Ex-attorney Erin Meezan has the dream job: giving her voice to Interface Inc as vice chairman 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 Staff, she’s a frequent lecturer on sustainable enterprise to skilled and scholar audiences all over the world — in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and round the USA and Europe.
We just lately spoke about what life as a CSO actually appears to be like like.
Shannon Houde: You could have everybody’s dream job. Between finishing your diploma at Vermont Legislation Faculty 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 might 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 below 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 should persuade my workforce right here that sustainability is vital; I have already got that buy-in. It’s not nirvana although. We’ve embraced sustainability and innovation however we’ve additionally embraced tremendous onerous challenges like reversing international warming.
Houde: What helpful classes did Ray train you?
Meezan: He actually 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 guide and realized that my firm has been doing all the pieces flawed… I would like your assist.” Ray taught me that there’s worth in going outdoors of the corporate to study, but additionally that telling tales can affect others. Be humble and inform your story — you by no means know who can be impressed.
The corporate guarded towards 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.
Now we have adopted formidable targets. We collaborate quite a bit internally. It’s nonetheless onerous work, nevertheless 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 below are a couple of 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 finest construct their abilities 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 might be enthusiastic about.
With the ability to clearly talk “what,” “why” and “how” an organization develops its targets and targets sounds actually primary, however with the ability to talk and acquire buy-in for these points, for instance, is important for fulfillment. Understanding methods to construct the enterprise case and acquire assist out of your colleagues is a skillset that have to be realized with expertise.
The secret is actually to get expertise working within the discipline, within the trade you wish to goal, inside enterprise. If you wish to be a CSO and pursue sustainability in enterprise, then you must perceive their enterprise.
Houde: I really like that. In case you’re not always evolving, you’re by no means going to suppose larger. How can we study from others?
Meezan: Completely. I’ve discovered that in our sustainable enterprise neighborhood individuals are extra beneficiant about sharing and growing others. For instance, after I learn “The Songs of Timber” by David George Haskil, I reached out to him on Twitter and we related. 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, want to tackle the problem of extra ladies being on boards. Feminine leaders discover it slightly tougher to be strategic about networking or getting introductions.
Houde: What have you ever seen change and evolve for ladies leaders through the years?
Meezan: I’m nonetheless within the technology of leaders the place I used to be the primary girl at Interface to get a parking spot; the primary C-suite feminine chief. However now we have now three ladies on the board, and in simply the final 5 years, issues are altering.
Houde: Discuss to me a few day within the lifetime of a CSO. The great, the dangerous, the ugly. Full transparency, please.
Meezan: This morning I had a 7 a.m. cross-functional international workforce name the place we mentioned how we should always clarify the mission of reversing international warming to our clients. Our workforce calls are a key operate 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 lots of inside celebrating for this superb milestone.
Then I had a webinar with Arizona State College, Volans, Carbon 180 and a pair different organizations about methods 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 immediately I’ve an inside dialogue about making use of a brand new methodology to our enterprise. This can be a day within the life.