Thinking beyond Sustainability
Tipu Ake to Kaitiakitanga
A presentaion by Andree Mathieu a physicist,
researcher, thinker and writer from Quebec, to the
NZ Association of Accountants ACANZ Sustainability
Group meeting 10th March 2004.
For many people, sustainability translates into being
“environmentally friendly”, but it is
broader than that. Understanding and adopting sustainable
business practices requires a new awareness of the
world: the whole world, its natural systems and all
of its species. It requires a deeper understanding
of how the Earth works, how man’s processes
affect nature’s delicate balance and how our
actions will ultimately affect our children and the
children of all species.
Interface Inc. is the world’s leading commercial
carpet and interior fabrics manufacturer.
For Interface and the Forum for the Future, sustainability
“A dynamic process which enables
all people to realize their potential and to improve
their quality of life in ways that simultaneously
protect and enhance the Earth’s life support
Interface strives to become a restorative enterprise
“putting back more than it takes and doing good
to Earth – not just no harm – by helping
or influencing others to reach towards sustainability”.
To do this, they need a compass to guide them through
their journey and to help them understand how everything
they do, everything they take, everything they make
and everything they waste affect nature’s balance.
The Natural Step: a compass to guide us in our journey
The Natural Step is an international non-profit advisory
and research organization working to accelerate global
sustainability. It was started in 1989 under the leadership
of the Swedish cancer physician Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt.
In the course of his review of literature pertaining
to health-related effects of environmental contamination,
Dr. Robèrt became aware that effective action
on environmental problems was being held back by endless
disagreement over details. This insight convince him
that what was needed was a way to address environmental
issues as an entire system rather than as a series
of disparate symptoms. As a cellular biologist, Robèrt
knew that certain fundamental requirements must be
met if a cell is to survive; similarly, he hoped that
the scientific community in Sweden could reach consensus
on the fundamental conditions for a sustainable relationship
between human society and the rest of nature. Towards
that end, Robèrt facilitated a consensus process
that resulted in many of Sweden’s leading scientists
agreeing on the essential scientific principle that
define the basic requisites for life on this planet.
Out of these scientific principles derived four statements
of eminent common sense that together form a unique
and easily understood compass towards a sustainable
For The Natural Step, sustainability is fundamentally
about maintaining human life on the planet and, thus,
meeting human needs worldwide is an essential element
of creating a sustainable society.
The other three principles focus on interactions
between humans and the planet. They are based on science
and supported by the analyses that ecosystem functions
and processes are altered when:
· Society mines and disperses materials at
a faster rate than they are re-deposited back into
the Earth’s crust (examples of these materials
are oil, coal and metals such as mercury and lead);
· Society produces substances faster than
they can be broken down by natural processes, if
they can be broken down at all (examples of such
substances include dioxins, DDT and PCBs); and
· Society depletes or degrades resources
at a faster rate than they are replenished (for
example, over-harvesting trees or fishes), or by
other forms of ecosystem manipulation (for example,
paving over fertile land or causing soil erosion).
Then, The Natural Step’s sustainability principles,
also known as the “minimum conditions”
that must be met in order to have a sustainable society,
are as follows:
In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to
1. concentrations of substances extracted from the
2. concentrations of substances produced by society;
3. degradation by physical means; and, in that society…
4. human needs are met worldwide.
Backcasting: how to stay focused on the desired
The most common way of planning for the future, in
most environmental programs, is to review the present
state, starting with a list of negative impacts in
nature that have already been discovered, and then
try to remedy these problems in the future. We call
this forecasting. With a pressing need for fundamental
change and a high level of complexity, this planning
technique has many disadvantages. Perhaps its most
crucial flaw is that whatever seems important in the
present comes to define the future. Incremental changes
of an old system can sometimes be counterproductive,
even if they are to reduce today’s impact in
nature, and it can also lock up resources.
