Just learned of the passing of Ray Anderson. I was never able to hook up with him personally, but I quoted him extensively. He learned that sustainability was far deeper than a liberal buzzword. It was actually a great organizing principle for running a profitable manufacturing enterprise. His legacy lives on. Here’s the press release I just received.

Interface Founder and Chairman Ray Anderson, Visionary Entrepreneur and Champion for the Environment, has died at age 77

Atlanta, Georgia  – “Interface and the world have lost a great man today,” said Dan Hendrix, President and Chief Executive Officer of Interface, announcing that Ray C. Anderson lost a 20-month battle with cancer today.  Surrounded by his family, Ray died at his home in Atlanta.

Dan went on to say, “Ray was and continues to be our company’s heart and soul. His iconic spirit and pioneering vision are not only his legacy, but our future. We will honor Ray by keeping his vision alive and the Company on course.”

Ray’s story is now legend: the 1994 “spear in the chest” epiphany he experienced when he first read Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce, seeking inspiration for a speech to an Interface task force on the company’s environmental vision.  Seventeen years and a sea change later, Ray estimated that Interface is more than half-way towards the vision of “Mission Zero,” the journey no one would have imagined for the company, or for the petroleum-intensive industry of carpet manufacturing, which has been forever changed by his vision.  

Ray chronicled the Interface journey in two books, Mid-Course Correction (1998) and Confessions Of A Radical Industrialist (2009).  The latter was recently released in paperback as Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist.

An honors graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of industrial and systems engineering in 1956, Ray remained an ardent supporter of the school, which awarded him with an honorary doctorate of philosophy at last Friday’s summer commencement. Together, he and Interface funded the creation of the Anderson-Interface Chair in Natural Systems at Georgia Tech, where Associate Professor Valerie Thomas conducts research in sustainability.

Anderson founded Interface in 1973 to produce the first free-lay carpet tiles in America. Interface would revolutionize the commercial floorcovering business, but it is for that legendary environmental epiphany in 1994 that Ray will best be remembered.

Interface, Inc. is the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpet, which it markets under the InterfaceFLOR, FLOR, Heuga and Bentley Prince Street brands, and, through its Bentley Prince Street brand, enjoys a leading position in the designer quality segment of the broadloom carpet market.  The Company is committed to the goal of sustainability and doing business in ways that minimize the impact on the environment while enhancing shareholder value. 

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