A Giant Passes: RMI Trustee Ray C. Anderson

Ray C. Anderson was the most visionary, inspiring, and effective green industrialist of the late 20th and early 21st century if not of all time.

A brilliant Georgia Tech engineer and entrepreneur with the competitive drive and leadership qualities of an ex-quarterback, he created Atlanta-based Interface, Inc. and led it to unique success in turning green into gold. Introduced by Paul Hawken, I was one of his acolytes who had the honor to support and learn from Ray for about the past 15 years.

In 1994, Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce gave Ray a “spear in the chest” epiphany. He realized his firm had been rather wastefully turning oil into five billion pounds of carpet that, after brief use, went to landfill to rot for millennia. Ray set out to fix that and to reconcile what he did at work with what he taught in Sunday school about stewarding Creation.

Sixteen years later, more than 100,000 tons of carpet had been diverted from landfills to remanufacturing, recycling, and energy recovery. Eight of Interface’s nine plants ran on all-renewable electricity. Two-fifths of the firm’s raw materials input was biobased or recycled. Energy intensity was down 43 percent, waste to landfill 82 percent, water use 82 percent, and absolute greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent. Waste costs were down 42 percent, saving $438 million and growing. Interface had the greatest independence from oil, the lowest energy intensity, and the strongest customer position in its industry. Ray had set Interface on course to Mission Zero: his 2020 goal of “taking nothing, wasting nothing, and doing no harm—and doing very well by doing good, at the expense not of the Earth of less alert competitors.”

Today we’ve lost a remarkable leader, mentor, and friend, and RMI has lost a treasured emeritus Trustee. But in his powerful ideas and their effect, Ray will never die. There will be no end to the good he has done and continues to do for us all.

— Amory B. Lovins
Chairman and Chief Scientist
Rocky Mountain Institute