Sustainability as disruptive innovation

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Disruptive innovation means applying a new vision and direction, which results in overtaking an existing market. Being green in a transparent way has become one of the most highly sought-after disruptive innovative forces. As a result, organizations compete to have the latest green technologies, facilities and products in their industry.

A classic case study of a sustainable disruptive technology is Interface Inc. A billion-dollar corporation, Interface is the world’s largest producer of modular floor coverings, and one of the first large companies to integrate sustainability in all of its operations. Interface credits its leading position to its vision:

‘To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.’

Every aspect of Interface operations is focused on this vision — from harvesting and recycling old carpets to workplace energy efficiencies such as lighting and equipment replacement, renewable energy, efficient distribution, and employee-led programs aimed at eliminating waste. Interface also reduces the environmental footprint of its physical locations by adopting best-in-class green building and operational standards. As a result, Interface has reduced its carbon footprint by 92 percent, and has reduced waste to landfill by 91 percent since 1996.

Nike, another green giant, is innovating its materials to reduce the environmental impact of its supply chain. Before implementing a dry-dye process, Nike was using 325 billion gallons of water a year, or 25-40 gallons of water for every 2 pounds of textiles being dyed. The water-free dry-dye process dyes 40 percent faster and uses far less energy.

Competition drives industry-wide sustainability

Once a leading company decides to compete on sustainability, there is tremendous pressure among its competitors to do the same. That’s because nothing will fire up a company to improve its performance as much as being compared to its competitors, whether in terms of financial performance, customer service, innovation or sustainability.

When Interface CEO Ray Anderson revolutionized the carpet industry, this resulted in a green domino effect affecting all the other industrial carpet manufacturers. This in turn gave rise to the industry developing a green carpet labeling system. The fact that the industrial carpet sector is more sustainable and environmentally responsible than ever before illustrates how competitive green one-upmanship can be hard to stop once it gets going.

When Wal-Mart announced that it would cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain, Marks & Spencer reacted by putting forward its strategy to make the company ‘the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015.’ Not to be left out, Best Buy then announced its sustainability platform. As business author of Earth Inc. Gregory Unruh puts it, ‘You can knock the first domino over yourself or wait until your competitors do.’

The culture of green giants

In many companies, sustainability is limited to a single department, but for the green giants such as Interface and Nike, it is a core value which is fully integrated into all of their organizational, cost and governance structures throughout the enterprise. No matter the type of organization, if sustainability is to be a hallmark of company culture, then it must be embedded in everyday operations, including the design and operation of the workplace.

Reserve your copy today of JLL’s new book, “SMART, Green + Productive Workplace: A desk companion for corporate real estate professionals” to learn more about how sustainability can not only transform your company, but your industry as well. 

About the authors:

Simone Skopek is an Operations Manager in Energy & Sustainability Services at JLL. Simone has been pioneering programs at the firm that address sustainability and productivity in the workplace, as well as building resiliency and emergency management. She was one of the original creators of the Green Globes certification program and BOMA Best. She was also a high school physics, chemistry and biology teacher, and sailed around the world for seven years in a 30-foot sailboat.


Bob Best is Head of Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) at JLL, where he has worked in energy and sustainability, property management, new business development, marketing and a myriad of other areas since 1986. He holds an MBA in finance and a BSc. in Journalism. He is a LEED® Accredited Professional and a Green Globes® Professional. Outside of work, Bob is an
avid bicyclist, riding about 6,000 miles per year.

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