This week I said goodbye to a man who has been one of the most influential thought-leaders in my life, Dr. Ray Anderson. A chorus of voices around the world has echoed my farewell, rising up to remember the man who so profoundly shaped the conversation around the notion of ‘sustainable business’. Dr. Anderson was nothing short of a visionary. He was a true pioneer who proved that it is possible to build profit while pursuing sustainable business practices. As he gained recognition for putting his principles into practice in his own company, Interface Inc., he committed himself to using his power of influence to encourage others to join the journey to sustainability.
Indeed, he had influenced my own journey, inspiring me to focus all my academic and professional work on making ‘sustainability’ an attractive and viable option for business. After devouring his book ‘Midcourse Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model’, I finally met Anderson in 2006 when I moved to Atlanta to join Interface’s Global Sustainable Strategy team. The look in his eyes when he spoke brought life to the passionate call to action that had so gripped me in his book. This man was for real. Interface’s corporate vision is to help “leave this world a better place than how we found it”. Ray Anderson believed it. We all did. He was a hero to many of us working there, and he was mentor and hero to innumerable others beyond the immediate Interface community.
Indeed, recognition and praise for his achievements flowed in from all corners of the globe, from the business, scientific and academic communities who acknowledged him for the courageous and practical way he put his dream into practice. But this post is not about the long list of public awards and recognitions that Dr. Anderson earned over the years. Although to be sure, there are many.
Instead, I want to ensure that we remember the genuine conviction of his messages. Having met him myself, I want the world to know that these were not corporate spin. His story of the ‘spear in the chest’ is real. His desire to turn the entire industrial system on its head is true. His insistence that we aim high, make ourselves big promises, yet stay honest about our shortcomings: all clear messages we heard regularly.
Self-described as a ‘radical industrialist’, many of Dr. Anderson’s ideas have now become well accepted truths almost fifteen years later. But there is still much work to be done. Ray Anderson has left us big shoes to fill. It will take perseverance, courage, creative out-of-the-box thinking and new forms of collaboration to get us there. I am determined to honour his memory by staying the path up ‘Mount Sustainability’ that he invited me to join so many years ago. I invite you to join me. We are not alone on this journey, but we will need many more to reach the top.