How a titan of industry became a true leader

In 1973 Ray Anderson founded what would become one of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers — Interface Inc.

But in 1994 he read two books, and they blew his mind: Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce and Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. 

“It was an epiphanic spear in my heart, a life-changing moment…” Ray said.

“I realized I was a plunderer and it was not a legacy I wanted to leave behind… Theft is a crime. And the theft of our children’s future [will] someday be considered a crime.”

He became a self-described “radical industrialist,” committing the company to make zero environmental impacts by 2020.

“If we’re successful, we’ll spend the rest of our days harvesting yester-year’s carpets and other petrochemically-derived products and recycling them into new materials, and converting sunlight into energy, with zero scrap going to the landfill and zero emissions into the ecosystem. We’ll be doing well… by doing good.”

He advocated for green business, influencing companies like Walmart. “When it came to bending industrial processes to making peace with the planet,” said Ralph Nader, “Ray Anderson was the greatest of them.”

Within a few years, by 2010, the company:

  • Cut greenhouse gas emissions 82%
  • Cut fossil fuel use 60%
  • Cut waste 66%
  • Cut water use 75%
  • Increased sales by 66%, doubled earnings, and raised profit margins!

“Zero footprint, expressed as reaching the top of Mount Sustainability, has been the most powerfully motivating initiative I have ever seen in 55 years of business… providing a shared higher purpose for 4,000 people.”

In 2017 Interface Inc. earned $996 million in revenue.

“The technologies are in hand to get us about 97% of the way there… The main external factor that needs to change is the price of oil. Internally, we need persistence and effective execution, plus a little more invention.”

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