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Ray C. Anderson dies at 77; carpet tile mogul

Anderson's Georgia-based firm, Interface, makes carpet tiles from petroleum products. He transformed the firm into a model of sustainability.

By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

In the summer of 1994, carpet-tile mogul Ray C. Anderson made a sobering discovery: Although his billion-dollar business was the biggest of its kind in the world, everything about it was wrong.

That realization came after reading "The Ecology of Commerce" by Paul Hawken, the sustainability guru who founded the Smith & Hawken gardening stores. The book led Anderson to reexamine his business model through the lens of environmentalism.

His Georgia-based company, Interface, made carpet tiles from petroleum products. The nylon in the carpets came from oil. The electricity that ran its plants came from fossil fuels. The finished tiles were transported on diesel-powered trucks. The entire enterprise, he would later say, was so oil-dependent that "you could think of it as an extension of the petrochemical industry."

What he had failed to see were his company's harmful by-products — pollution and waste, including millions of tons of used carpeting that would clog landfills for thousands of years.

"It was an epiphanic spear in my heart, a life-changing moment," he recalled in a 2006 interview with the Guardian of London. "I realized I was a plunderer and it was not a legacy I wanted to leave behind."

Anderson, 77, who died of cancer Aug. 8 in Atlanta, turned himself into the leading champion of sustainability in corporate America. "When it came to bending industrial processes to making peace with the planet, Ray Anderson was the greatest of them," Ralph Nader said in a statement last week.

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