Ray Anderson

by Jennifer Beck

"We will win, and the earth will win."
Ray Anderson

Interface, Inc. CEO Ray C. Anderson has been called the "greenest chief executive in America." By combining environmentalism with dedication to his company's success, Anderson has proven that being green can also bring in the green for big business.

When Anderson started Interface, Inc., in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1973, he wasn't concerned about the environment. He'd earned a degree from Georgia Institute of Technology, worked for fourteen plus years in various positions at Deering-Milliken and Callaway Mills, and was out to make his own carpet business the biggest in the world. He succeeded, turning Interface into a billion-dollar-a-year company. But there was a price. Every year his factories produced hundreds of gallons of wastewater and nearly 900 pollutants.

"I just wanted to survive," Anderson recalled in an interview with Kate Jaimet of The Ottowa Citizen. "I never gave one thought to what we were doing to the earth."

Then Anderson read Paul Hawkens' book, The Ecology of Commerce. The book suggested that industry was systematically destroying the planet, and the only people in a position to stop the destruction were the industrialists themselves. The book's argument spun Anderson's perspective 180 degrees.

"It was like a spear to the chest," he said of Hawkens' book, in a speech before California's Waste Management Board. Almost immediately, he began to turn Interface, Inc. into an environmentally-friendly enterprise.

Workers use recycled material to manufacture new products.

He began by taking steps to reduce the company's waste and conserve energy by recycling. At its plant in LaGrange, Georgia, Interface used to send six tons of carpet trimmings to the landfill every day. By June of 1997, it was sending none. At Guilford of Maine, a division of Interface, new computer controls installed on boilers not only reduced carbon monoxide emissions by 99.7%, but also improved the boilers' efficiency. The result? Waste decreased and profits increased.

"It's not just the right thing to do," Anderson told the Houston Advanced Research Center (which recently honored his efforts), "it's the smart thing to do."

Anderson also spread the word to other companies and to consumers worldwide. He funded the Alliance to Save Energy, helping children design energy-saving campaigns for their schools, and through his frequent speaking engagements and his book, Mid Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model, helped prove to other businesses they could protect the environment while increasing profits. Anderson explained his philosophy to Charles Fishman of Fastcompany.com Magazine:

"The new course we're on at Interface ... is to pioneer the next Industrial Revolution: one that is kinder and gentler to the earth."

Anderson's efforts have begun to pay off. Sunco, Bank of America, Polaroid, and General Motors now regularly consult with The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economics. Xerox Corporation now leases many of its business machines, recycling old equipment and parts instead of discarding them.

Trash to Cash: Interface makes new carpet tiles from corn cobs.

 

Meanwhile, Anderson continues to move Interface toward his goal of complete sustainability, making products in a way that will not rob future generations of raw materials or energy resources. Interface is using solar and wind power in the place of fossil fuels and is planting trees to offset the pollution caused by trucks transporting its carpet. The company has even found a way to make carpet out of corn. The carpet tiles, made in cooperation with Dow Chemical and Cargill, an agricultural products company, were unveiled in June, 2000. John Wells, president of Interface Americas, says plant-derived products could make up as much as 10% of Interface, Inc.'s business over the next three years.

Anderson believes the tide has turned in favor of conservation.

 

Ray C. Anderson's contributions have not gone unnoticed. He's been lauded by government, environmental, and business groups alike. In 1997, Anderson was named co-chairman of President Clinton's Sustainable Development Council. 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. Anderson recently received honorary doctorates from two respected universities, and in January, 2001, he took home the George and Cynthia Mitchell International Prize for Sustainable Development.

Anderson acknowledges there is still much work to be done, even within his own company. Interface, Inc. is only about a quarter of the way to its ultimate goal - a goal employees refer to as "the peak of Mount Sustainability." Still, Anderson believes the tide has turned irrevocably in his favor. As he told Ottowa Citizen, "It's a wave that's forming. I have no way of knowing how fast or how big the wave will be, but businesses that don't move in this direction won't survive."

Page created on 3/18/2009 11:54:46 AM

Last edited 1/4/2017 10:47:12 PM

Related Links

Interface Global
The Alliance to Save Energy - Web site offers tips on why and how to save energy; and provides educational resources for teachers and students
Best Practices in Sustainable Development - A searchable database cataloging environment-saving efforts in over 90 countries.
Green Pages - The Global Directory for Environmental Technology

Extra Info

Ray Anderson is the author of:

The Journey from There to Here: The Eco-Odyssey of a CEO, 1995, and Face It, 1996.

Anderson was inspired by Paul Hawken's book, The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability


BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Jaimet, Kate. "The Greenest Chief Executive in America.” The Ottawa Citizen 20 Oct. 2000.

Fishman, Charlie. “Sustainable Growth – Interface, Inc.” The Magazine April 1998: Fast Company.com 28 June 2001. http://www.fastcompany.com.

Vorobej, Anndrea. “Interface Introduces Biodegradable Carpet Product.” Textile Web News 13 June 2000: Textile Web.com 14 June 2001. http://www.textileweb.com.

“Carpet Magnate Ray Anderson Wins $100,000 Environmental Prize.” HARC Newsletter 15 Jan. 2001: Houston Advanced Research Center 10 June 2001. http://www.harc.edu/.

Interface Global Company Website. 2 June 2001. http://www.ifsia.com/.

Related Books

Author Info

Since the days after his graduation from Georgia Institute of Technology as an industrial engineer, Ray Anderson has quietly gone about fostering an entrepreneurial spirit that has resulted in his building one of the world’s largest interior furnishings companies. After founding Interface in 1973, Ray and his company have revolutionized the carpet and floor covering industry. Now Ray has embarked on a mission to make Interface a sustainable corporation by leading a worldwide war on waste and pioneering the processes of sustainable development.

--From the 1998 Sustainable Business Symposium Web site