Sustainability loses one of its Olympians

The news is always more personal and interesting when we see mention of people who may have briefly traversed across the path of our own lives, particularly those who impacted positively on the world around them.

So it was with an immediate sense of sadness that I read today of the  passing of Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface Inc, and onetime co-Chair of President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development.

I met Ray Anderson here in Brisbane ten years ago when, along with a few hundred other people he had invited to lunch at the local Hilton,  I heard him share  his personal epiphany drawn from his reading of Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” – and the subsequent Interface story.

Few times have I seen a man speak with such sincere humility about his own experience and the turning point  when he realised that the way we do things in today’s world steals from the children not yet born.

As he closed his speech he recited the poem “Tomorrow’s Child” and in the few verses of that poem written by Interface employee, Glenn Thomas, Ray made personal and compelling what for so many remains remote and obscure.

So often we hear people dismiss the word “sustainability” as being a meaningless buzz word.  But those who dismiss the word as an abstraction obviously never heard Ray speak or read his book, “Mid-Course Correction”, or pondered the words of “Tomorrow’s Child”.

Ray used all the substantial science and engineering and business acumen at his disposal to set about making Interface the world’s first sustainable company – a journey that was not without its ups and downs.

But I believe Ray Anderson will be remembered most for was his eloquent translation of ‘sustainable development’ into a journey all of us could make – because even though difficult it was something we could do if we persevered.  In the simple but emotional lines of a poem recited, he showed it was worth doing because sustainability relates most of all to the things that really matter to all of us.

More than anyone else I have met, Ray Anderson showed why the future is the dream we each have, that the the things we each do matter and make a difference.

He described the quest for achieving sustainability in today’s world as challenging as climbing Mt Everest – but he also showed in the achievements of Interface that while the mountain might be high,  we will get to the top if we climb it one step at a time.

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