09 August 2011

Ray Anderson, Self-styled "Radical Industrialist," 1934-2011

You have to marvel at someone who styled himself a "radical industrialist."

That's what Ray Anderson called himself in title of his book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, which I reviewed here.  An entreprenuer, company builder, and visionary, Anderson founded Interface in 1973 to produce the first free-laying carpet tiles in America.

Ray Anderson lost his battle with cancer yesterday at the age of 77.

His company revolutionized the commercial floor-covering industry and became the world's largest manufacturer of modular carpet, which such brands as InterfaceFLOR, FLOR, Heuga, and Bentley Prince Street.

In 1994, Anderson had an epiphany that set his company on a new course, trying to prove -- some say successfully -- that an industrial manufacturing company can embrace sustainability and profitability. Their goal was to make Interface and its individual carpet brands use no new raw materials.

It all started with what he called, as he titled his 1998 book, a "Mid-Course Correction":

"In 1994, at age sixty and in my company’s twenty-second year, I steered Interface on a new course—one designed to reduce our environmental footprint while increasing our profits. I wanted Interface, a company so oil-intensive you could think of it as an extension of the petrochemical industry, to be the first enterprise in history to become truly sustainable—to shut down the smokestacks, close off its effluent pipes, to do no harm to the environment and take nothing not easily renewed by the earth. Believe me when I say the goal is one enormous challenge."

Through his books, many talks, and his daily life, Anderson made the business case for sustainability.  His was a brand of environmentalism, as he put it, "with good old capitalist self-interest firmly in mind."

The one word that describes Ray Anderson best is authentic.

He was an inspiration -- a hero, really -- to those of us who believe that profit and purpose are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, are necessary to the success of any business.

Here is Ray Anderson speaking at the TED conference in 2009: