Profile: Ray Anderson

Profile: Ray Anderson

The “greenest chief executive in
America”, the founder and chairman of Interface Ray Anderson, was awarded
an Honorary Doctorate from Georgia Tech, where he graduated in 1956, for his
work to secure a greener world for future generations and his championing of
the business case for sustainability.  He
set his company on the Mission Zero journey in 1994, becoming one of the best
climate-friendly businesses in the world, while maintaining the company’s
global position as the leading carpet tile marker. He’s certainly on the 100
Global Sustain Ability Leaders list.

InterfaceFLOR has always been about the future.
When Ray Anderson staked his career on the idea of modular carpet tile in the
’70s, it was a square idea in a broadloom world but even he didn’t realize how
dramatically we would shape the future of the industry.

Over the years we’ve evolved our approach to
design and developed innovative manufacturing processes to reduce waste and
eliminate toxins from our products and facilities. And we’ve pioneered new ways
to reuse valuable resources. We see the infinite design possibilities of carpet
tile and they’re inherently tied to our Mission Zero™ promise – to completely
eliminate any negative impact we may have on the environment by 2020.

InterfaceFLOR Founder and Chairman Ray
Anderson Awarded Honorary Doctorate From Georgia Tech

PR Newswire Atlanta (5 August 2011):

At the 240th Commencement celebration at
Georgia Tech today, Ray Anderson, Founder and Chairman of Interface, Inc., was
awarded an Honorary Doctorate for his work to secure a greener world for future
generations and his championing of the business case for sustainability.  Anderson, a 1956 alumnus who was described at
the ceremony as “the greenest chief executive in America,” joins the
prestigious ranks of past honorary doctorate degree recipients such as former
President and Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter, astronaut John Young, civil
rights leader Ivan Allen Jr., micro-chip inventor Jack Kilby, and former U.S.
Senator Elizabeth Dole.

Due to illness, Anderson was unable to attend
the proceedings but was represented by Mary Anne Lanier from The Interface
Environmental Foundation, who read from Anderson’s acceptance remarks: “To
be acknowledged with this award from my alma mater is a special honor. I hope
that in accepting this we place another spotlight on our company’s efforts to
eliminate negative impact on the environment. We refer to this as Mission
Zero.  And we hope it inspires the future
business leaders in the audience of 900 graduates to carry this message with
them into the companies they will work for tomorrow and well into the

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 eleven honorary doctorates.

A 1956 Industrial Engineering graduate of
Georgia Tech, Anderson has been a loyal and devoted supporter of his alma mater
for more than five decades.  In
partnership with Interface, Anderson established the Anderson-Interface Chair
in Natural Systems at Georgia Tech. The current chair holder, Associate
Professor Valerie Thomas, conducts research in sustainability.  Anderson is a College of Engineering
Distinguished Alumnus, a recipient of the Dean Griffin Community Service Award
and a member of the College of Engineering Hall of Fame and the Industrial and
Systems Engineering Hall of Fame.

About InterfaceFLOR

InterfaceFLOR, LLC and InterfaceFLOR Canada,
Inc, are subsidiaries of Interface, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of
commercial carpet tile. For 38 years, the company has consistently led the
industry through innovation and now leads the industry in environmental
sustainability. InterfaceFLOR is setting the pace for development of modular
carpet using materials and processes that take less from the environment, and
is well along the path to “Mission Zero®,” the company’s promise to
eliminate any negative impact it has on the environment by the year 2020.
InterfaceFLOR’s worldwide carpet manufacturing facilities maintain third party
registration to the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System standard, and the
company obtained the first-ever Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for the
commercial floor covering industry in North America. The company is recognized
globally for its commitment to build environmental considerations into its
business decisions. For additional information:


Transcript from a speech delivered by Ray Anderson
at a TED event:

Believe it or not, I come offering a solution
to a very important part of this larger problem, with the requisite focus on
climate. And the solution I offer is to the biggest culprit in this massive
mistreatment of the earth by humankind, and the resulting decline of the
biosphere. That culprit is business and industry. Which happens to be where I
have spent the last 52 years since my graduation from Georgia Tech in 1956. As
an industrial engineer, cum aspiring and then successful entrepreneur. After
founding my company Interface from scratch in 1973, 36 years ago, to produce
carpet tiles in America for the business and institution markets, and
shepherding it through start-up and survival to prosperity and global dominance
in its field, I read Paul Hawkins’ book, The Ecology of Commerce, the summer of
1994. In his book Paul charges business and industry as, one, the major culprit
in causing the decline of the biosphere, and, two, the only institution that is
large enough and pervasive enough, and powerful enough, to really lead
humankind out of this mess. And by the way he convicted me as a plunderer of
the earth.

