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Ray Anderson, a True Manufacturing Environmentalist, Passes Away

Aug. 10, 2011
Founder and chairman of Interface succumbs to cancer.

Ray Anderson had a radical vision. It went far beyond complying with environmental standards or placating investors and customers with a push to go green.

Anderson, the founder and chairman of Atlanta-based carpet manufacturer Interface Inc., wanted his company to give back more than it took from the earth.

Anderson, who led his company's quest to ascend "Mount Sustainability," passed away Monday after a 20-month battle with cancer. He was 77.

Ray Anderson
"Not only did Interface and the world lose a great man today, but I lost a friend and mentor," Interface CEO Dan Hendrix said Monday in a news release. "Ray's iconic spirit and pioneering vision are not only his legacy, but our future. We will honor Ray by keeping his vision alive and the company on course."

An honors graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Industrial and Systems Engineering in 1956, Anderson founded Interface in 1973 to produce the first free-lay carpet tiles in America.

Anderson transitioned from day-to-day management of the company in 2001 when Hendrix became CEO, and spent the next 10 years as non-executive chairman.

In that time, Anderson focused his time and energy on the business case for sustainability, delivering more than 1,000 speeches and authoring two books on the topic.

Anderson's quest to make Interface a model of green manufacturing began in 1994, when Anderson read Paul Hawken's book, "The Ecology of Commerce." At the time, Anderson was seeking inspiration for an upcoming speech he was to deliver to an Interface environmental task force.

Anderson's reaction to the book was an epiphany for him "and a seminal moment for us," Anderson told IndustryWeek earlier this year.

"I challenged [the task force] to go beyond sustainable, to make our company a restorative company -- to put back more than we actually take from the earth, and to do good for the earth, not just harm," he told IndustryWeek.

Such a statement probably still seems a bit radical, so much so that the president of an environmental think tank once called Anderson the "radical industrialist." Today, however, Interface is flourishing, and the company's sustainability efforts have become inextricably linked with its identity -- and its strengthening balance sheet.

In the wake of Anderson's passing, Interface has created a blog to honor his memory. It includes a quote from Anderson that summarizes his accomplishments -- and his legacy.

"We have turned on its head the myth that you could do well in business or do good, but not both. We have shown the world, by example, that you can run a big business both profitably and in an environmentally responsible way ... and if we can do it, anybody can. If anybody can, everybody can."

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