An open letter to my former colleagues at Interface

[Editor's note: Jim Hartzfeld will be presenting a "One Great Idea" on "Human Tech" at the 2013 GreenBiz Forum in New York.]

I haven’t had a chance to connect with many of you since my departure to share my gratitude and a few thoughts. Thank you for an unexpected and extraordinary journey! 

Over 19 years ago, I joined you from a traditional marketing and sales job at a big, global chemical company, armed with a shiny new MBA, searching for more creative space. I had my career plan mapped out. Though originally trained as a chemical engineer, I never expected my next job would be leading an R&D group of a carpet tile company working on VOCs, mold and tuft bind.

R&D? Creative space? How did I get here?

Truly, the world works in strange and unexpected ways, whether you call it synchronicity or the hand of the creator. 

I had no idea of the vortex of Ray Anderson and sustainability that would soon burst into our lives, and the remarkable people I would come to cherish at Interface and beyond. (I would encourage you to read Joel Makower’s article on Why Aren’t There More Ray Andersons? for his insights into the man). I had no framework for the scale of aspiration, passion and heretical thinking that would emerge around this “Radical Industrialist.” I never considered that a job could change a person’s life other than providing the money to buy whatever they wanted. 

What Interface has accomplished since Ray’s epiphany can only be described as a series of miracles, at least as defined by the conventional thinking of the times. You made it happen. You made it real. As Ray often quoted Amory Lovins: “If it exists, it must be possible.” While the world has extolled Ray’s vision and Southern charisma, you made him credible. You showed that conservatives and liberals can love this living planet and work like hell together to protect it.

Next page: A troubling truth