A Ray of Sunshine

by Terence Jeyaretnam

"We have a choice to make during our brief visit to this beautiful blue and green living planet. To hurt it or to help it," he said. "For you, it's your call."  These words were uttered not by an environmentalist, but an industrialist who founded a company in 1973 that grew into a billion-dollar corporation and was named by Fortune as one of the 'Most Admired Companies in America' and the '100 Best Companies to Work For'.  He was an honours graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology in the school of industrial and systems engineering in 1956.  An engineer, but, one that was visionary, and, whilst his thinking was ahead of his time, his actions were exactly what our times needed.

The company’s vision statement today is as follows:  To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.  And, the results to date certainly demonstrate that the organisation is on the path to meet its vision.

The company is no other than Interface Inc, and the visionary, its founder Ray Anderson.  Ray passed away recently (8th August 2011) after a twenty month battle with cancer.  Interface Inc is now a diversified and globalized business, with sales in 110 countries and manufacturing facilities on four continents, and is now the world’s leading producer of soft-surfaced modular floor coverings.  In the mid-1990s, as Interface’s Chairman and CEO, Anderson shifted the company’s strategy, aiming to redirect its industrial practices to include a focus on sustainability without sacrificing its business goals. Anderson wrote a book entitled Mid-Course Correction, in which he discussed his own awakening to environmental concerns and presented a model for businesses to achieve sustainability, which was one of Anderson’s several books. He also had a role in a number of documentaries and films (eg. The Corporation and The 11th Hour).  He served a stint as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development during President Clinton’s administration, and was part of a team that presented the Obama Administration with a 100 day action plan on climate.  In 2007, he was named one of Time’s Heroes of the Environment.  Anderson was honoured with twelve honorary doctorates.

It would be Anderson’s dream come true to have each of us in a position where we would be able to say to our kids and their kids to come that the businesses that we owned, operated or worked for did not take away from their environment and resources, but indeed that they contributed positively, like Interface Inc. In his talks, Anderson often commented about his belief that “if we could do it, any one could”.  It would be a fantastic honour to prove him right.

 

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (terence@netbalance.com), 
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.