Ray Anderson, Interface Chairman and ‘Radical Industrialist,’ Dies at 77

ATLANTA, Georgia, August 10, 2011 (ENS) – Ray Anderson, the chairman and founder of the carpet company Interface, Inc. and a leader in sustainable business, died Monday after a long battle with cancer. He was 77.

An author, columnist and speaker as well as a businessman, Anderson was considered a “radical industrialist” for the goal he set for his firm: “Mission Zero,” a pledge to eliminate any environmental impacts by the year 2020.

In 1994, Anderson challenged Interface employees to pursue the new vision: “Be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: people, process, product, place and profits – and in doing so, become restorative through the power of influence.”

Ray Anderson (Photo courtesy Interface, Inc.)

Anderson said, “In 1994, at age 60 and in my company’s 22nd year, I steered Interface on a new course – one designed to reduce our environmental footprint while increasing our profits.”

“I wanted Interface, a company so oil-intensive you could think of it as an extension of the petrochemical industry, to be the first enterprise in history to become truly sustainable – to shut down the smokestacks, close off its effluent pipes, to do no harm to the environment and take nothing not easily renewed by the earth. Believe me when I say the goal is one enormous challenge,” he said.

Mission Zero was to be accomplished through the redesign of processes and products, the pioneering of new technologies, and efforts to reduce or eliminate waste and harmful emissions while increasing the use of renewable materials and sources of energy.

In November 2010, Anderson estimated that Interface was more than half-way towards the “Mission Zero” goal, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent, reducing fossil fuel consumption by 60 percent with renewable forms of energy, reducing waste to landfill by 82 percent, and water use by 82 percent.

During that same period, Interface has avoided over $450 million in costs, increased sales by 63 percent and more than doubled earnings.

Anderson chronicled that journey in two books, “Mid-Course Correction” (1998) and “Confessions Of A Radical Industrialist” (2009). The latter was recently released in paperback as “Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist.”

An honors graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of industrial and systems engineering in 1956, Ray learned the carpet trade through 14-plus years at various positions at Deering-Milliken and Callaway Mills, and in 1973, set about founding a company to produce the first free-lay carpet tiles in America.

Today, Interface is the world’s largest producer of modular commercial floorcoverings. Interface has diversified and globalized its businesses, with sales in 110 countries and manufacturing facilities on four continents.

On August 5, Georgia Tech presented Anderson with an honorary doctorate, his twelfth. Together, he and Interface funded the creation of the Anderson-Interface Chair in Natural Systems at Georgia Tech, where Associate Professor Valerie Thomas conducts research in sustainability.

Anderson became a screen hero in the 2004 Canadian documentary, “The Corporation,” in the 2007 film by Leonardo DiCaprio, “The 11th Hour,” and in Tom Shadyac’s 2011 documentary, “I AM.” The Interface story is also the focus of the documentary film “So Right, So Smart.”

Ray was a master commentator on the Sundance Channel’s series “Big Ideas for a Small Planet” and was named one of TIME magazine’s Heroes of the Environment in 2007, with a similar honor from Elle Magazine that year.

He served as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development during President Bill Clinton’s administration, which led to him co-chairing the Presidential Climate Action Plan in 2008, a team that presented the Obama Administration with a 100 day action plan on climate.

In 2010, Anderson received a host of accolades, including: the American Society for Interior Designers Design for Humanity Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from GreenLaw; the inaugural Global Sustainability Prize from the University of Kentucky’s Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment; a River Guardian Award from the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organization; a Sustainability Award from the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future, the first time the WNSF has honored a businessman; and a Pillars of EARTH Sustainable Leadership Awards given by EARTH University in Costa Rica.

In 2007, Anderson was honored as a recipient of the Purpose Prize from Civic Ventures, a think tank and an incubator, generating ideas and inventing programs to help society achieve the greatest return on experience, and by Auburn University with its International Quality of Life Award.

In 1996, he received the Inaugural Millennium Award from Global Green, presented by Mikhail Gorbachev, and won recognition from Forbes Magazine and Ernst & Young, which named him Entrepreneur of the Year.

In January, 2001, he received the George and Cynthia Mitchell International Prize for Sustainable Development. He also has been honored by the Georgia Conservancy, Southface Energy Institute, SAM-SPG (Switzerland), the U.S. Green Building Council, the National Wildlife Federation, the Design Futures Council, the Children’s Health and Environmental Coalition, the Harvard Business School Alumni (Atlanta Chapter), the International Interior Design Association, the Southern Institute for Business & Professional Ethics, the Possible Woman Foundation International, the World Business Academy, LaGrange College, and the Council of Scientific Society Presidents.

Ray was former Board Chair for The Georgia Conservancy and served on the boards of the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation, Rocky Mountain Institute, the David Suzuki Foundation, Emory University Board of Ethics Advisory Council, the ASID Foundation, Worldwatch Institute, and the Arizona State University Global Institute of Sustainability Advisory Board.

He was on the Advisory Boards of the Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment and the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Anderson is survived by his wife, Pat Anderson, and by daughter Mary Anne Lanier and her husband Jaime of Marietta, Georgia; daughter Harriett Langford and her husband Phil of LaGrange, Georgia, by stepson Brian Rainey and his wife Flor of Atlanta, Georgia, and by his brother, Dr. William Anderson of Conneaut, Ohio.

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