Ray Anderson, Businessman Turned Environmentalist, Dies at 77

פורסם: 29 באוג׳ 2011, 3:09 על ידי: Sustainability Org   [ עודכן 29 באוג׳ 2011, 3:27 ]
August 10, 2011, by Paul Vitello

Ray C. Anderson was chairman and chief executive of the world’s largest carpet-tile manufacturer when he read a book that described people like him as thieves and plunderers of the planet. He saw the author’s point. He even wept. Then he set out to change things.

Jessica McGowan for The New York Times

Ray C. Anderson at an Interface plant in Georgia in 2007.

Mr. Anderson, an avowed “recovering plunderer” who re-invented his worldwide factory operation to reduce its environmental impact and became one of the nation’s most effective corporate advocates for environmental sustainability, died on Tuesday at his home in Atlanta. He was 77. His family said the cause was cancer.

Starting in the early 1970s, Mr. Anderson built a company based in Atlanta, Interface Inc., into a $1.1 billion a year concern manufacturing carpet, fabric and upholstery used in offices and commercial buildings.

By the time of his epiphany in 1994, Mr. Anderson was a 60-year-old executive who had given little thought to the environment except as a matter of compliance with government regulations, he said.

After 1994, he seemed to think about nothing else — crisscrossing the country with a near-evangelical fervor, telling fellow executives about the need to reduce waste and carbon emissions.

Those efforts drew praise from environmental organizations and earned him an appointment to a White House environmental commission under President Bill Clinton.

They also helped his company’s bottom line. “What started out as the right thing to do quickly became the smart thing,” he told a business group in Toronto in 2005. “Cost savings from eliminating waste alone have been $262 million.”

In his speeches, Mr. Anderson credited that book, “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken, with changing his perspective. He described reading it as a “spear in the chest experience.”

“I read on and was dumbfounded by how much I did not know about the environment, and the impacts of the industrial system on the environment — the industrial system of which I and my ‘successful’ company were an integral part,” he said in a 2005 speech.

“A new definition of success burst into my consciousness, and the latent sense of legacy asserted itself. I got it. I was a plunderer of Earth, and that is not the legacy one wants to leave behind. I wept.”

Efforts he began have so far reduced the so-called carbon footprint of the company’s 26 factories by about half, said the current chief executive, Dan Hendrix.

“When he first came up with this idea, I have to admit I thought he’d gone around the bend,” Mr. Hendrix said Wednesday. “But he was right.”

Ralph Nader, who became friendly with Mr. Anderson after hearing one of his speeches several years ago, called him “the greatest educator of his peers in industry, and the most knowledgeable motivator, by example and vision, for the environmental movement.”

Ray Christie Anderson was born July 28, 1934, in rural West Point, Ga., the youngest of three children of William Henry Anderson, a postal worker, and Ruth McGinty, a teacher. He received a football scholarship to Georgia Institute of Technology and graduated in 1956 with a degree in systems engineering.

In 1973, Mr. Anderson became one of the first manufacturers in the United States to produce modular carpet, which provided for easier access to wiring and infrastructure beneath floors than broadloom carpet. Interface became the largest manufacturer of modular carpet in the world.

His survivors include his wife of 27 years, Patricia Adams Anderson; two daughters from a previous marriage, Mary Anne Lanier, of Marietta, Ga., and Harriet Langford, of LaGrange, Ga., and a brother, Dr. William Anderson, of Conneaut, Ohio.

In one of his first speeches after reading Mr. Hawken’s book, Mr. Anderson told an audience of business executives: “We are all part of the continuum of humanity and life. We will have lived our brief span and either helped or hurt that continuum and the earth that sustains all life. It’s that simple. Which will it be?”

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