And I then challenged the people of
Interface, my company, to lead our company and the entire industrial world to
sustainability. Which we defined as eventually opperating our petroleum
intensive company in such a way as to take from the earth only what can be
renewed by the earth naturally and rapidly, not another fresh drop of oil, and
to do no harm to the biosphere. Take nothing. Do no harm. I simply said,
“If Hawkins is right and business and industry must lead, who will lead
business and industry? Unless somebody leads, nobody will.” It’s
axiomatic. Why not us? And thanks to the people of Interface, I have become a
recovering plunderer.

I once told a Fortune Magazine writer that
someday people like me would go to jail. And that became the headline of a
Fortune article. They went on to describe me as America’s greenest CEO. From
plunderer to recovering plunderer, to America’s greenest CEO, in five years.
That frankly was a pretty sad commentary on American CEOs in 1999. Asked later
in the Canadian documentary, The Corporation, what I meant by the “go to
jail” remark, I offered that theft is a crime. And theft of or children’s
future would someday be a crime. But I realized for that to be true, for theft
of our children’s future to be a crime, there must be a clear demonstrable
alternative to the take-make-waste industrial system that so dominates our
civilization, and is the major culprit, stealing our children’s future, by
digging up the earth and converting it to products that quickly become waste in
a landfill or an incinerator. In short, digging up the earth and converting it
to pollution.

According to Paul and Anne Ehrlich and a well
known environmental impact equation, impact — a bad thing — is the product of
population, affluence and technology. That is, impact is generated by people,
what they consume in their affluence, and how it is produced. And though the
equation is largely subjective, you can perhaps quantify people, and perhaps
quantify affluence, but technology is abusive in too many ways to quantify. So
the equation is conceptual. Still it works to help us understand the problem.

So we set out at Interface, in 1994, to
create an example, to transform the way we made carpet. A petroleum intensive
product for materials as well as energy. And to transform our technologies so
they diminished environmental impact, rather than multiplied it. Paul and Anne
Ehrlich’s environmental impact equation: I is equal to P times A times T.
Population, affluence and technology. I wanted Interface to rewrite that
equation so that it read I equals P times A divided by T. Now, the
mathematically minded will see immediately that T in the numerator increases
impact — a bad thing. But T in the denominator decreases impact. So I ask,
“What would move T, technology, from the numerator, call it T1, where it
increases impact, to the denominator, call it T2, where it reduces impact?

I thought about the characteristics of first
industrial revolution, T1, as we practiced it at Interface, and it had the
following characteristics. Extractive: taking raw materials from the earth.
Linear: take, make, waste. Powered by fossil fuel derived energy. Wasteful:
abusive and focused on labor productivity. More carpet per man hour. Thinking
it through, I realized that all those attributes must be changed to move T to
the denominator. In the new industrial revolution extractive must be replaced
by renewable, linear by cyclical, fossil fuel energy by renewable energy,
sunlight. Wasteful by waste-free. And abusive by benign. And labor productivity
by resource productivity. And I reasoned that if we could make those
transformative changes, and get rid of T1 altogether, we could reduce our
impact to zero, including our impact on the climate. And that became the
Interface plan in 1995. And has been the plan ever since.

We have measured our progress very
rigorously. So I can tell you how far we have come in the ensuing 12 years. Net
greenhouse gas emissions down 82 percent in absolute tonnage. (Applause) Over
the same span of time sales have increased by two thirds and profits have
doubled. So an 82 percent absolute reduction translates into a 90 percent
reduction in greenhouse gas intensity relative to sales. This is the magnitude
of the reduction the entire global technosphere must realize by 2050 to avoid
catastrophic climate disruption. So the scientists are telling us. Fossil fuel
usage is down 60 percent per unit of production, due to efficiencies in
renewables. The cheapest, most secure barrel of oil there is is the one not
used through efficiencies. Water usage is down 75 percent in our world-wide
carpet tile business. Down 40 percent in our broadloom carpet business, which
we acquired in 1993 right here in California, City of Industry, where water is
so precious. Renewable or recyclable materials are 25 percent of the total, and
growing rapidly. Renewable energy is 27 percent of our total, going for 100
percent. We have diverted 148 million pounds — that’s 74,000 tons — of used
carpet, from landfills. Closing the loop on material flows through reverse
logistics and post-consumer recycling technologies that did not exist when we
started 14 years ago.

