Ray Anderson Remembered

It’s been three weeks.  I remember pausing on August 8 for several moments to note that I felt a real sense of loss and sadness when I read that he had passed.  I even talked with my family about it at dinner – a time when we share important happenings of the day.

The huge impact that he had on the world is borne out by the fact that three weeks later, the sustainability community continues to mourn his loss and celebrate his life. Serendipity brought me to a web cast memorial service for him today, at which point I knew I had to add my voice to all of those who were touched by him.  If you’re reading this and don’t know who Ray Anderson was – you should.   He is the very definition of “doing well by doing good”.

The Biomimicry Weekend

In 2005, I was invited to attend a “Biomimicry Weekend” at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.  Interface Carpet reps across the country were asked to invite those who they identified as sustainability leaders in their territory. Meeting and spending the weekend with Janine Benyus was an amazing, thought-provoking and inspiring experience that I will never forget.  During that weekend, it became very clear that all things on this fragile little planet are connected.

The surprise was meeting and getting to know Ray Anderson.  There he was when the shuttle pulled up from the airport.  I remember stepping out of the van to be greeted by an exceptionally warm and sincere man.   And, there he was, with us at every meal and sharing stories with us on the porch after the meetings of the day were done. This was no “star power” walk-on.  It was clear that he was fully invested in the success of this gathering.

Although Janine did much of the facilitating, Ray spent one of the mornings giving us his “spear through the chest” presentation – and we were mesmerized.   When he read the “Tomorrow’s Child” poem (written by Glenn Thomas) for which he has become so famous, it gave us real clarity for doing what we do to make this a sustainable world.

And, even though he has been described as an extraordinarily dedicated businessman, there was very little talk about the latest innovations from Interface Carpet.  Most of the conversation was about all things sustainable, and how we could take that message back to our businesses and drive the overall sustainability agenda.  In my mind, this was generosity almost unheard of in the corporate world.

Gone But Not Forgotten

After the Biomimicry Weekend was over, we were all sent a medallion with an engraved “Inukshuk” – a stone monument erected in the image of a human, used to mark a trail through the Arctic by the Inuit.  It came with a long explanation, “thanks” for our participation, and the following message at the end:  “The difference we make today counts in all our tomorrows.  Our company can never become what we are not.” It has remained on my desk ever since to remind me of that unforgettable experience and that each one of us needs to mark the way forward.

My lasting impression of the man will always be one of gentle kindness, thoughtfulness and intense dedication to climbing “Mt. Sustainability”.  He seemed to radiate an aura of peace that comes with knowing that he had found a meaningful purpose for his life.  One of his legacies is that he has inspired so many of us to climb the mountain with him.

See you at the top, Ray.