Q. I've read Ishmael and The Story of B,
and I like what I see in these books, but I'm left wondering what
A. Do you think of yourself as an activist?
Q. Not exactly. I guess I'd like to know what I'd
do if I WERE an activist.
A. All right. Let me outline a problem of the sort
that activists know how to attack. Here's an ordinary sort of
industry that needs to be turned around so as to be less detrimental
to life on earth. It's the carpet tile industry, which supplies
the floor-covering of choice for most modern commercial buildings -- hotels,
office buildings, hospitals, airports, convention centers, shopping
malls, and so on. Do you know anything about this business?
Q. Not a thing.
A. Well, to begin with, this kind of carpet isn't
made from wool or cotton or silk, for obvious reasons. It's all
manmade -- and it's heavily petroleum-based. Right off the bat,
this is fundamentally unhealthy -- pollutive and reliant on a nonrenewable
A. The process is more than ordinarily wasteful of
resources, if only because carpet has such a short life span.
Do you see why this is so?
Q. I think so. Wood floor covering is obviously less
wasteful, because it lasts much longer.
A. Exactly. Now, to make matters worse, worn out
carpet can't be compressed to take up less room, so it makes an
enormous contribution to landfill.
Q. I understand.
A. Now, thinking like an activist, what would you
DO to turn this industry around? What would you do to put an end
to its dependence on petroleum, its wastefulness, its contribution
Q. I take it that there are things like industry
standards and regulations that apply to all of this stuff.
A. Yes. Regulations are in place, but they're written
by people who understand the realities of the situation. Manmade
carpet is what it is. It's heavily dependent on petroleum, is
more than usually wasteful of resources, and contributes heavily
to landfill. The regulations regulate these things, they don't
Q. Okay. But you seem to be saying that the problem
A. No. Look, the automakers had to be FORCED to solve
safety problems that they said were unsolvable. They ultimately
DID solve them, but they had to be forced to do it. How was the
forcing done? That's what we're looking for here. How are we going
to force these carpet makers to do what's right?
Q. I see what you mean. We have to pass new laws.
A. Now we've got something for people to DO, don't
Q. How do you mean?
A. Look, just the way the automakers had to be forced
into line, congress had to be forced to pass the laws that brought
them into line.
A. So how do we force congress to pass the laws that
will force the carpet makers into line?
Q. That's a big job.
A. You bet it is. Plenty of work for folks who want
to DO something. But what is that work?
Q. Well, I suppose first you've got to get people
stirred up about it.
A. That would certainly help, yes. Get some exposés
out there in print and on television.
Q. I suppose we'd need to get some consumer advocate
A. What would their job be?
Q. They'd agitate to get some legislation going in
congress. Maybe start with public hearings or something.
A. What are the carpet makers going to be doing while
this is going on?
Q. Oh, right. They're going to be mounting a big
public campaign telling their side of the story. And of course
they'd activate their own lobbying group.
A. How long has all this taken up to this point?
Q. I suppose about five years.
A. Go on. You've got the two lobbying giants butting
heads in the halls of congress. How do we get ordinary citizens
involved in this? That's what we're looking for here. People are
saying, "Yes, we know it's important to change minds, but
what should we DO?"
Q. Well, the consumer advocates are going to want
to organize public support for their position. They're going to
put out the word: "Write to congress and the President and
demand action on this bill."
A. Right. And then what happens?
Q. Well, the lobbyists are going to fight it out
and finally a bill is going to get written.
A. And what's it going to say?
Q. All the things you talked about eliminate petroleum,
cut down on waste, figure out a way to cut down on contribution
A. And what are the carpet makers going to say about
Q. Impossible, can't be done.
A. And how will the lawmakers respond? They can't
make people do the impossible.
Q. I don't know. Part of my problem is that I don't
know whether these things are possible or not.
A. What did congress do when automakers said, "Oh,
you can't make a bumper that will withstand a 15-mile-an-hour
collision"? How did they respond to that?
Q. I see what you mean. They gave them a deadline.
Do it in five years or else.
A. So they'll give the carpet makers a deadline.
Let's say five years. Then what? What happens at the end of five
Q. They get an extension. Three years.
A. So this whole process ends up taking what, fifteen
or twenty years? And after that you have the whole policing problem
to solve, and the law may be put in abeyance while it's tested
in the courts a few times. And you know that, realistically speaking,
congress would never actually pass a law as extreme as this.