Those new cyclical technologies have
contributed mightily to the fact that we have produced and sold 85 million
square yards of climate-neutral carpet since 2004. Meaning no net contribution
to global climate disruption in producing the carpet throughout the supply
chain, from mine and well head clear to end-of-life reclamation. Independent
third-party certified. We call it Cool Carpet. And it has been a powerful
marketplace differentiator, increasing sales and profits. Three years ago we
launched carpet tile for the home, under the brand Flor, misspelled F-L-O-R.
You can point and click today at and have Cool Carpet delivered to
your front door in five days. It is practical, and pretty too.

We reckon that we are a bit over halfway to
our goal — zero impact, zero footprint. We’ve set 2020 as our target year for
zero, for reaching the top, the summit of Mount Sustainability. We call this
Mission Zero. And this is perhaps the most important facet. We have found
Mission Zero to be incredibly good for business. A better business model. A
better way to bigger profits. Here is the business case for sustainability.
From real life experience, costs are down, not up, reflecting some 400 million
dollars of avoided costs in pursuit of zero waste. The first face of Mount
Sustainability. This has paid all the costs for the transformation of

And this dispels a myth too, this false
choice between the environment and the economy. Our products are the best
they’ve ever been, inspired by design for sustainability, an unexpected
wellspring of innovation. Our people are galvanized around this shared higher
purpose. You can not beat it for attracting the best people and bringing them
together. And the goodwill of the marketplace is astonishing. No amount of
advertising, no clever marketing campaign at any price, could have produced or
created this much goodwill. Costs, products, people, marketplaces. What else is
there? It is a better business model.

And here is our 14-year record of sales and
profits. There is a dip there, from 2001 to 2003: a dip when our sales, over a
three year period, were down 17 percent. But the marketplace was down 36
percent. We literally gained market share. We might not have survived that
recession but for the advantages of sustainability. If every business were
pursuing Interface plans would that solve all our problems? I don’t think so. I
remain troubled by the revised Ehrlich equation, I equals P times A divided by
T2. That A is a capital A, suggesting that affluence is an end in itself. But
what if we reframed Ehrlich further? And what if we made A a lowercase ‘a,’
suggesting that it is a means to an end, and that end is happiness. More
happiness with less stuff.

You know that would reframe civilization
itself — (Applause) and our whole system of economics, if not for our species
then perhaps for the one that succeeds us. The sustainable species, living on a
finite earth. Ethically, happily and ecologically in balance with nature and
all her natural systems for a thousand generations, or 10,000 generations. That
is to say, into the indefinite future. But does the earth have to wait for our
extinction as a species? Well maybe so. But I don’t think so.

At Interface we really intend to bring this
prototypical sustainable, zero-footprint industrial company fully into
existence by 2020. We can see our way now. Clear to the top of that mountain.
And now the challenge is in execution. And as my good friend and adviser Amory
Lovins says, “If something exists, it must be possible.” (Laughter)
If we can actually do it, it must be possible. If we, a petro-intensive company
can do it, anybody can. And if anybody can, it follows that everybody can.

Hawking fulfilled business and industry,
leading humankind away from the abyss. Because with continued unchecked decline
of the biosphere, a very dear person is at risk here. Frankly, an unacceptable
risk. Who is that person? Not you. Not I. But let me introduce you to the one
who is most at risk here. And I myself met this person in the early days of
this mountain climb. On a Tuesday morning in March of 1996 I was talking to
people, as I did at every opportunity back then. Bringing them along and often
not knowing whether I was connecting. But about five days later back in
Atlanta, I received an email from Glenn Thomas, one of my people in the
California meeting. He was sending me an original poem that he had composed
after our Tuesday morning together. And when I read it it was one of the most
uplifting moments of my life. Because it told me, by God, one person got it.
Here is what Glenn wrote. And here is that person, most at risk. Please meet
“Tomorrow’s Child.”

“Without a name, an unseen face, and
knowing not your time or place,

Tomorrow’s child, though yet unborn, I met
you first last Tuesday morn.

A wise friend introduced us two. And through
his sobering point of view

I saw a day that you would see, a day for you
but not for me.

Knowing you has changed my thinking. For I
never had an inkling

that perhaps the things I do might someday,
somehow threaten you

Tomorrow’s child, my daughter, son,

I’m afraid I’ve just begun to think of you
and of your good,

though always having known I should.

Begin, I will.

The way the cost of what I squander, what is

if ever I forget that you will someday come
and live here too.”

