What is Restorative Enterprise?

Mikhail Davis

At Greenbuild 2014, we did not so much have a message as we had a question: What does it mean to be a restorative enterprise?

A WHAT? Yes, it bears some explanation.

Restorative enterprise

When Interface founder Ray Anderson made his first sustainability speech to the company in 1994, he referenced a comment made by a man who had worked on the NASA’s moon landing. The problem with the moon mission, the man told him, was that it was too small. When the mission was accomplished in under 10 years, NASA was rudderless and lacked the same focus. Ray didn’t want that to happen to us, so rather than set us on a course to become the world’s first sustainable company, what he actually said was:

“I want to know what we’ll need to do to… make Interface a restorative enterprise. To put back more than we take from the earth and to do good for the earth, not just no harm. How do we leave the world better with every square yard of carpet we make and sell?”

Where are we now?

Corporate sustainability reporting, such a radical notion in 1994, is now almost a requirement for larger companies, yet no company, including Interface, can claim to have achieved sustainability. Many would say that sustainability is no longer an inspiring vision. But what about that lesser known part of Ray’s challenge, the one beyond the “moon shot” of sustainability?

Mission Zero® commits Interface to eliminating our negative impact on the environment, but what about our positive impacts? Could we knit together fractured communities, economies and ecosystems as we do businesses?

There are no metrics for restorative enterprise; it is uncharted territory in the same way “sustainable business” was in 1994. So we started by asking questions.

What does “restorative” mean?

We asked people through our Greenbuild booth and through social media to tell us what “restorative” meant to them. We shared the story of Net-Works as a provocation. If we can begin sourcing nylon for carpet yarn in a way that helps the economy, community, and ecology of remote fishing villages, what else might business help to restore?

Here’s a sampling of what we heard from thought leaders and Twitterati alike when we asked them to complete the phrase “Restorative is…”:

“Taking inspiration from the past to envision a positive future.” — John Peterson, Public Architecture

“Planting the seeds for renewal.” — Joel Makower, GreenBiz Group

“Humans learning to fit in and flourish on this planet, as all species must, by creating conditions conducive to life.” — Janine Benyus, Biomimicry3.8

“Creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society.” — Connie Hensler, Interface, Inc.

“Looking at the larger impact of every decision and giving back more than we receive.” — Elif Tinney, BNIM Architects

Certainly, we do not understand the full implications of “restorative enterprise” yet, but a few things are becoming clear.

Restorative enterprise and sustainability

With the word “sustainability” now commonplace, “restorative” has more power to inspire and get people dreaming of a better world.  And with how interconnected the world has become, maybe putting our focus on increasing our positive, restorative impacts will take us further than merely eliminating our negative ones.

In hopes that attendees would take this inquiry home with them, we also gave away a bookmark at Greenbuild that asked 5 more questions. Let us know what answers you come up with.

  1. Is it possible for commerce to leave the world a better place?
  2. What does it mean for a business to be restorative?
  3. How would you know if a business was having a restorative effect?
  4. What are examples of businesses that are making a profit while addressing social and environmental problems?
  5. How would you change your business model or products to create social and ecological value?
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