Q. Yes, that's true.
A. But what do you think of this as an example of
"what to do"? Is this what people are thinking of when
they say, "Yes, changing minds is all well and good, but
what should we DO?"?
Q. I guess so.
A. Is this what YOU meant?
Q. Yeah, I guess so.
A. Is it or isn't it? We mobilized hundreds of thousands
of people, gave them something to do, spent millions of dollars,
and after fifteen or twenty years passed a law that will transform
the carpet-tile industry. If that isn't the sort of thing you
had in mind, please let me know.
Q. No, that's what I had in mind.
A. Okay. Now I'll tell you something you couldn't
know. This industry is already being transformed-and it didn't
take fifteen or twenty years or millions of dollars. Not a single
consumer advocate group was involved, nobody had to lobby congress,
and not a single law got passed. Would you like to know how it
A. Two years ago the CEO of the Interface Corporation -- the
industry leader in the carpet-tile business -- read two books.
One was Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce and the other
was Ishmael. Up to that time, this CEO, a man named Ray
Anderson, had made it his business to be in full compliance with
all relevant regulations. But when he read these two books, he
saw that being merely in compliance is not nearly enough. He made
up his mind to do three things: first, to eliminate petroleum
from his carpeting, second, to develop carpeting that can be 100%
recycled -- into materials from which all his new carpeting could
be made, and third, to encourage his customers to think differently
about their floor covering needs. Instead of buying carpet and
discarding it when it's no longer serviceable, he will lease them
carpet. When it's no longer serviceable, he'll take it back to
be recycled totally and replace it with carpeting made from totally
recycled materials. These are goals he intends to reach before
the end of the century. What they add up to is creating a truly
sustainable business, offering recyclable products made entirely
from recycled materials -- zero waste and zero contribution to
landfill. So successful has Ray Anderson been in pursuing these
goals that he has -- in two years flat -- become recognized as a
world leader in the development of sustainable industry. Not only
has he set new goals for himself, he has inspired others to set
new goals -- and, incidentally, forced his competitors to set new
goals in order to remain competitive. Thus he's well on his way
to transforming an entire industry -- all because two books changed
Q. Very impressive.
A. It's important to see that Ray Anderson has totally
left the regulations behind. Regulations would NEVER have mandated
the changes he's making -- and they never will. It will NEVER be
an article of law to run your business the way Ray Anderson is
running his. And no law could ever force his competitors to follow
his lead. Only their need to remain competitive could accomplish
Q. Yes, I see that.
A. What's most important to see is that changing
minds is definitely not a sort of feeble alternative to "doing
something." It's not just something you do when you can't
manage to actually "do" something. There is, in fact,
nothing you can do that is more effective than changing minds.
Q. Yes . . . but changing Ray Anderson's mind was
something YOU did. You and Paul Hawken. What are WE supposed to
A. You're missing the point. Neither I nor Paul Hawken
was within a thousand miles of Ray Anderson when he changed his
mind. Someone ELSE got to him -- a friend, a colleague, a reviewer.
Maybe it was an old classmate. Maybe it was one of his children.
I have no idea who it was, but it wasn't me and it wasn't Paul
Hawken. Someone handed him a book and said, "Ray, you've
got to read this." This person accomplished more in one minute
than a troop of consumer advocates, ten thousand of their supporters,
and the U.S. congress could have accomplished in a decade.
Q. But now you're saying that there's nothing for
us to do but give away copies of your books.
A. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that the
world will not be saved by old minds with new programs. If it's
saved, it will be saved by new minds with no programs at all.
I don't care what tools you use to change minds. The Ecology
of Commerce is a good tool. Ishmael is a good tool.
The Story of B is a good tool. Jean Liedloff's The Continuum
Concept is a good tool. Use any of them or all of them -- or none
of them. The tools themselves aren't important and neither are
the tool makers. Uru the Awakener can't save the world, because
he can only awaken a few hundred. But those hundreds can awaken
thousands, and those thousands can awaken millions, and those
millions can awaken billions.
And that's how the world is going to be saved. Each
of us must become an agent of change within the range of our own
influence, and it doesn't matter how great that range is. If you
can't reach a hundred (Ishmael's suggested number), then reach
ten, and if you can't reach ten, then reach one, because you never
know -- that one may reach a million!