It’s Official: We Have 100 Months to Change the Course of Business for the Greater GoodSep 15, 2021
In September 2021, a new coalition launched in Atlanta, dedicated to leveraging the power of business to create a socially and environmentally sustainable world.
By Nathan Havey
And So It Begins — Amid a Pandemic
The last person to withdraw contacted me as I was sitting on the plane, about to leave for Atlanta. A CEO who had been very excited about the opportunity to be a part of the launch of 100 Months to Change was looking at the path of Hurricane Ida and knew what it would mean for flight disruptions. School was starting for his kids later that week, and he couldn’t risk getting stuck somewhere and missing it. I told him I understood and respected his priorities. He wished me luck, and I hung up and put my phone into airplane mode as they closed the boarding door.
As we taxied to the runway, I thought of what had transpired over the last five months — the ambitious vision for 100 Months to Change, the scores of invites, the incredible people from all over the world who said they would love to be a part of it. And then, as COVID-19’s Delta variant surged in the Southeast US, a cascade of apologetic withdrawals came from people who couldn’t get into the country; who have young, unvaccinated kids at home; or who simply, and understandably, did not feel comfortable traveling into a COVID hotspot.
The engines roared, and I felt myself pushed back into my seat. The investment in the next two days was not small. I felt caught between the urgency facing our generation and what could be seen as the foolishness of pressing ahead under these conditions. There was nothing I could do about any of that now. The plane climbed into the sky and turned Southeast. I had to trust that the launch of 100 Months to Change would go just as it needed to.
The Room Where Change Happens
The next morning, I got to the hotel conference room early. I’d booked this specific room six months before. The hotel itself was unaware of what had begun there exactly 27 years prior. It was in this room, on August 31, 1994, that Ray Anderson first challenged the brand new Interface Environmental Task Force to make the carpet company — in one of the dirtiest industries — a restorative enterprise, one that not only “does no harm” to the environment but also leaves the planet in a better state than it was before. None of the 18 people who were there that morning knew that they would go on to show humanity a pathway to solve climate change, impacting global policy as well as business consciousness.
As our meeting began, there were 13 people in the room, and our ambition was similarly far-reaching. Jim Hartzfeld, the architect of that 1994 meeting, was in attendance, and we began with the scene from the film “Beyond Zero” that tells the story of what happened there 27 years ago. Jim expanded on the significance of what can be set in motion with just a small group of people. Then Amanda Kathryn Roman and I set the stage for the next two days.
The 13 people in the room all had tremendous and diverse experience in leveraging organizations to create a socially and environmentally sustainable world. Day 1 would seek to connect these people, many for the first time, and create a shared understanding of the proverbial cards everyone was holding. Amanda and I laid out the four keys to transforming an organization for the better, as well as the five domains that influence the default paradigm of business. We suggested that the theory of change could be distilled to three parts:
- Tip each of the five domains to reinforce an expanded scorecard for business.
- Build what is needed to help organizations perform on the expanded scorecard.
- Tell and popularize stories that will inspire businesspeople to lead the change.
A Network Can’t Work Until It “Nets”
Attending experts in aspects of each of the five domains shared the strategic opportunities they saw to tip the domain (more on that coming from them soon), and each person shared their background and passions.
The group learned about Kent Gregoire’s pioneering work within the Entrepreneurs Organization, Claire Angelle’s French diplomatic background and passion for communications, and Chandra Roxanne’s work at the London School of Economics and her interest in Venture Capital. We heard about Jim Hartzfeld’s new role leading sustainability for Brambles North America, Dr. Rhoda Deon’s lifelong affliction with a love of math and her passion for rural entrepreneurship. Rashmi Prasad discussed his efforts as the dean of a number of business schools to tip the domain of business education, and Tara Jenkins shared about her work in Portland, ME, to transform organizations in line with the Stakeholder Score.
Erin Meezan shared her wisdom from a career leading Interface to ever-higher levels of sustainability and regeneration, while Amanda Connley Ayres informed the group about her efforts at the Institute for Corporate Transformation to continually refine their flagship training program to help people transform their organizations. Andrés Cerda came all the way from Colombia to discuss his work on sustainable development in the Global South, and Kahlilah “KO” Olokunola delivered insights on how she created a best-in-the-world (my words, not hers) approach to creating a workplace culture that makes the impossible possible at Tru Colors.
The conversation continued over lunch. These co-founders began to understand each other and what might be possible for the group. As Ray Anderson used to say, a network can’t work until it “nets.”
I left the hotel feeling both inspired and unsettled. It was such an amazing group of people, all of whom have incredible demands on their time and are committed to using it not only to lead the change through business but to also be present for their families and personal lives.. Were they disappointed with the turnout? Were they frustrated with the content of the day? Was this worth their valuable time?
That evening, the group reconvened at the Landmark Art Cinema in Midtown for the first-ever public in-person screening of “Beyond Zero.” Early on, we’d booked the 350-person theater, confident that we could pack the house. But as the Delta variant spiked, we dramatically scaled back our invite list, and so did our partners. That didn’t stop us from setting up a red carpet (made of Interface carpet tiles, naturally) and a step-and-repeat for a film premiere photo opportunity.
As the lights dimmed, there were 67 people in the theatre. My wife Cari sat next to me and squeezed my hand as the huge roll of carpet that opens the film appeared on the screen. She knew that, though the world festival premiere had happened nearly a year before, I had never seen the film in a theatre and with other people before. As “Beyond Zero” is my first film, she knew that this was a very special moment for me.
Sitting in the darkness, I was still unsettled. This was not what I had pictured. My vision for this moment had been a packed house, full of energy and anticipation, including lots of media and other business leaders who would see the film, be inspired, and begin the work of leading the change in their organizations the very next day. I tried to bring myself back to the present as the audience laughed in a place I hoped they would.
Watching the film on screen, I thought also about all of the moments from the journey that are on the cutting room floor. The quote confiding that shortly before his death, Ray Anderson had been on the edge of hopelessness as he watched his company get better while the global life support system got worse. He didn’t live to see the Paris Accord, the announcements from Larry Fink and the Business Roundtable, and the current stampede of carbon neutrality commitments for companies all over the world. And yet, he played a huge role in creating the conditions for all of it.
Cari and I sat near the front of the theater. I resisted looking back to see if anyone was on their phone. It was silent — no hushed cross talk, a good sign. So what if this event didn’t match my mental picture. It was happening, and it was what it was. And what it was was a beginning. It was the product of our best effort given the circumstances, and that is exactly what we need from everyone for the rest of the decade.
The film ended and the lights came up. I walked to the front of the room and announced publicly for the first time the 100 Months to Change Coalition. I asked the co-founders to stand, and the crowd applauded. I invited the three characters in the film who were in attendance at the screening — Erin Meezan, Jim Hartzfeld, and Connie Henzler — to join me at the front of the auditorium for a deeper dive into how an organization can transform. We ended the evening by inviting everyone in attendance to lead the change in their own organization, and reminding them that at the stroke of midnight, there would be 100 Months to Change.
The next day, the co-founders gathered at the Russell Center, thanks to our relationship with the Atlanta culture creator Courtney Counts who, along with his wife Shakila, joined the group for the second day. Amanda Kathryn Roman opened the conversation asking for a reflection from each person on what opportunity we each saw for ourselves to advance our own work and passions in a way that would advance the 100 Months to Change mission.
There were many ideas and a good deal of enthusiasm for the work, but something was still missing for me. At a break, Amanda and I discussed what needed to happen next. I suggested asking folks what, if anything, they would need to feel satisfied with their investment of time and energy in being a part of the event. I listened keenly for signs of dissatisfaction as we went around the table. But people said they had gotten what they came for. I was debating whether to press the issue any further when Amanda said from the opposite side of the table, “Nathan, I can see on your face that you have something to say. Do you want to say it?”
In that moment, I realized that I was the one who had not gotten what I’d come for, and that I did need something more to feel satisfied. I smiled and thanked Amanda for being such a great teammate, and took a breath, preparing to say something that felt risky. “We want to distinguish this Coalition,” I said, “by its focus on action, and not just words. We have 100 months starting right now and each one of them is precious. I need to leave here knowing what we are all going to do this month, or for the next several months to lead the change.”
As I said it, I realized that this was a kind of moment of truth. The whole idea for 100 Months to Change is that no one can lead a global coalition that can rise to meet the challenges our generation faces. We all have to. These two days were an experiment to see if we could introduce changemakers to each other inside of an expansive theory of change and have them grab hold of whatever pieces they could do together — and to take action on it. If we could do that, then 100 Months to Change had a chance to cultivate a socially and environmentally sustainable world, a world that works for everyone. If not, well, I don’t know what.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but the group agreed that it needed time to discuss ideas with each other in small groups and then each person would make a declaration for action they would take in the near future. Groups formed immediately. Pops of insight could be heard as conversations refined into commitments and possibilities became promises.
And so it was that the 100 Months to Change Coalition officially began — with a new group of fast friends and a few pages of ambitious work to be completed as quickly as we can, understanding that 100 months is a long game, and that in order to play it, we all have to give our best effort given the circumstances, month after month. Because there are only 100 Months to Change.
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