I didn’t know who Ray Anderson was until I saw him speak at the Forward07 conference here in Portland. Ray captivated the audience with his story, and responded to every question with a thoughtful, insightful answer. I was awed by his ability to draw us in with only his words and his personality (no PowerPoint, no slides, only the man alone onstage). Regarding his story, as one of the world’s largest flooring manufacturers he was presented with a list of things his company (Interface – you’re probably familiar with their modular carpet tiles) had to do to be “environmentally compliant.” As he said in his presentation, “compliance is not a vision.” Instead, he envisioned and championed “Mission Zero,” to have zero waste and impact by 2020. Ray completely rethought how Interface did business: waste management, recycling, upcycling, environmental responsibility. He knew the legacy he was creating wasn’t for himself, but for his children, his grandchildren, and generations to come. But don’t assume Ray was simply an environmentalist. He was a businessman and CEO. In that role he found that his company became more profitable the more sustainable it became. The more efforts they put in to recycling flooring and generating power through waste, the more money the company made. Ray’s vision was that by doing the right things morally, ethically, and environmentally, (not just the compliant things), the company would do well financially. This philosophy was summed up in a statement we have used to guide Substance since we started business, and we quote it frequently:
Doing well by doing good.
On August 8th, he passed away from cancer at the age of 77. Ray Anderson did well by doing good. We can all aspire to leave a legacy like that.