Why businesses need to take a 'bottom-up' approach to sustainability

EXCLUSIVE: Businesses must adopt a bottom-up approach to embedding sustainability within the company culture, according to the sustainability director of carpet tile manufacturer Interface.

Ramon Arratia said Interface’s green credentials have boosted efforts to attract top-level recruitment and create sustainability champions within all areas of the company

Ramon Arratia said Interface’s green credentials have boosted efforts to attract top-level recruitment and create sustainability champions within all areas of the company

Speaking at a Leadership and Positive Change session during an eventful second day of edie Live, Ramon Arratia explained how appealing to individual aspirations can inspire employees to drive positive change within a business.

Arratia said: “Usually, the approach in sustainability is to form a campaign so that all of the employees know all the great things we are doing - and it’s a top-down approach. All of the internal communications team send an email and we end up doing minimal common-denominator stuff, so that everybody can do a little bit and end up just turning off the lights and all that crap that is useless.

“What you actually need is a bottom-up approach and ideas from many people. One of the things we learned is that you have to target different people in the company who have different ways of understanding sustainability.

"Engineers, purchasers and sales people are all different animals. As a very first way of dividing people, you have to look at 'technical' versus 'conversion'. If it is a sales person, give them a sales argument and they will love you. For an engineer, give them a technical challenge, a machine to play with and a working budget and they are happy."

‘Provide a meaning’

Founded in Georgia in 1973, Interface has established a strong reputation for sustainability through innovative schemes, such as the Net-Works project which aims to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities.

The company’s green credentials have in fact boosted efforts to attract top-level recruitment and create sustainability champions within all areas of the company, insists Arratia.

Arratia added: “The first thing is appealing to a higher ground in order to recruit the best talent. Working for a commercial modular carpet tile company is not sexy. But it you frame it differently and say ‘do you want to work for a zero emissions company?’ it’s a totally different equation. People want a meaning in their career, and providing this meaning is very important.

“If you want to take sustainability seriously, you need to create status. Through status, you give people the feeling that they are important. We have sustainability champions and ambassadors, and make them feel important by having this as a selective club so people have to fight to become an ambassador. They have to go through three different levels of training and then receive information that others wouldn’t receive so they feel valuable.”

Secrets to success

Arratia spoke exclusively to edie after coming off stage at the edie Live Leaders Theatre, discussing a variety of topics from the key enablers driving the sustainability transformation at Interface, to the importance of both internal and external collaboration within a sustainable business.

When asked about his secrets to success for sustainability leadership, Arratia said: “I think the key thing is to really truly understand your social and environmental impact, and face the elephant in the room. When you discover biggest impact, it is not always comfortable but still necessary to face.”


Ramon Arratia in edie’s podcast

Ramon Arratia’s exclusive interview with edie is included in our brand new Sustanable Business Covered podcast, which provides the latest news, insights and inspiration from the world of green business.

The Sustainable Business Covered: Episode 1 podcast is available for free below...

George Ogleby


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