Carpet mogulRay C. Anderson

A “carpet-tile mogul,” Anderson founded Interface, the largest modular carpeting manufacturer in the world. But in 1994, he took a sobering look at his Georgia-based company: the tiles were made from petroleum-based nylon. The power that ran his plant came from petroleum-based fuels. The product was hauled away from his plants on petroleum-fueled trucks. The entire end-to-end process was so oil-dependent, he said, “you could think of it as an extension of the petrochemical industry.” That realization, he said, “was an epiphanic spear in my heart, a life-changing moment. I realized I was a plunderer and it was not a legacy I wanted to leave behind.” So he set out to change his company with what he called “a climb up Mount Sustainability.” He radically reduced the company’s greenhouse gas emissions (by 44%), fossil fuel consumption (renewable energy from wind and solar provides 30% of their power, and the company is now a leader in recycling carpet fibers), water usage (down 80%), and landfill output (by more than 100,000 tons). But what did it all cost? Well, Anderson’s effort helped the company double its earnings, proving manufacturers can not only still do business, but substantially increase profits, by being “green.” He wrote about his vision in two books, Mid-Course Correction (1998) and Confessions Of a Radical Industrialist (2009). Anderson, who estimated that the company was only half-way along in realizing his “Mission Zero” vision, died at his Atlanta home from cancer on August 8, three days after receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Georgia Tech. He was 77.

From This is True for 14 August 2011