Ray C. Anderson (1934-2011), Founder and Chairman, Interface, Inc.
Ray's legacy and the Interface story demonstrate how a company can become a powerful force for good when it seeks to exist in harmony with nature. These two principles — seeking harmony with nature and leveraging the power of business — are at the core of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and the work of the Biomimicry Institute. This Challenge, and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation's partnership with the Institute in offering it, both honor Ray and advance the causes about which he cared the most.
He was called by many names: son, brother, husband, father, uncle, friend, grandfather—even great grandfather. He was known as President, CEO, Chairman, trusted advisor, mentor, teacher, visionary, servant leader, champion of the earth, and the world's greenest CEO.
His life's journey moved him from the football field and classrooms of Georgia Tech to performing on the world stage as a leading voice in industrial sustainability. In 1994, at the height of his success with Interface—a company he had built from a dream, grit and determination—he was challenged with a question that would define the rest of his life: "What is your company doing for the environment?" In an effort to discover the answer to that question, he read a book by Paul Hawken. The Ecology of Commerce made him aware for the first time that Interface was doing much more to harm the environment than to protect it.
This "spear in the chest" epiphany led to what Ray later called his Mid-Course Correction—the beginning of his quest to prove that sustainability was not just the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do for business.
His mission led him to deliver his message from shop floors to the White House. He was clear, direct and demanding. Anchored in the values of his West Point, Georgia rural roots, he pulled from life's lessons to captivate audiences with his stories. When asked how to overcome the challenges and complexities facing the world, his advice came in the words of a Sunday school hymn he learned while a child—Brighten the Corner Where You Are. He pushed, prodded, inspired, and chided all who would listen. He challenged us all to create a better world for tomorrow's child.
Ray was a gifted storyteller and inspirational catalyst who changed the way we think about consumerism and production. His masterful penchant for storytelling was matched only by his uncompromising determination to brighten his corner of the world. What started as one person's mission to change his company's thinking stimulated a greater transformation: one that carried with it the momentum to break from the status quo.
It's this legacy that we honor with the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize, fostering the next generation of world-changing innovators who are working to "brighten their corners" with nature-inspired design.