Ray Anderson

Ray Anderson died recently.

He was founder of Interface, a company making industrial-grade carpets from oil.

In around 1990 he was writing the ‘sustainability code’ for his own company and he was depressed to find that the best he could come up with was “We will comply with government regulation.”

Then Paul Hawken’s “Ecology of Commerce” landed on his desk, together with “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn.

He decided to change the direction of his company, in a set of thinking that became ‘Mission Zero’: to have zero impact on the planet by the year 2020.

We like him — everybody likes him — because he showed that it is possible to be environmentally responsible and to make a profit.

And as he said, “If we can do it, anybody can. And if anybody can, everybody can.”

We have just ordered a copy of his 2010 book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist and will report back soon.

In the meantime, here are some of the things that others have said about his passing.

He saw that waste from industrial processes polluted the environment and emissions from energy use were causing global warming. His conclusion: this culture cannot continue without serious environmental and social repercussions.”

John Elkington/Guardian:
“What can be a bigger challenge than zero?”

“When we set the goal to eliminate all of our negative impacts on the environment, we knew it was aspirational… [But] Our people have embraced this vision, and we’ve achieved progress beyond our imagined success.”

“Interface was such an early mover … that no one has yet caught up.”

“Reimagining the World Was a Responsibility”

“On the outside, Ray was deceptively traditional, very quiet sometimes, an everyman, all-American, down-home. He was so normal that he could say just about anything and get away with it because people didn’t quite believe what they heard. He could walk into an audience and leave listeners transfixed by a tenderness and introspection they never expected or met. Business audiences in particular had no defenses because they had no framework for Ray.”

“Ironically, because people could not connect the dots, he was extraordinarily credible. He was also courageous. He stood up again and again in front of big audiences and told them that pretty much everything they knew, learned, and were doing was destroying the earth. He meant every word he spoke and those words landed deeply in the hearts and minds of the hundreds of thousands of people he addressed.”

“People called Ray a dreamer. To be sure, he was, but he was also an engineer. He had definitely seen the mountain, but he also dreamed in balance sheets, thermodynamics, and resource flow theory. He dreamed a world yet to come because dreams of a livable future are not coming from our politicians, bankers, and the media. For Ray, reimagining the world was a responsibility, something owed to our children’s children, a gift to a future that is begging for selflessness and vision.”

“No longer were there human systems and ecosystems. They were one system and he understood that the laws of physics and biology prevailed. He believed in Emerson’s words, that there is an innate morality in the laws of nature: I have confidence in laws of morals as of botany. I have planted maize in my field every June for seventeen years and I never knew it to come up strychnine. My parsley, beet, turnip … acorn, are as sure. I believe that justice produces justice, and injustice injustice. Ultimately, Ray’s work was not about making a sustainable business, it was about justice, ethics, and honoring creation. Zero waste was the path to 100% respect for living beings.”

“He was destined to do one thing only, and that is serve life itself.”

And here is a video that let’s Ray say it in his own words:


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