Joyce LaValle: Placing a Book Changed Business Forever

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Joyce LaValle: Placing a Book Changed Business Forever

With much-needed help from friends… I was finally able to track down an amazing interview about an inspiring chain of events that led to Ray Anderson’s famous “spear in the chest” awakening.  An  experience that led him to challenge his company to reach Mission Zero by 2020. And an experience that was made possible by the passion and persistence of people just like you.


If you have never heard Ray speak, here is a quick clip in his own words.

Joyce LaValle was regional vice president for Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii in 1994… when Ray had his epiphany after reading Paul Hawken’s book, Ecology of Commerce.

I caught up with Joyce on her cell phone as she drove through the mountains of Washington state.  Her story was fascinating!  (I apologize for the connection at times.)

For the Love of a Daughter

If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen (6 min) by clicking Joyce LaValle_Ecology of Commerce

  • Before telling her own story, Joyce makes it clear how important another story was… that of her daughter, Melissa
  • “As parents, what our children think of us is such an incredibly important piece of who we are.”
  • She explains how Melissa sent the book, Ecology of Commerce, to her and how she saw and felt the accountability Melissa was hoping for.
  • That combination of concrete sharing and emotional connection helped Joyce be bold enough to try to reach several bureaucratic layers above her own position to the CEO, Ray Anderson.
  • She explains how she a senior vice president (who “didn’t have a clue what I was doing”) to explicitly place the book “exactly where he had to round the corner of his desk to sit in his chair.”
  • “I didn’t know if and what effect it might have.  I did not know that.”
  • Learn how nothing helps business influence like a potential client asking environmentally intelligent questions!  And why she needed Ray to understand the material in the book.
  • “I knew Ray to be an extraordinarily ethical person… and I knew that if he read it and really took it in, that I didn’t think that he would be blase about it.  I thought he might disagree with some of its tenants, but then I knew that he would at least talk about it.”

Ray’s Resulting Legacy

If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen (6 min) by clicking Joyce LaValle_Creating a Legacy

  • What came to pass was: 1) he read the book, and 2) he was (from the moment he read it) profoundly moved… “spear in the chest” is possibly an understatement… he was shaken to his core.
  • Ray was bright enough and willing to listen.  And he completely “got” that this company he had built… he had built it on the wrong platform, with the wrong design principles.
  • Joyce explains why that particular time in his life had Ray take the book very seriously.
  • “I feel over the top grateful that it played out the way it did… It created and energy and an excitement and a workplace satisfaction and an introduction to the world of the environment for all of us at Interface.”
  • Ray’s epiphany was every single person’s epiphany at Interface — a gift of true serendipity, a synchronicity kind of moment.
  • Ray went on a reading frenzy.  You learn what his next book was in the staggering library he created.
  • “Whatever I dreamt at that moment could happen, it only happened 10 fold…  It’s hard to even describe the exhilaration, and what it did for hundred and hundreds and hundreds of people.”
  • At the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Joyce meets young people (like me) constantly whose minds and hearts have been touched and inspired by Ray’s legacy.
  • Joyce discusses how Ray felt about his legacy in the end.

 Take a Chance on Something Big

If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen (6 min) by clicking Joyce LaValle_Take a Chance On Something Big

  • Joyce still wasn’t sure if her daughter, Melissa’s, truly grasps what an effect she had.
  • Hundreds of people read Paul Hawken’s book… but it’s what Ray did with the book that was important.  She attributes it all to Ray.  He knew if he was going to create a new model, he was going to need all the help in the world.
  • “Here he was, a captain of industry, and he was like a small boy again.”
  • There are many people who feel they are not in a position of authority to make the kind of change Ray did with his company.
  • Joyce counters, “People should never underestimate that one small move on their part has a ripple effect.  Just take a risk on one thing… It just is amazing what COULD happen.”
  • Joyce and Diane Dillon-Ridgley (on the board of Interface) started the non-profit Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future because they know, “You can never stop talking about it, and you never know where it might have an effect.”
  • I ask Joyce if she thinks Melissa would do an interview!  And… she agrees that it’s a great idea 🙂

 Our Responsibility to Share

If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen (3 min) by clicking Joyce LaValle_Responsibility to Share

  • Joyce talk about whether she thinks Melissa was proud of her… and explains why she finally moved halfway across the country.
  • She explains the “mutual admiration society.”
  • We all have a responsibility to keep going… because there are an awful lot of people who haven’t had the luxury of Ray’s message.
  • Her advice, “We need also to spread the word farther than just talking to one another, but to really talk to others who aren’t in a mindset that we are.”



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

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