The TNS Framework is based upon a method known as
backcasting – looking at the current situation
from a future perspective. Initially, you envisage
a successful result in the sustainable future scenario;
then you ask: “What can we do today to reach
that result?” Using backcasting, in line with
the minimum conditions, allows you to make sure that
your actions and strategy are taking you in the direction
that you wish to head and that they align with your
The TNS Framework is applied in four major steps:
A. Building common awareness and understanding
while discussing the TNS principles among all participants
and align behind the sustainability objectives;
Interface engaged key players in
the global environmental effort to help them prioritise
challenges and opportunities, resulting in the creation
of a dynamic advisory team.
They implemented QUEST (Quality
Using Employee Suggestions and Teamwork), a worldwide
initiative focused on identifying, measuring and
eliminating waste at a local scale, and sharing
the knowledge for global application and results.
They held a “Greening the
Supply Chain” conference where suppliers’
technical personnel were exposed to Ray Anderson’s
vision of sustainability and were asked to join
him on Interface’s journey. They were asked
to build new partnerships with Interface by creating
innovative ways of supplying her with environmentally
They held their first ever World
Meeting, designed to bring together the diverse
international businesses of Interface and to create
a shared understanding of sustainability. They brought
together global associates from 34 countries on
6 continents and created important connectivity
to prepare them for their journey.
They created the Interface Sustainability
Report, the first publication of its kind. Although
there are many corporate environmental reports,
as far as we know, this was the first corporate
sustainability report and the web site is the follow-up
to that first report.
B. Conducting a baseline assessment (major
flows and impacts):
What does your organisation look like today?
Where you are.
C. Creating a vision:
What does your organisation look like in a sustainable
Where you want to be
Interface is committed to shifting from linear industrial
processes (take – make – (downcycle) –
waste) to cyclical ones.
List all measures, wether or not they are realistic
in the short term;
What would need to be in place there (outcomes)?
D. Advising and supporting the execution
of specific initiatives (projects, outputs)
by providing appropriate training, techniques and
tools for implementation
Followed by measuring progress (indicators) towards
goals and suggesting modifications as needed. How
we will know we are close.
At the core of Interface’s sustainability efforts
is a measurement system developed by IRC (R&D
branch) that enables them to understand their impact
and change their behaviour. Each Interface business
unit monitors its monthly material and energy flows
on an EcoMetrics scorecard. At the facility
level, the metrics are very specific and detailed
(outputs). But at the corporate level,
these numbers are used as indicators that help to
answer the question “Is Interface making progress
in its quest to achieve its sustainable future scenario?”
They have shared their model, set of goals and metric
systems with countless other companies and organisations
like certifying organisations, evaluating organisations,
standard setting organisations or environment management
systems (ISO 14001), testing protocols, rating systems
(LEED), performance tracking and reporting organisations.
Sustainability through courageous innovation -
Our credibility has been formed through the eyes of
“A kumara never calls itself sweet, that's
for the eaters to say”
A Maori proverb often heard at Te Whaiti
Interface prides itself not only in sustaining the
company, but also in sustaining jobs and families.
Interface actively seeks ways to incorporate more
family time into employee's schedules, as well as
ways to transfer the company's ideas and knowledge
about sustainability into people's everyday lives.
The social elements of sustainability at Interface
Inc. are vast, and cover many aspects of business
operations from employees, suppliers, investors, stakeholders
and customers to the communities where her facilities
are located. Interface Research Corporation (IRC)
has begun to focus on organizing, understanding and
measuring their continual growth in social sustainability.
Measuring the social impacts of sustainability at
a company includes both quantitative and qualitative
measurement. To be most effective, there must be a
unified process of pulling together this information.
Interface has developed a set of “soft”
dialogue processes with different stakeholder groups
and a set of “hard” internal measurements
to help them understand where they need to target
their improvements. The latter are called SocioMetrics
and use a consensus-based process. This global effort
will allow all of Interface's business units to share,
learn, develop, improve and coordinate practices,
programs and initiatives surrounding social sustainability
throughout the company.
With The Natural Step providing a compass to steer
a company in the direction of sustainability, a company's
management system can move from a focus on compliance
and incremental improvement to a focus on creating
a better bottom line and a sustainable, or even restorative,
economy. Together, they form an excellent pair of
planning and implementation tools for business. Moreover,
from a strategic point of view, backcasting allows
you to deal with the complexity of today's world in
a far more effective manner than forecasting. It allows
you to create solutions that focus on the outcomes
you desire rather than trying to tackle the myriad
problems. In short, it allows environmental and social
problems to be turned from a potential major liability
into a potential major opportunity.
