Ask a CSO: What’s a day within the lifetime of Interface’s chief sustainability officer actually like?

Ex-attorney Erin Meezan has the dream job: giving her voice to Interface Inc as vp and chief sustainability officer. Over the previous 15 years, she has pursued an aggressive sustainability imaginative and prescient which has landed the corporate on the annual GlobeScan survey yearly. Along with managing Interface’s eco advisors, the Eco Dream Group, she’s a frequent lecturer on sustainable enterprise to skilled and scholar audiences around the globe — in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and round the USA and Europe.

We lately spoke about what life as a CSO actually seems like. 

Shannon Houde: You’ve got everybody’s dream job. Between finishing your diploma at Vermont Legislation College and your profession at Interface, what was your journey?   

Erin Meezan: I’ve now been with Interface for 15 years and I nonetheless really feel privileged to work right here; it does really feel like a dream job. I by no means may have envisioned this 25 years in the past. 

I initially moved to Georgia to be a lobbyist however discovered myself working within the state vitality workplace, however one factor led to a different and I landed at Interface, the place I discovered myself working underneath sustainability pioneer Ray Anderson after which the brand new CEO, Jay Gould. This can be a dream job as a result of I don’t need to persuade my workforce right here that sustainability is necessary; I have already got that buy-in. It’s not nirvana although. We’ve embraced sustainability and innovation however we’ve additionally embraced tremendous exhausting challenges like reversing world warming. 

Houde: What helpful classes did Ray educate you? 

Meezan: He really began the “attain out and study” tradition. He learn “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken after which he reached out to Paul and stated, “I simply learn your e book and realized that my firm has been doing the whole lot improper… I want your assist.” Ray taught me that there’s worth in going exterior of the corporate to study, but in addition that telling tales can affect others. Be humble and inform your story — you by no means know who will probably be impressed. 

The corporate guarded in opposition to shedding Ray’s imaginative and prescient, and we’ve not solely stayed true however have gone past it: To be a founder-led enterprise that has thrived even after the lack of that founder has been unimaginable. 

We’ve got adopted formidable objectives. We collaborate rather a lot internally. It’s nonetheless exhausting work, however it’s within the doing, not within the convincing. 

Houde: What different CEOs are main top-down like Ray did on this agenda? 

Meezan: Listed here are just a few examples which come to thoughts, the place the corporate’s management has made sustainability an all-encompassing information to the enterprise mannequin.  

Kim Jordan from New Belgium was an extremely sturdy chief in each the environmental and social agenda; a private hero of mine is Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia; Paul Polman actually steered the ship at Unilever; and Jesper Brodin is doing an unimaginable job at IKEA (PDF). 

Houde: What recommendation would you give to those that aspire to be a CSO? How can they greatest construct their expertise and place their private manufacturers?  

Meezan: I inform folks to not overly fear about mapping their path — simply get the expertise and schooling in one thing you’re obsessed with.

With the ability to clearly talk “what,” “why” and “how” an organization develops its objectives and targets sounds actually fundamental, however having the ability to talk and achieve buy-in for these points, for instance, is important for fulfillment. Understanding the best way to construct the enterprise case and achieve assist out of your colleagues is a skillset that have to be discovered with expertise.

The secret’s actually to get expertise working within the area, within the trade you wish to goal, inside enterprise. If you wish to be a CSO and pursue sustainability in enterprise, then it’s important to perceive their enterprise.    

Houde: I like that. In case you’re not always evolving, you’re by no means going to assume greater. How can we study from others?

Meezan: Completely. I’ve discovered that in our sustainable enterprise group persons are extra beneficiant about sharing and creating others. For instance, after I learn “The Songs of Bushes” by David George Haskil, I reached out to him on Twitter and we linked. Don’t be shy about discovering the people who encourage you — and make a private reference to them to study from them.   

In case you’re a feminine chief I’m going to double down on difficult you to do that. We aren’t nice at asking for assist for mentorship. I, personally, wish to deal with the difficulty of extra girls being on boards. Feminine leaders discover it just a little tougher to be strategic about networking or getting introductions.  

Houde: What have you ever seen change and evolve for girls leaders over time?   

Meezan: I’m nonetheless within the technology of leaders the place I used to be the primary lady at Interface to get a parking spot; the primary C-suite feminine chief. However now now we have three girls on the board, and in simply the final 5 years, issues are altering.  

Houde: Speak to me a few day within the lifetime of a CSO. The great, the unhealthy, the ugly. Full transparency, please.  

Meezan: This morning I had a 7 a.m. cross-functional world workforce name the place we mentioned how we must always clarify the mission of reversing world warming to our clients. Our workforce calls are a key perform of working at a worldwide firm.  

Subsequent up, I had a video shoot as a result of we’re celebrating 25 years of sustainability at Interface. We’re doing a number of inside celebrating for this wonderful milestone.  

Then I had a webinar with Arizona State College, Volans, Carbon 180 and a pair different organizations about the best way to create the map to a brand new carbon economic system for enterprise. This can ultimately be a white paper in an effort to construct consciousness and encourage extra aggressive steps. 

Lastly, later right now I’ve an inside dialogue about making use of a brand new methodology to our enterprise. This can be a day within the life.

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