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Ray Anderson, Green Pioneer, Dies at 77

Anderson was a leading voice in the field of sustainable business for well over a decade


Ray Anderson, Green Pioneer, Dies at 77

Ray Anderson, a pioneering figure of the sustainable business world and founder of Interface Inc. has passed away after a long battle with cancer, only days after receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Georgia Tech. He was 77.

Anderson founded Interface in 1973 with the intention of providing modular floor tiles to modern office environments. Starting with only 15 employees (including Anderson himself), he led the company through a number of challenges and dozens of acquisitions to make Interface a market leader in carpet tiles by the late ‘80s.

But Anderson’s masterstroke came in the mid-‘90s, when he made the bold decision to shift the company’s focus—and eventually, the industry’s focus—toward sustainability. Originally spurred by reading Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce—which Anderson described as “being hit with a spear in the chest,” according to Grist editor Lisa Hymas—Anderson became one of the first top-level corporate executives to publicly and passionately embrace the tenets of sustainable development. 21 years after founding Interface and at age 64, Anderson led the company on a new mission—aptly titled “Mission Zero”—designed to completely reduce the company’s negative impact on the environment by 2020.

In the intervening years, Anderson has been a true force for sustainable thinking. He has given over 1,000 speeches (including the 2009 TED talk showcased below) and has written two books— 1998’s Mid-Course Correction and 2009’s Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose: Doing Business by Respecting the Earth—which detail his sustainable epiphany and a framework for a new industrial mindset. He has influenced countless designers and industrialists in the decade and half since his launch of Mission Zero, and has received numerous awards for his work.

Among other prior awards, Anderson received the inaugural Millennium Award from Global Green and won recognition from Forbes magazine and Ernst & Young, which named him Entrepreneur of the Year in 1996. He also has been honored by 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, 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 and the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. He holds 11 honorary doctorates.

“[My greatest inspiration] comes from seeing the tangible, measurable progress my company is making toward sustainability. That means to me that my vision of 10 years ago is becoming a reality, proving to anyone who cares to look that it is possible to transform a petro-intensive company such as ours and significantly reduce its environmental footprint, eventually (I am convinced) to zero,” Anderson wrote in Mid-Course Correction. “The power of example, manifest: As Amory Lovins says, 'If it exists, it must be possible.'"

“Our time with him was too short, but the time that he had was enough to see his family grow, to welcome his first great-grandchild, to see not just one vision but two become real: to see his business flourish and his vision of a sustainable Interface become a beacon for other companies to follow,” writes Dan Hendrix, president and CEO of Interface, Inc. on a company blog. “We’d have liked to see Ray standing beside us as we reach that metaphorical peak — the top of Mt. Sustainability — but rest assured that we will stay the course and keep Ray’s vision alive.”

 See Anderson's 2009 TED talk below, along with links to more articles written by and about Ray Anderson in Interiors & Sources:


Ray Anderson and Interiors & Sources

Ray Anderson has been a mainstay of Interiors & Sources’ sustainable coverage over the past decade, and for good reason. Here is a sampling of articles written by Anderson, as well as a few that discuss his impact and ideas in depth.

Every Reason for Hope (Oct 2010) 

By Ray Anderson

An excerpt from his book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose: Doing Business by Respecting the Earth, in which Anderson discusses the “old, flawed view of reality,” and the changes in thinking that must take place if we are to save our planet.

Off the Grid in Lost Valley (January 2004) 

By Ray Anderson

Anderson graciously detailed the process of building his own green home in the Southern Appalachian mountains for Interiors & Sources magazine.

Sustainable Design + Students (August 2004)

By Beth Harmon-Vaughan, FIIDA

Harmon-Vaughan discusses the remarks made by Ray Anderson during a keynote address at “Sustainability Day,” a one-day workshop organized by the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER).

The Power of One (ASID Update, March 2003)

By H. Don Bowden, AIA, FASID

Former ASID President H. Don Bowden discusses Anderson’s theory about “the power of one” in forwarding sustainable goals.