The philosophy of Tipu Ake ki te Ora and
The skills required to turn a potential liability
into a potential opportunity: focus on the general
outcomes instead of just the measurable outsets, backcasting
from a future perspective, shared knowledge and experience,
shared leadership, are what attracted me to New Zealand.
When I was introduced to the Tipu
Ake Project Leadership Model for Innovative Organisations,
I could not help but notice the similarities in the
mindset of the Maoris at Te Whaiti and that of Interface
and The Natural Step.
Tipu Ake ki te Ora (growing from within ever
upwards towards wellbeing) is a Lifecycle. Let
us summarize how the Interface's transformation relates
to the Tipu Ake model.
Ray C. Anderson was sent to the undercurrents when
he was asked to speak about Interface's environmental
policy and found out that it was to comply with the
laws. It set “action stations” in the
company and that's when they made their “mid-course”
1 Leadership: Ray Anderson is a courageous
“bird”. He took the seed of “becoming
a sustainable industrial enterprise” and gathered
together a team of key players in the global environmental
effort to share their knowledge and draw Interface
a route towards sustainability.
implemented a project called QUEST implying all the
Interface employees worldwide in a zero-waste initiative.
They held a conference where suppliers' technical
personnel were asked to join Interface on her journey
and create innovative ways of supplying her with environmentally
and socially conscious products. They held a world
meeting to create a shared understanding of sustainability
amongst the diverse international businesses of Interface.
They created the Interface Sustainability Report to
share their journey with all their stakeholders (clients,
communities, etc.) including their competitors.
Interface is redesigning
her products and processes to epitomize her vision.
It includes “closing the loop” or “cradle
to cradle” design and “biomimicry”,
using Nature as the ultimate teacher.
Interface created her
own measurement system to continually monitor her
progress towards the realization of her vision. They
also seek the evaluation of several global organisations
(ISO, GRI, PEE, etc) and put all the results into
perspective to check if their behaviour is leading
them in the right direction. The measurement is both
quantitative and qualitative: it includes “hard”
internal indicators but also “soft” dialogue
processes that allow a sensibility check over the
process level. In the language of Tipu Ake, that sensitivity
“hook-up” is “a wisdom-based gathering
of information that focuses on building a collective
view from all individual perceptions”.
In her journey towards
social and environmental sustainability, Interface
is growing a collective “intellectual capital”
that is much more than just knowledge. It is the integration
of all the diverse learnings, reflections, experiences,
sharing, emotions and beliefs gathered through the
This level is about
“meaning”. It is what drove the people
in Te Whaiti when they transformed their school. It
is what is still driving them in their Kaitiakitanga
to transfer to the children of Te Whaiti
the responsibility to treasure the Whirinaki forest
and their culture. It is related to the holistic Maori
concept of Ora and the philosophy of Kaitiakitanga.
I came in New Zealand to go further into the worldview
that sustains these concepts and to write about it.
It is a similar mindset that lies behind the efforts
that Interface puts into pursuing her vision for the
sake of all the children present and future.
This reflection is Andrée Mathieu’s
koha (gift in return) to the Maori people of Aotearoa
and in particular the Ngati Whare and other people
of Whirinaki, Te Urewera who have shared much with
her. She has assigned the copyright of this work to
their home, the place Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi, the sacred
store place of their ancestral wisdom for around 1000
years. Here it will be safe guarded and freely shared
for the benefit of all the world's future grandchildrens.
With the permission of the author and inclusion of
the copyright statement it can be freely published.
The Tipu Ake Lifecycle - A leadership model for
innovative organisations. (c) 2001/2 Te Whaiti
Nui-a-Toi, see www.tipuake.org.nz In the knowledge
sharing tradition of Toi the Tipu Ake Lifecycle is
in shared with the world to be used for the wellbeing
of its future chldren. In return a koha (gift you
can afford based on its value to you) to help further
voluntary education and community development in the
valley and beyond is appreciated.