RIP: Ray Anderson, Environmental Visionary
I had never heard of Ray Anderson the first time I went to cover one of his speeches at a conference. But after a few minutes of listening to him, he became a hero.
Anderson—as many of you probably know—became an unlikely, and influential, figure for the renewable movement. He built Interface, a carpet manufacturer based in Georgia, into a multibillion dollar business over several decades. Then, an employee asked what Interface planned to do for the environment. Anderson huddled with executives and handlers and wondered what to serve up as a reply: we comply with all laws; we have never been convicted, etc.
While preparing the canned response, someone gave him Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce that detailed how civilization could destroy itself through depredation of natural resources.
“It hit me like a spear in the chest,” Anderson told me.
After reading the book, Anderson put Interface on a quest: to make Interface a carbon neutral company by 2020.
Investors, pundits, customers and even employees thought he was nuts. But since 1996, Interface has reduced fossil fuel consumption by 60 percent and total energy use by 44 percent, curbed greenhouse gases by 82 percent, reduced water use by 73 percent, and decreased waste going to landfills by 67 percent. Meanwhile, revenue has grown 66 percent and earnings have zoomed. Since 2003, Interface has made 83 million square yards of carpet with zero environmental impact linked to its production. Employees began to examine ways to make their operations more efficient.
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