Well, every day of my life since,
“Tomorrow’s Child” has spoken to me with one simple but profound
message, which I presume to share with you. We are, each and every one, a part
of the web of life. The continuum of humanity, sure. But in a larger sense, the
web of life itself. And we have a choice to make during our brief brief visit
to this beautiful blue and green living planet. To hurt it or to help it. For
you, it’s your call.

Thank you.

Read more:


In 1994 InterfaceFLOR begins designing
products utilizing a “Less is More” philosophy, and reduces average
consumption of fiber by 10% per square yard in just 12 months.

InterfaceFLOR introduces the concept of
“letting tile be tile” with modular carpet products designed to be
installed quarter-turn or parquet method.

Ray Anderson experiences his
“epiphany” after reading The Ecology of Commerce- delivers his first
environmental speech; the beginning of Interface’s journey to sustainability.

ReEntry®, one of the industry’s most
aggressive, responsible and successful carpet reclamation programs, is


What Are the Best Books on Corporate

By Marc Gunther in (11 May

Judging by the number of books about business
and the environment piling up on my shelves, the corporate sustainability
movement is alive and well.

One of the best is Business Lessons from a
Radical Industrialist by Ray Anderson, the founder and chairman of the
commercial carpet company Interface.

I’ve been provided with two signed copies of
the paperback edition to give away. I’m expecting a signed copy of Howard
Schultz’s book, which I’m also going to give to a blog reader. More on that, in
a moment.

But first, a few thoughts about Ray and his
book. Ray is a terrific guy who has had a great influence on business people
across America, by tirelessly promoting the idea that a truly sustainable
approach to business is good for business. (See my 2009 interview, Ray
Anderson, Radical Industrialist.) “Take nothing from the earth that cannot
be replaced by the earth” is how he puts it.

Fifteen years after setting that goal for
Interface, the company has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 94 percent, cut
fossil fuel consumption by 60 percent, cut waste by 80 percent, increased
sales, doubled earnings and re-invented the way carpets are made, sold and

Says environmental activist Bill McKibben:
“Ray Anderson is a hero.”

A soft-spoken, genial Georgian, Ray, who is
in his late 70s, can’t get out to promote the paperback edition because, as he
writes in a new foreword: “I have spent the last year dealing with cancer,
thankfully holding my own — barely.”

He can’t help but draw analogies between his
own experience with disease and environmental pollution. Neither his father,
who was one of seven siblings, nor his mother, who was also one of seven, nor
any of their brothers and sisters had cancer. But he and and his two brothers
have had the disease. Could it be something in the environment? Hard to say.

But Ray writes:

Irresponsible business — the diggers, the
drillers, the processors of poison, all of whom ought to know better — they
and their abusive industries — are a cancer on society.

… It is high time we all started on the
right treatment of this disease before it takes us all down.

Strong words, to be sure, but coming from a
CEO and businessman with his own inspiring story, they resonate. Senior Writer Marc Gunther is a
longtime journalist and speaker whose focus is business and sustainability.
Marc maintains a blog at You can follow him on Twitter


Ray Anderson is founder and chairman of
Interface Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpet for
commercial and residential applications and a leading producer of commercial
broadloom and commercial fabrics. He is “known in environmental circles
for his advanced and progressive stance on industrial ecology and
sustainability.”1 Since 1995, he has reduced Interface’s waste by a third,
and plans to make the company sustainable by 2020.

He defines sustainability as “taking
nothing from the earth that is not rapidly and naturally renewable, and doing
no harm to the biosphere.”2

For instance, under his leadership, Interface
seeks to reduce and then eliminate “petroleum from its manufacturing
processes.”4 He is pioneering recycling efforts with nylon and polyester
which “is recyclable, leading to more closed loop technologies for the
future.”3 However, Anderson wasn’t always a friend of the environment. He
had his epiphany in 1994 when he read The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken,
who argues that [the] industrial system is destroying the planet and only
industry leaders are powerful enough to stop it.

Anderson is featured in the documentaries The
Corporation and The 11th Hour as well as an interview in The Day After Peace,
in an episode of David Suzuki’s CBC Television series “The Nature of
Things” (“Biomimicry.” Parts 1 and 2) and in the episode of
Ethical Markets TV Series “Redefining Success.” He is also a Senior
Fellow of the Design Futures Council.[1]

Ray Anderson is the author of Mid-Course
Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model. Inspired by
Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael, Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce, and many
others, Ray Anderson has successfully composed a piece that covers his personal
journey towards sustainability in his work. His 2009 book is “Confessions
of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose: Doing Business by
Respecting the Earth” ISBN 9780312543495.


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