A Recovering Plunderer

They did not lay their hands on the plunder. Esther 9: 15

When he died earlier this month, obits from the Boston-Globe to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution referred to Ray Anderson as America’s Greenest CEO.  Anderson referred to himself as a RECOVERING PLUNDERER.

The recovery phase came after this Georgia Tech grad and visionary read The Ecology of Commerce.

That book convicted him.

Anderson was CEO of Interface, a billion-dollar carpet business. Carpet, an oil-intensive product. For twenty years, Anderson ran his company in compliance with government regulations but gave little, if any, thought to the environmental impact of his products.

Until he read that book.

“Good design can release humankind from its neurotic relationship to absurd acts of destruction, and aim it toward a destiny that is far more “realistic” and enduring.  The urge to create beauty is an untapped power, and it exists in commerce as well as in society.” – The Ecology of Commerce.

Sentiments like those expressed by author Paul Hawken forever altered the landscape of Ray Anderson’s life.

In 1994, long before sustainability was a common word, Anderson decided that he would no longer rob tomorrow’s children just so he could live high on the hog today. Anderson simply could not go about doing business as usual. He had to do it better. Do it well by doing good.

Zero footprint became his focus as Anderson waged a war on waste. Interface would eliminate waste, reduce emissions and switch to renewable energy sources. No easy feat for a carpet company, but Anderson wasn’t the kind of guy to shy away from a challenge. His goal was clear: to manufacture a product that does not come at the expense of tomorrow’s child.

We all make the choice to either leave this world in a better place than we found it — or not. Anderson believed we could re-frame civilization if we learned that we can have more happiness with less stuff.

Zero footprint may have been the intended goal for his company, but Ray Anderson’s own purposed steps has left a soft, fertile impression upon this beautiful blue and green world, and upon the hearts of many.


“What drives me? Tomorrow’s child,” Anderson said.

Tomorrow’s Child
© Glenn Thomas

Without a name; an unseen face
and knowing not your time nor place
Tomorrow’s Child, though yet unborn,
I met you first last Tuesday morn.

A wise friend introduced us two,
and through his sobering point of view
I saw a day that you would see;
a day for you, but not for me

Knowing you has changed my thinking,
for I never had an inkling
That perhaps the things I do
might someday, somehow, threaten you

Tomorrow’s Child, my daughter-son

I’m afraid I’ve just begun
To think of you and of your good,
Though always having known I should.

Begin I will to weigh the cost
of what I squander; what is lost
If ever I forget that you
will someday come to live here too.

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  • I first heard Ray Anderson talk about his epiphany some years ago on “E-Town”, that little music show from Boulder, CO that was carried on public radio. Anderson, along with many other quiet and humble visionaries over the years, received the E-Town “Echievement Award”. Amen to that.

    I’ve often pondered why such an award was given on a secular radio show and not conferred near the pulpits and altars of our churches. How is it that we simultaneously consider ourselves to be custodians of the doctrine of creation while having such low regard for it by how we live? Why is it that we can be regularly challenged to tithe our income, the vast majority or it generated in ways that are far from sustainable, and not at the same time be challenged to halve our trash, then halve it again?

    Why is it that we are so convinced that if we truly are destroying anything here we’ll somehow easily fix it at some nebulous time in the future “when the economy improves”–without realizing that without the economy of soil, air, water, other living systems (earth economy), there is no human economy at all?

    It’s not just about tomorrow’s child. It’s about today’s. Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do. But don’t stop there, Father. Please redirect us like the changing of the wind. Amen.

  • I have a great amount of respect for someone who makes an educated decision to do their part to take care of the planet. So much of what we think is helping the environment really isn’t.

  • Laurie Davis

    Very inspirational!

    It is so encouraging to see the evidence of God working in people’s hearts and minds!