Death of a Giant: Ray Anderson, 1934-2011
When I first came up with the idea of The Green Interview, I thought of Ray Anderson.
Ray Anderson was the founder and chairman of Interface, Inc., which began as a traditional carpet manufacturing company based in Georgia. In 1994, under pressure from his customers and staff to develop an environmental policy, Ray happened upon Paul Hawken’s seminal book The Ecology of Commerce. It changed his life, and impelled him to re-imagine Interface as potentially the world’s first fully-sustainable company.
As Interface transformed itself, Ray emerged as a powerful advocate for corporate environmentalism, giving hundreds of speeches annually around the world. In 2007 he was in Halifax, and I interviewed him – not on video, alas, or even on audio, but simply with a pen and paper. In the newspaper column I wrote about him (which you can read in the Green Pieces blog; click here), I was concerned to lay out his seven-step model for corporate change, and to touch on the boldness of his vision of a true service economy, focussed on providing warmth, light and comfort rather than selling furnaces, lights and carpets.
Because of its focus on ideas, my column seems in retrospect to be a relatively dry piece, written from the head more than the heart. It didn’t begin to capture Ray Anderson’s charm, his passion, his courtliness or his power to motivate others. Even in an hour, he revealed himself to me as the kind of person who makes others want to do things that he would value. He was a Southern gentleman in the very best sense of that term.
And so, when I thought of The Green Interview, I thought of Ray Anderson. I wanted to talk with him again – but this time, in front of a camera. I knew his ideas were powerful – but I also knew that he had a presence that hugely amplified his impact. I wanted other people to see him and hear him and be moved not only by his implacable logic, but also by his warmth, his enthusiasm, his reasonableness and his eloquence. That’s the real power of The Green Interview. It presents the world’s green leaders in the fullness of their humanity, expressing their great hearts and souls as well as their great minds. That’s why I wanted to interview Paul Watson, Jim Lovelock, Vandana Shiva, Jane Goodall. That’s why I still want to include Paul Hawken, among many others.
Ray was back in Halifax in 2009, and I tried to interview him then, but we couldn’t make our schedules mesh. A year or so later he announced he had cancer, and would be withdrawing from public activities. He died on Monday, August 8, at his home in Atlanta. He was 77.
He leaves a huge gap in the world – and a huge gap in this series of interviews. But if we can’t present you with the man himself, we can present you with his legacy. He wrote two books, Mid-Course Correction (1999) and Confessions of a Radical Industrialist (2009), both available from Amazon. His company’s website has a whole section devoted to Ray, including a blog and a selection of speeches and interviews on video. It’s here: http://www.interfaceglobal.com/Company/Leadership-Team/Ray-Watch.aspx
Here is a link to Ray’s TED talk on his corporate vision:
And here are links to some other coverage, including a couple of obituaries:
I’d much rather have brought you a Green Interview with Ray Anderson. But at least we can give him a place of honour on the site – and it’s our sad pleasure to do so.