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Ray Anderson on film

Last week, sustainable business pioneer (and a personal hero of mine) Ray Anderson lost his battle with cancer. Founder and longtime CEO of Interface, Ray was a pioneer from the outset. A commercial flooring company, Interface brought the carpet square to the United States. At age sixty, after nearly two decades of success, Ray could’ve retired to a house on the golf course and lived out his golden years in luxury. Instead, after reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce,” this established businessman had an epiphany (or, as he liked to call it, a “spear in the chest” moment): he had found success and made his fortune by plundering the Earth’s resources. Ray committed himself and his company to big, hairy, audacious goals concerning their environmental impact, and made amazing strides in an industry that’s traditionally been very resource and energy intensive.

I, and others who have followed Ray’s story, have his two books, “Mid-Course Correction” and “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist,” in prominent places on our bookshelves. Both are fascinating reads, and in them Ray’s warmth, passion and commitment leap off of the pages. Those qualities also worked for him in front of the camera. If you’re not up for reading the books, Ray’s film appearances make for apt introductions to the man and his vision of sustainable, restorative business.

In THE CORPORATION (an award-winner at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival), Ray not only discusses technical concepts like externalities (above) in a lucid manner, but also ties his own “spear in the chest” moment to the traditional corporate mindset.  And in SO RIGHT SO SMART, which focuses on the Interface story, Ray discusses both his successes and challenges in a thoughtful, introspective manner in jeans and work shirt.

While I can’t call Ray a friend, I was very fortunate to spend a half-hour with him on the phone in 2009, and saw the intelligence and passion so many of his friends noted repeatedly. The word “visionary” can get overused, but I think it definitely applies here. Check out the films above for an insight into that vision, and take a look at what two of his friends, Joel Makower and Paul Hawken, had to say in remembrance of Ray.

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