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 Crew, she’s a frequent lecturer on sustainable enterprise to skilled and scholar audiences world wide — in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and round america and Europe.
We not too long ago spoke about what life as a CSO actually appears to be like like.
Shannon Houde: You’ve everybody’s dream job. Between finishing your diploma at Vermont Regulation 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 power 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 need to persuade my group right here that sustainability is essential; 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 useful classes did Ray train 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 every part flawed… I want 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 will probably be impressed.
The corporate guarded in opposition to dropping 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 unbelievable.
We have now adopted formidable objectives. We collaborate rather a lot internally. It’s nonetheless onerous 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 a number 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 unbelievable 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 individuals to not overly fear about mapping their path — simply get the expertise and training in one thing you’re keen about.
Having 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 crucial for fulfillment. Understanding how one can construct the enterprise case and achieve assist out of your colleagues is a skillset that have to be discovered with expertise.
The bottom line is actually to get expertise working within the area, within the business you need to goal, inside enterprise. If you wish to be a CSO and pursue sustainability in enterprise, then it’s a must to perceive their enterprise.
Houde: I like that. In case you’re not continually 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 Timber” by David George Haskil, I reached out to him on Twitter and we related. Don’t be shy about discovering the those 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 deal with the difficulty of extra ladies being on boards. Feminine leaders discover it just a little more durable to be strategic about networking or getting introductions.
Houde: What have you ever seen change and evolve for girls leaders through the years?
Meezan: I’m nonetheless within the era 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 now have three ladies on the board, and in simply the final 5 years, issues are altering.
Houde: Discuss to me a couple of day within the lifetime of a CSO. The nice, the dangerous, the ugly. Full transparency, please.
Meezan: This morning I had a 7 a.m. cross-functional international group name the place we mentioned how we must always clarify the mission of reversing international warming to our prospects. Our group calls are a key perform of working at a world firm.
Subsequent up, I had a video shoot as a result of we’re celebrating 25 years of sustainability at Interface. We’re doing loads of inner celebrating for this superb milestone.
Then I had a webinar with Arizona State College, Volans, Carbon 180 and a pair different organizations about how one can create the map to a brand new carbon financial system for enterprise. This can finally be a white paper in an effort to construct consciousness and encourage extra aggressive steps.
Lastly, later at the moment I’ve an inner dialogue about making use of a brand new methodology to our enterprise. This can be a day within the life.