I've been working in the intersection of business and the environment for about 12, 13 years now. And it's been a really interesting transition from an earlier career where I was just a traditional business person, working on strategy and marketing issues. And I’ve had a number of kind of “Aha!” moments that have followed me through this transition, and a lot of it's around how we view business and environment. Right now, company address environmental and social issues, and they treat it like a niche within business. They have maybe an executive or two focused on those issues and it's kind of a side issue.
And I had a moment about five or six years ago that was kind of eye-opening for me, even as I had been thinking about this for years. I was at an event. And the late, great Ray Anderson was speaking. And he was the CEO of a billion-dollar flooring company, Interface. He was really the first CEO to come to this realization himself, in the ‘90s, that we really had to change the way we operated. And a student stood up, an MBA student, a young guy, and said, “Mr. Anderson, how do I know if I'm learning the right things in school? How do I know the professor understand this?” He said. Well, go to the board. Draw a circle. Put a square in it. And say, Which one's business? Which one's the environment?” And this was kind of a wake-up moment for me.
I really crystallized everything that have been going on in my head. And we kind of all felt like students, I think, at that moment in the room. It was really nice. And it put this visual around something really profound that we're not taught. I have an economics degree. I have an MBA. And we're really not taught, going through all those programs, that business actually sits within this larger framework called the planet. And it sounds really obvious when you say it.
But the planet is a closed system. There's only so much carbon it can take, so much pollution. There’s only so much we can draw out of it. These are really basic ideas. And so instead of seeing the business/environment overlap as a kind of philanthropy issue, as something we do because it's the right thing to do, I've increasingly seen it as a very deeply practical issue, pragmatic. If business doesn't manage this issue, it's not going to be able to operate. It’s not going to operate profitably. And we're not going to be able to create a planet that houses and 7, 8, 9 billion people with a good quality of life.
So if we don't pivot the way we're looking at this, we're going to face some very deep challenges. And what’s exciting for me is that as business makes that change as you see the leaders make that change, they operate a different way. They operate more profitably. And they operate in a way, I think, where everyone in the company can feel much more passionately about what they're doing, about what they're doing for the planet, for themselves, and for the company.