By: Ben Anderson
Ray Anderson, the founder and chairman of carpet-tile maker Interface Inc. who has been called “the greenest chief executive in America,” will deliver the main address at the 2009 Warren Wilson College Commencement May 16. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on the lawn of Sunderland Residence Hall. This year the College has 156 bachelor’s degree candidates.
In 1994, seeking inspiration for a speech to an Interface task force on the company’s environmental vision, Anderson experienced what he describes as a “spear in the chest” epiphany in reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce.” Fifteen years and many changes later, Interface is more than halfway up what it calls “Mount Sustainability” – the journey toward a vision that no one would have imagined for the company or the petroleum-intensive industry of carpet manufacturing.
Interface labels its journey Mission Zero: the promise to eliminate any negative impact it has on the environment by the year 2020. The company continues to make strides by redesigning processes and products; pioneering new technologies; and reducing or eliminating waste and harmful emissions while increasing the use of renewable materials and sources of energy.
Anderson described his vision for Interface in 1997, a vision that remains unchanged today: “If we’re successful, we’ll spend the rest of our days harvesting yesteryear’s carpets and other petrochemically derived products, and recycling them into new materials; converting sunlight into energy; and having zero scrap going to the landfill and zero emissions into the ecosystem. And we’ll be doing well – very well – by doing good. That’s the vision.”
More recently, Anderson told Fastcompany.com magazine: “The new course we’re on at Interface… is to pioneer the next Industrial Revolution: one that is kinder and gentler to the earth.”
Anderson, who has stepped down as Interface CEO but continues as chairman, gives about 100 speeches a year educating executives of other companies – including Walmart and Boeing – about sustainability. He also wrote his own book, titled “Mid-Course Correction,” in which he discussed his environmental awakening and presented a model for sustainable business practices.
An honors graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Anderson learned the carpet trade through 14-plus years at various positions at Deering-Milliken and Callaway Mills. In 1973, he set out to start a company to produce the first free-lay carpet tiles in America. Today, Interface is the world’s leading producer of soft-surfaced modular floor coverings.
For more information on Interface Inc. and Ray Anderson, click here.