Monday, August 15, 2011

Ray Anderson, Pioneer in Sustainable Industrial Capitalism

Ray Anderson proved that industrial capitalism and environmentalism can be compatible. Mr. Anderson founded Interface, the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial carpet tile. In 1994 he was asked to give his company’s salespeople some talking points about Interface’s approach to the environment. So he started reading about environmental issues, and thinking about them. While reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce,” he had what he described as a “conversion experience.”

In a subsequent book (Mid-Course Correction) Mr. Anderson wrote, “My company’s technologies and those of every other company I know of anywhere, in their present forms, are plundering the earth…I stand convicted by me, myself, alone, and not by anyone else, as a plunderer of the earth. But no, not by our civilization’s definition; by our civilization’s definition I am a captain of industry. In the eyes of many people I’m a kind of modern-day hero, an entrepreneur who founded a company that provides over 7,000 people with jobs.”

Mr. Anderson made it his mission to turn Interface into the first truly sustainable enterprise; one that takes nothing out of the earth that cannot be recycled or quickly regenerated, and one that does no harm to the biosphere through pollution or waste. He envisioned the company becoming a “restorative enterprise” that would improve the Earth as it does business.

Mr. Anderson died last week at the age of 77. The New York Times obituary credited Mr. Anderson with being “one of the nation’s most effective corporate advocates for environmental sustainability.” One of the reasons he was so effective was he proved that being environmentally responsible can be profitable:
“What started out as the right thing to do quickly became the smart thing,” he told a business group in Toronto in 2005. “Cost savings from eliminating waste alone have been $262 million.”

Efforts he began have so far reduced the so-called carbon footprint of the company’s 26 factories by about half, said the current chief executive, Dan Hendrix.

“When he first came up with this idea, I have to admit I thought he’d gone around the bend,” Mr. Hendrix said Wednesday. “But he was right.”

Ralph Nader, who became friendly with Mr. Anderson after hearing one of his speeches several years ago, called him “the greatest educator of his peers in industry, and the most knowledgeable motivator, by example and vision, for the environmental movement.”
I discussed Mr. Anderson’s work in an earlier blog post, “Imagine No Possessions”, and wrote a couple of columns about his book “Mid-Course Correction” in 2008 in the Highlands’ Newspaper: “Mid-Course Correction” and “Loops are Better than Straight Lines.”

Thank you for your contributions, Mr. Anderson.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Katie, for bringing our attention to Mr. Anderson's great work. It's people like you and Mr. Anderson who give me hope. Being environmentally responsible can be profitable just like organics is the fastest growing segment in the food market. I'm voting with my dollars, holding the vision, and pray for the grace to live by example.