The Sustainable Business Lab

A Global Community & Resource Centre for Sustainable Business

Ray C. Anderson: The Greatest Man I Nearly Worked With.

What can I say that has not already been said about Ray C. Anderson?  It’s all been said, and so eloquently, by so many people during the last twenty-four hours. He was certainly an inspiration to so many: in word, thought and deed. To me though, he was the greatest man I nearly worked with.


His works are well documented, not least in his excellent book  Confessions of a Radical Industrialist.  If you haven’t read a copy yet, then I have to recommend you put it at the top of your list; it's a great read that speaks to us on so many levels. His passion, commitment, persistence and sheer determination, not to mention the wisdom and learning imparted. Oh, and its just plain enjoyable, hard to put down.


There are many interesting, as well as thought provoking moments. One of my favourite passages is when Ray shared his profound thought on the purpose of business, something along the lines of ‘business generates profit to exist; it exists to serve a higher purpose’.  I had to read, think about it, and then re-read this one a few times. It was quite simply one of those lovely ‘ah-ha’ moments, this time concerning the sustainability of various business models. 


What, I asked myself, is the higher purpose of a bank and how should it make its money? The implication being that while business is certainly about making money, isn’t it also about how we make money that is important: the source, quality and legitimacy of our earnings and, quite importantly, how long we are able to sustain these for? Are profits generated in a way that does not deplete natural resources or create adverse impacts for the environment, society or people? That was it for me; sustainable business had to be about legitimate profits, in addition to anything else we may think about, like eco-efficiency and eco-effectiveness.


Having also worked on the InterfaceFLOR case study for our Global Research Project, it became clear to me that what Ray and his team had achieved these last sixteen years of Mission Zero was an amazing feat. Ray had to be the ideal candidate to write the Foreword for The Rough Guide to Sustainable Business I was working on. I had to get on touch with him and see what he thought. I was delighted that he said yes, and that was a humbling moment. What luck.


Sadly, Ray has been taken away before we had time to follow through and collaborate on this project.  After a two-year battle with cancer he passed away only yesterday.  My thoughts are now with his family, friends and all those who have worked so closely with him over the years.


All I can now say is ‘Thank you Ray’ for the inspiration and wisdom you kindly shared with us. You have unwittingly helped me along my journey, as you have with countless others. I’m so sorry we ran out of time though, I would love to have read your Foreword to the Rough Guide. You are to me the greatest man I nearly worked with. Rest in peace.

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Tags: Anderson, Business, Global, Guide, Inspiration., Interface, InterfaceFLOR, Mission, Project, Ray, More…Research, Rough, Sustainable, Zero, sustainability, to

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Comment by Rob Garvey on August 9, 2011 at 21:31
Good blog Mike on such sad news.
Thanks for recommending that I read his book. As Ray says 'one mind at a time' and his book has influenced me.

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