When Ray Anderson, founder and CEO of Interface, Inc., asked Dianne Dillon-Ridgley to join the modular-carpet manufacturer’s board of directors, he phrased the question like this: “Will you come help me change the world?”
Choosing Dillon-Ridgley was easy, given that she’s been a leader in sustainability for three decades, if not her entire life. “Asking me when I developed a passion for sustainability assumes there was a shift or change; I’ve always been like this,” says Dillon-Ridgley, who began her career as a student intern for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its earliest days and has been on a multidisciplinary journey ever since.
Among other positions, she has served as a board member for Green Mountain Energy; a founding chair emeritus for Plains Justice, an environmental law center; and the head of the Iowa Association of Human Rights Agencies. She has also been appointed to numerous United Nations delegations, including the US delegation for the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session in 1997, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa in 1992, making her the only person to serve on all three US delegations.
She has served on Interface’s board since 1997. “Ray thought Interface could change not just the carpet industry but the building and manufacturing worlds, too,” says Dillon-Ridgley, recalling a speech of Anderson’s. “He would ask members of the audience to close their eyes and picture themselves somewhere peaceful or desirable, and when they opened their eyes, he would ask, ‘How many of you are outside?’” Without fail, 90–95 percent of the time, people were outside.
“I really believe, as humans, we are hard-wired to be in nature, so our buildings need to be beautiful and functional in ways that make us feel like we are in nature, whether we’re in the heart of Iowa or the heart of Manhattan,” Dillon-Ridgley says.
One thing that needs to change in order to make that happen is the way we look at building costs. As Dillon-Ridgley sees it, we need to do more to distinguish costs at purchase from the costs of use and performance over the lifetime of a building. “Changing the way we make financial comparisons will help us make better choices that have a positive impact on the environment,” she says. “Ultimately, the word ‘sustainability’ will fall away because it will just be the norm—the way things are done.”