Radical Industrialist and Sustainability Leader: Ray Anderson

Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface, Inc. a recognized leader in sustainable business, and a friend died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He was 77.

Ray was one of the most vocal proponents of environmentalism’s role in business. He founded Interface, a producer of free-lay carpet tiles, in 1973, and it grew to be a $1 billion company and the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpet.

Ray’s journey to become a radical industrialist and understand the role that business played with the planet began in 1994 in two parts, first when a short handwritten note was sent to him by Jim Hartzfeld. On it was this simple question: “Some customers want to know what Interface is doing for the environment. How should we answer?”  The second part, as he described, was pure serendipity,  a book The Ecology of Commerce, writtern by Paul Hawkens, arrived on his desk. When he finished reading the  story of St. Matthew’s Island, in the  book, he describs that moment as a spear in the chest. “It was an epiphany, a rude awakening, an eye-openingexperience, and the point of that story felt just like the point of a spear driven straight into my heart.” – Ray Anderson

I, myself, was amazed to learn just how much stuff the earth has to produce through our extraction process to produce a dollar of revenue for our company. When I learned, I was flabbergasted. We are leaving a terrible legacy of poison and diminishment of the environment for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, generations not yet born. Some people have called that intergeneration tyranny, a form of taxation without representation, levied by us on generations yet to be. It’s the wrong thing to do.-Ray Anderson

From that point on, Ray was on a mission. One in which InterfaceFLOR would be a leading, responsible business.

This lead to the development of the  Mission Zero ™  sustainability strategy, which aims to turn InterfaceFLOR into a zero-impact organization.  Ray often spoke about how climbing the sustainability mountain in business was akin to climbing Mount Everest and that there were seven paths to get there:

  • Eliminate Waste: Eliminating all forms of waste in every area of business;
  • Benign Emissions: Eliminating toxic substances from products, vehicles and facilities;
  • Renewable Electricity: Operating facilities with renewable electricity sources – solar, wind, landfill gas, biomass, geothermal, tidal and low impact/small scale hydroelectric or non-petroleum-based hydrogen;
  • Closing the Loop: Redesigning processes and products to close the technical loop using recovered and bio-based materials;
  • Resource-Efficient Transportation: Transporting people and products efficiently to reduce waste and emissions;
  • Sensitizing Stakeholders: Creating a culture that integrates sustainability principles and improves people’s lives and livelihoods;
  • Redesign Commerce: Creating a new business model that demonstrates and supports the value of sustainability-based commerce;

Ray left these tested and proven paths behind so that we can follow him up the sustainability mountain.

While we mourn his passing, we are all a little better off thanks to him, his efforts and his legacy.

Thank you Ray for your leadership, vision and mentoring.

You can hear Ray speak on the Business Logic of Sustainability here

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