Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist
Ray C. Anderson
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In 1994, Ray Anderson was 60 years old and at the top of his game as founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Interface, Inc., a modular carpet company that makes those clever carpet tiles that you may have underfoot in your office or coveted via the company's residential brand, FLOR.
That was 17 years ago - before 'green' was the compelling business imperative that it is today (for reference, oil was then $18/bbl), and frankly, the environment was nowhere on Ray's radar. An Interface associate asked Ray to give a speech to a task force that was forming to answer customer concerns about environmental impacts, and though he had not a clue what he would say, he accepted. As the date for the speech grew closer, he began to sweat -- and then Paul Hawken's book, The Ecology of Commerce, landed on his desk. The rest is green business history -- Ray read the book (he's called it a 'spear in the chest' epiphany), his outlook was radically transformed, and he gave a speech that would put the petroleum-dependent carpet company on a path to zero environmental footprint.
What's happened in the intervening years has made Interface the poster child for green business, and Ray's become a bit of an eco rock star. He ditched his gas-guzzling Jaguar in favor of a Prius, built an off-the-grid home, and today, at 76, his life is radically different than what he would have imagined for himself at age 60. This is his story.
Foreword As I sit down to write this foreword, I have a lot on my mind. My company, Interface, Inc., has just marked an important milestone—ten years until our target year for Mission Zero, for zero environmental footprint, a goal for which we have set 2020 as our deadline. I’m immensely proud of Interface, and encouraged about our future. At the same time, I have spent the last year dealing with cancer, thankfully holding my own—barely. You may be familiar with my story (before cancer)—the
on sustainability. We wanted to hear all of their stories, good, bad, and indifferent. We took pains to make sure there was a very wide diversity in terms of job description, business unit, gender, and geography. Jim paid special attention to making sure we had a good mix of those who had a long history of working at Interface and relatively new associates who’d come to Interface because of our sustainability mission. The first group knew firsthand that what some experts had said was impossible
three and a half miles of narrow, twisting, turning road to the bottom of a secluded valley. The map called it Lost Valley, and I could sure see why. There a bubbling stream ran gin clear and ice cold. We crossed the stream on a small bridge and began to drive up the opposite side of the valley. The way grew steep, and I was about ready to turn back, but Pat wanted to keep exploring. We eventually climbed out of the trees and found ourselves on a cleared knoll. We stopped, got out, and stood
model (read, competitive advantage), inevitably at the expense of our competitors, would influence much larger companies in much larger industries. That’s the path we chose, and daily we see that there is no natural limit to the power of influence. Interface is a very small pebble in the world’s economy, something like 1/60,000 of global commerce in 2008. But our consulting arm, InterfaceRAISE, has worked with some of the world’s largest corporations to help them adopt sounder, more competitive
and minority-owned and operated flooring services into our circle of influence to manage large contracts for Fortune 1000 corporate clients, educational institutions, retail stores, hospitals, hotels, and a wide range of federal, state, and local government entities. Through it we offer real opportunities to suppliers that are small, minority-, women-, disabled-, or veteran-owned, businesses run by people from historically underrepresented communities. Sales through the Diversity Connect channel