The Passing of a Leader – Ray Anderson

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GLOBE-Net, August 9, 2011 – The GLOBE Foundation acknowledges with sadness the passing of one of the world’s truly great corporate leaders – Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Atlanta-based Interface Inc.

Ray Anderson passed away this week after a two-year battle with cancer, but his legacy in helping to transform the corporate sector will live on for generations.

Much will be written about Ray’s early 1990’s ‘spear in the chest epiphany’ when, on reading Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce, he realized he was by Hawken’s definition “a plunderer of the Earth.”

Not only did that realization change his life, it prompted him to transform his highly successful floor covering company into a model of sustainability that stands even to this day as a leader of corporate responsibility.

He became something of a missionary, making thousands of speeches and writing two books that would change corporate attitudes about the role of business in society.

He was one of the earliest inspirational speakers at the GLOBE Series of events showing that sustainability is the key to success.

Speaking to delegates at the Globe 2002 Conference in Vancouver he said, “The industrial paradigm is shifting, and early movers win big.”

Anderson told the delegates his company has reduced hydrocarbon use over seven years by emulating nature, where there is no waste, in the production process, saving $185 million. “Doing well by doing good is paying off with customers,” he said, “And recycled content sells.”

It was a message he continued to pass along in his many public appearances and which became the mantra that would shape his company’s world-wide operations.

Late last year he announced that as part of a “Mission Zero” commitment by Interface Inc. to eliminate negative environmental impacts by 2020, he pledged to obtain third-party validated environmental product declarations (EPDs) on all its products globally by 2012.

Anderson’s 2010 book “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose – Doing Business by Respecting the Earth” contained many insights for corporate leaders seeking success by turning sustainability into a successful business strategy.

Quoted in an interview about the book, Anderson noted, “Green for the sake of green may not cut it. In fact, there’s another way to think about that: The brownest product there is is the greenest product that doesn’t work. Not only is it not working, but also it’s giving green a bad name.”

This was the type of insight that made Interface Inc the winner of the 2006 GLOBE Environmental Excellence Award for Corporate Competitiveness, presented at GLOBE 2006 in Vancouver.

Ray Anderson’s life and legacy lies at the core of what drives the GLOBE Group’s various efforts to demonstrate that you can do well by doing good. To use Ray Anderson’s own words,

“This we know: openness, honesty, and collaboration are key to environmental progress – not only for Interface but for any business. We are calling on our fellow industrialists everywhere to make the same commitment to transparency and to the business model: ‘doing well by doing good,’ a better way to a bigger, more honest and authentic profit.”

Ray was an inspirational leader and friend to many in the sustainability world. I had the privilege of following him as a speaker on a podium in Australia some years ago. It was a daunting task but Ray’s smile and his encouragement allowed me to carry it off. Such was the man, positive and encouraging to all that met him.

Thank you Ray, we shall miss you, but won’t forget you.

John D. Wiebe
President and CEO

Editor’s Note:

See also Paul Hawken’s moving tribute to Ray Anderson

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