Ray Christie Anderson, 77: Was a respected manufacturing environmentalist

Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, an Atlanta-based carpet manufacturer, didn't adhere to environmental standards because he had to. He didn't just talk big about "going green," either. He was a pioneer in the sustainability manufacturing movement, hailed by many as an environmental hero who proved  that one could protect nature, create jobs and earn money.

Interface was your typical "brown manufacturer" until 1994. That year, Mr. Anderson experienced an epiphany when he read Paul Hawken's "The Ecology of Commerce." He then sought to revolutionize not only his company, but textile manufacturing in general so that it would utilize methods that minimized harm to the earth and satisfied shareholder value.

Put simply, the Georgia Tech alum, hoops and football fan, embraced the concept of  "going green"  before its modernity. He was recognized and honored by governments, environmental outfits and business entities. Time magazine named him one of its 2007 "heroes of the environment."

"For him, it was a calling that he couldn't deny," said Mary Anne Lanier, a daughter from Atlanta. " There were times we wondered just what he was thinking, it was so visionary. He was so ahead of his time that we didn't know if his visions would bear fruit."

On Monday, Ray Christie Anderson died from complications of cancer at his home in Atlanta. He was 77. A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. today at Atlanta's Northside United Methodist Church. Burial will follow in LaGrange. H.M. Patterson & Son, Spring Hill Chapel, handled arrangements.

In 1956, Mr. Anderson earned a degree from Georgia Tech's school of industrial and system engineering. A West Point native, he spent nearly 20 years in the carpet industry with Callaway Mills and Deering-Milliken in LaGrange. He founded Interface in 1973 and years later  moved the operation to Atlanta.

Apparently, Mr. Anderson's vision, inspiration and ingenuity took hold, not only within his company, but amid the carpet manufacturing industry. After he stopped being Interface's day-to-day manager, he served as non-executive chairman and traveled the country delivering speeches on sustainability. He also wrote two books, "Mid-Course Correction," and "Confessions of a Radical Industrialist."

In a statement, activist Ralph Nader called him the "the most knowledgeable motivator, by example and vision, for the environmental movement."

Interface employs 8,000 people and is the world’s largest producer of modular commercial floor coverings. It has sales in 110 countries and manufacturing facilities on four continents. Second-quarter profit rose nearly 70 percent, to $12.8 million, according to a news release regarding Mr. Anderson’s demise.

Dan Hendrix, Interface president and chief executive officer, said the company will honor its founder by continuing his environmental vision.

“He had the courage to try and change the industry,” Mr. Hendrix said, “and he was clearly a visionary."

Additional survivors include his wife of 27 years, Patricia Adams Anderson of Atlanta; another daughter, Harriet Langford of LaGrange; a brother, Dr. William Anderson of Conneaut, Ohio; a stepson, Brian Rainey of Atlanta; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.