I saw an obituary of Ray yesterday. More than any other business leader, he promoted the cause of sustainability as an essential foundation for business strategies. I would have argued with him (and did on occasion) that his view of sustainability missed its essential meaning. But no matter, Ray was an unceasing spokesman for the greening movement through his books and frequent speeches. He claimed he got the message as an epiphany after reading Paul Hawken’s early book, The Ecology of Commerce.
He brought in a dream team (Hawken, Lovins, McDonough, and others) to put his company, Interface Carpet, at the head of the queue. Some of his ideas worked and others merely created new approaches. The idea of leasing carpets, an early entry into the product-services category, was a bit too early and was based on a misunderstanding of the way that companies financed assets like carpets. It was one of the few failures in Interface’s greening program. Interface was joined by other carpet manufacturers in seeking processes to recycle the old goods into new. Today, that closed loop is a fixture of their industry.
Ray would end his talks with a poem, “Tomorrow’s Child” (written by Glenn Thomas). In spite of his soothing southern accent, the implications of the words never failed to impact his audience. The message of the poem is a beautiful metaphor for sustainable development, seen as the need to live so that the coming generations will always have enough.
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 shining 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.
Ray’s soft, persistent, persuasive manner will be missed.