Ray Anderson: The Power of One

The world suffered a great loss when Ray Anderson passed away last week.  Ray was far more than the founder and Chairman of Interface, a Georgia-based carpet company.   While not a household name, many know that his visionary leadership continues to transform business in and out of the carpet industry and has influenced our perspectives on how we live our lives.  Ray has said that it is the responsibility of leaders to “see around the bend.”  Many were concerned that he was “going around the bend” when, in 1994, he challenged the Interface management team to come up with ways to transform their fossil fuel, petro-chemical based carpet company into an industrial ecology leader – without sacrificing profits.    

Ray describes putting forth this challenge in his recent book “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist – Doing Business by Respecting the Earth.”   He told his team “We’re going to push the envelope until we no longer take anything the earth can’t easily renew.  We’re going to keep pushing until all our products are made from recycled or renewable materials and we’re not going to stop pushing until all our waste is biodegradable or recyclable, until nothing we make ends up as pollution.  No gases up a smokestack, not dirty water out a pipe, no piles of carpet scraps to the dump.  Nothing.”    Ray went on to say that it is up to business and industry to take the lead.  “It is people just like us.  Us.”  “Unless somebody leads, nobody will.  Why not us?”  Us.  That small word carries with it a great responsibility when linked to a formidable challenge.   

Interface is well on its way to achieve “Mission Zero” through the journey they call climbing “Mount Sustainability.”  Focusing on three key areas of Footprint Reduction, Product Innovation and Culture Change, the company has achieved remarkable success in lowering their use of resources, eliminating waste, enhancing efficiency, fostering innovation and attracting talent.  All of this has happened while increasing sales and profitability.  While Interface is living Ray’s vision, his efforts extended far beyond company operations.  He was a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and spent much of his time during the past decade speaking and teaching to raise awareness globally about the impact that business and industry have on our planet and the responsibility and opportunities we have to change.  Interface teaches each and every employee about “the power of one.”   As a critical part of their culture, each person is encouraged to tap into their own power to make a difference.  

In Ray’s inspirational presentation on Ted called the “Business Logic of Sustainability,” he closed with these words:  “We are, each and every one, a part of the web of life.  The continuum of humanity, sure, but in a larger sense, the web of life itself.  And we have a choice to make during our brief visit to this beautiful blue and green living planet.  To hurt it or to help it.  For you, it’s your call.” 

Ray showed us the power that one person can have.  What will you do with your power? 

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The world suffered a great loss when Ray Anderson passed away last week. Ray was far more than the founder and Chairman of Interface, a Georgia-based carpet company. While not a household name, many know that his visionary leadership continues to transform business in and out of the carpet industry and has influenced our perspectives on how we live our lives. Ray has said that it is the responsibility of leaders to “see around the bend.” Many were concerned that he was “going around the bend” when, in 1994, he challenged the Interface management team to come up with ways to transform their fossil fuel, petro-chemical based carpet company into an industrial ecology leader – without sacrificing profits.

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