Green Business: Looking for the Next Ray Andersons

Ray Anderson believed in doing well by doing good.

Before his untimely death in 2011, Interface founder Anderson pioneered the field of Sustainable Business.

His company doubled profits while slashing greenhouse gas emissions, waste, fossil fuel and water consumption.

What impresses me about his story is that his company was in the business of making acres of toxic-laden, waste-producing, petroleum-based commercial carpets.

Not what you would think of as a green company.

When he realized the impact his company was having on the earth, he took action.

Two books by Anderson to download or buy used:

Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose—Doing Business by Respecting the Earth

Mid-Course Correction. Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model

And the book by Paul Hawken that inspired Anderson’s business transformation:

The Ecology of Commerce Revised Edition: A Declaration of Sustainability

On the one-year anniversary of Anderson’s death, chairman and executive editor Joel Makower asks:

Why aren’t there more Ray Andersons?

Who today is the enlightened CEO picking up where Anderson left off?

Makower’s query to sustainable business experts brought one name to the top:

One name did come up repeatedly: Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever. For at least the past two years — since launching his company’s Sustainable Living Plan in 2010 — Polman has been presenting a bold sustainability vision for his company, one that at times rails against the status quo.

“He may be on track to surpass Ray,” says Jeffrey Hollender, the co-founder of Seventh Generation, now a speaker, activist, and consultant. “Unilever’s focus on accepting that the way their consumers use their products is part of its sustainability footprint, and that to reduce their negative impact they have to change consumer behavior, is revolutionary.”

But one more Ray is not enough.

Makower says that Anderson left behind “a vision for what sustainable leadership looks like.”

The qualities that Makower identifies as “What Made Ray, Ray” are attributes of transformational leaders : an entrepreneur’s vision, a passion for learning, and a willingness to risk big.

My take-away from Makower’s article is our energies are best spent not on finding the next Ray Anderson, but on encouraging and supporting business leaders to become the next Ray Anderson.

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