to American homes via multiple PBS broadcasts. It’s on this weekend in Chicago, Wheeling, and Anchorage. You can check out the schedule for your hometown here.

Screening of So Right So Smart at the Palace Theater (sorightsosmart)So Right So Smart (@sorightsosmart, #sorightsosmart) struck me as a genuinely upbeat, engaging feature: no lectures, a rounded perspective, and satisfaction for everyone at the end.






About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She’s worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm, writes two top-level blogs on Examiner.com, ranked #2 on ONPP’s 2011 Top 50 blogs on Women’s Health, and attributes her modest success to an “indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity.”

  • Rosa Borisova

    Please watch on YouTube if you really care about the Planet:”Cowspiracy”,Gary Yourofsky’s”Best speech ever”;Philip Wollen’d debate”Animals should be off the menu”,Earthlings;Meet your meat.com.You might be glad you did.Thanks,xoxo

  • Luigi Antonio Pezone

    I agree. Unfortunately
    those who prevents the protection of the environment are the very authorities
    that should protect it, perhaps unintentionally? If it is so, what are waiting
    to change the way they realize public works?

    I think that

    governments would like entrepreneurs solve their social problems by creating

    jobs and prosperity, while entrepreneurs would like from governments common
    rules to be respected to defend themselves from unfair competition. But these
    rules governments can not enact if industrial experiences do not enter in
    global projects, that are industrial, environmental and energy covering all areas
    of human activities and interacting positively chemically and biologically with
    the environment to bring minerals to the land and the alkalinity in the seas,
    which were damaged by past and current management. I do not want to be
    misunderstood because not even the industry has solved environmental problems,
    but it is necessary that we bring the industrial productivity in environmental
    protection because today pollution is produced industrially while purifications
    are handcrafted. But, at the same time, industrial experiences cannot enter in
    the world of environment and energy, which are public facilities, because there
    are not ways to communicate. The specifications of public tenders do not allow
    the application of industrial systems which would enhance the potential energy
    and cleansing. Public engineering companies that prepare tenders do not know
    enough industrial systems and not applying them blocking the advancement of the
    State of the art even for large contractors that must abide by these regulations.
    If Governments do not improve before public works, adapting the rules, cannot
    pretend that private facilities will improve on their own. From the Kyoto
    Protocol we are still on good intentions but not born projects and global rules
    and not even creating jobs. I hope that governments, engineering company and
    contractors do not be offended if I have invented SPAWHE that represents for
    the environment that INTERNET is for global communication of the planet. You
    can download solutions from the website http://www.spawhe.eu.Best Regard.

    Luigi Antonio Pezone