What Makes a Sustainability Leader?

Ray Anderson

Many of us in the corporate responsibility and sustainability community were saddened this week by the death of Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface.  If you don’t already know his story, Ray is perhaps best known for his compelling description of the ‘spear in the chest’ epiphany that shifted his environmental paradigm from old-school compliance to sustainability evangelism.  The many tributes paid this week invariably described Ray as a sustainability leader.

That got me to thinking about what attributes epitomize a “sustainability leader.”

In his own words, Ray provided a “shared higher purpose” to his team at Interface.  He articulated a clear vision, supported by a persuasive rationale.  He communicated a sense of urgency, while describing a clear path of action.  He was consistent in his messaging, and tireless in its delivery, both within Interface and with external audiences.  Ray was willing to take risks, to step out ahead of the crowd, fueled by conviction and determination.  He was sincere, and he was deeply committed.

Consequently, Ray Anderson transformed his company into an industry leader in sustainability, while also inspiring thousands of business people, corporate responsibility practitioners, and ordinary folk through storytelling.

Ray showed us that sustainability leaders don’t have all the answers.  They lead from where they are.  They embrace and enable followers and collaborators, anyone who can help to achieve the sustainability vision.  They are courageous and willing to stand alone.  They find their own voice and leverage their own strengths to distill the complexities of sustainability into a simple, clear vision of the way things are, the way things need to be, and the path between these realities.  They move inexorably forward in the sustainability journey, though it may be a daunting one.  They act.

 

View Ray Anderson’s TED talk here.

Photo of Ray from Interface Global’s website.  Ray’s words, above, quoted from John Elkington’s tribute to Ray Anderson in the Guardian Sustainable Business Blog, here.  

Read additional tributes to Ray Anderson here, here, and here.

View Interface’s memorial page and blog here.

  1. “Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.”
    — Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Ray Anderson had a powerful vision of how the world should be, and he got many people to do the work necessary… not just in Interface, but in organizations around the world. We are all better off because of this.

  1. September 1st, 2011

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