Thank You and Farewell to Ray Anderson

Posted by: Sara on Thursday, August 18, 2011.


Like so many, I was saddened to hear that Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface Carpets and giant of Sustainability died last week at the young age of 77. Many wonderful tributes have been shared about Ray’s life. I want to add mine.

Thank you Ray. You touched my heart deeply.

I first learned of Ray through an article that Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael wrote in the early 90s. Quinn described this industrialist who “got” sustainability. At the time I was working with Fortune 500 companies who for sure did not get sustainability. Who was this guy? Soon after I had the privilege of meeting Ray when he and several of his reports at Interface came to the first 3-day course Joe and I offered on sustainable business. For me it was love on first sight. Here was this bright faced, warm, southern gentleman, with a twinkle in his eye and – his southern accent deceiving this Yankee – a radical view on corporate responsibility towards the Earth. He spoke about the “Spear in his chest” he’d felt when he read Paul Hawken’s Ecology of Commerce and realized that, by extracting petroleum from the Earth to make carpets that grow land fills, he was one of the great corporate offenders. He did a 180 -- changed his life, his mission, his actions, his company’s purpose and products. Ray was a road warrior too – prophet like -- giving over 1,000 impassioned speeches challenging us all to rise to the call of sustainability action.

When Joe and I had the idea to create a sustainability consortium of large companies at SoL in 1998 we first turned to Ray. Would he make an invitation to his fellow CEOs to attend a Forum on business sustainability? Ray responded with his characteristic grace, “I'm happy and honored to do that.” This was the precursor to the SoL Sustainability Consortium, our work with many wonderful colleagues over the next decade that supported and challenged visionary leaders at companies like Nike, Shell, Ford, World Bank and more. If not for Ray this simply would not have happened.

When other corporate leaders complained that the market, the customers, Wall Street wouldn’t let them do “it” – it being anything substantive and visionary regarding business sustainability, Ray countered with his radical vision for and concrete actions at his company. Interface would never take another drop of Oil from the Earth’s crust. They would have zero of their carpets end up in the land fill. They would remove all toxins from their manufacturing processes. Shoot for the Moon, shoot for the Sun, that was Ray. And because he was the CEO of a billion dollar company, we believed him. He was credible. He inspired. Thousands followed his lead.

I spoke with Tony Cortese yesterday, President of Second Nature, a lion in the field of sustainability himself. Among many other connections, Tony and Ray served together on the board of The Natural Step US. Tony had attended Ray’s funeral and was deeply moved. Tony said, “Many of Ray's ‘Dream Team’ were there – Janine Benyus, Paul Hawken, others. We all agreed; the best way we can honor Ray’s legacy is to redouble our efforts to accomplish his vision of a sustainable world.”

I’m on it Ray.

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