The Legacy of Ray Anderson

It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Ray Anderson—who died yesterday after a long battle with cancer—had on the built environment. An engineer and entrepreneur, he founded Interface Carpet in 1973 and spearheaded its growth into a multi-billon dollar enterprise. His now famous eco-epiphany in the mid-1990s set the company on a new course, one that helped transform not only Interface but the entire industry. Although his competitors like to grumble about all the ink we gave Ray—he was good copy, he knew the value of a powerful narrative—his example clearly inspired them to become greener, leaner, and ultimately more profitable. That sort of competition, Ray would argue, was healthy competition.

Ray told the story many times: how a late-night encounter with Paul Hawken’s seminal book, Ecology of Commerce, changed his life. Hawken’s argument was simple and direct: industry was responsible for plundering the earth and uniquely positioned to save it.  Our good luck? Ray took up Hawken’s challenge and set a daunting goal for his company: zero environmental impact by 2020. He called it “Climbing Mount Sustainability.” Although the goal remains a work in progress, the company remains dogged in its pursuit of the challenge. Ray’s enduring legacy will be the roadmap he created for future “recovering plunderers” (as he liked to call himself). His message: it can be done.

Related: For our July 2004 issue, Ray Anderson spoke to Martin Pedersen about “Climbing Mt. Sustainability.” His company, Interface, was later featured in Metropolis for their LEED Platinum-rated Atlanta showroom. In 2003, Anderson received the International Interior Design Association’s Star award, and in a 2007 interview, Paul Hawken told us that history may well find that Ray Anderson was the Rosa Parks of green building.

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