Column: Ray Anderson: Irresponsible businesses a ‘cancer’

By Maria Saporta
Friday, October 1, 2010

As the dean of Atlanta’s environmentally conscientious business leaders, Ray Anderson has been a “pioneer, someone who defines tomorrow, someone who has vision.”

That’s how former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin introduced Anderson, the recipient of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s 2010 River Guardian Award, at its annual Patron Appreciation Dinner on Sept. 24 at the Georgia Aquarium.

Anderson, chairman and former CEO of Interface Inc., was one of the first local executives to become concerned about the impact businesses were having on the environment. He introduced Atlanta’s corporate community to the concept of sustainability, and he invited leading environmentalists to Atlanta to outline the challenges facing the globe.

In his acceptance speech, once again, Anderson was ahead of the curve. At the beginning of his talk, Anderson disclosed that he’s been “dealing with cancer — effectively, so far,” but added that with cancer one never knows if or when it will recur. “It’s difficult not to let cancer take over your life.”

But he used his experience with cancer to ask one of the great scientific questions: Is cancer a result of nature or nurture?

“My mother was one of seven siblings. My father, too, was one of seven. Not one of those 14 people who were the generation before mine had cancer,” Anderson said. “In my generation, my two brothers, one of our first cousins, and I have had cancer. One would tend to think that the probable cause is nurture — something in the environment, not naturally inherited, that got to us. “

Anderson was quick to say that his cancer was just an analogy for the challenges facing the Earth.

“Like my brothers, our cousin, and me, life on the Earth is ‘seeing,’ i.e., being exposed to, hazards it has not seen in the Earth’s entire 4.5 billion yearlong existence: man-made substances — chemicals, synthetics — that are completely unnatural and foreign to our bodies,” he said.

“Even substances the Earth put away down there in its crust millions, even billions, of years ago through sedimentation and sequestration, so we could evolve up here in a healthy environment, are being dug up or drilled up, processed and reintroduced back into our surroundings. And Earth’s fragile ecological balances are abused constantly, by whom? By homo sapien — modern man, doubly aware man, man who knows and knows he knows — and who by now ought to know better,” he continued.

And then he took on Corporate America.

“Irresponsible businesses, the diggers, the drillers, the processors and purveyors of unnatural poisons, the abusers of the environment, all of whom ought to know better — they and their abusive industries — are a cancer on society,” Anderson said. “It’s high time to start the right treatment of this hateful cancer that is inflicted on the Earth by us humans and our much-lauded industrial system, before it takes us all down. It’s time for the public, the revered marketplace — you and me (we are part of the treatment) — to say to the institution of business: ‘You think you cannot afford to act responsibly. But here’s the truth. You can no longer afford not to act responsibly. Stop your companies’ crimes against nature, for we will run you out of business if you don’t.’ ”

After his talk, Anderson received a long, standing ovation.

The dinner raised a net of about $100,000 for the organization, according to Sally Bethea, the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s executive director.

Brocks supporting Tech

Georgia Tech is tremendously grateful that Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. CEO John Brock attended the Atlanta-based institute, earning degrees in chemical engineering 40 years ago.

John and Mary Brock are making a gift of up to $3.5 million to help build an indoor practice facility for Georgia Tech’s football program. Pending approval from the Georgia Board of Regents, Georgia Tech will build an 80,000-square-foot facility on the current site of Rose Bowl Field off of Fowler Street. The Brocks have agreed to fund half of the total project cost, estimated to be $6 million to $7 million.

“John epitomizes the greatest in Georgia Tech’s alums,” said Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson. “He’s been tremendously successful, and he loves his alma mater.”

Up until now, in inclement weather, the football team has had to practice in the Georgia Dome or the Atlanta Falcons’ facility in Flowery Branch.

But Dan Radakovich, director of Georgia Tech’s Athletic Association, said Brock understood that the football program could operate much more efficiently with an indoor facility on campus.

“We wouldn’t be at the point where we are looking to hire architects and contractors right now without this gift being in place,” Radakovich said. “They came forward, and with their generosity it allowed us to be in a position to move forward.”

Radakovich said that with the proper approvals, construction could begin in early 2011.

Ted’s resumes expansion

The 55th Ted’s Montana Grill will officially open in Boulder, Colo., Oct. 4 — after a 27-month hiatus in the chain’s expansion.

“It’s been two years since we opened in Montana,” said George McKerrow Jr., a veteran restaurateur who co-founded Ted’s Montana Grill with Ted Turner, a media mogul, environmentalist and philanthropist. “In this environment, we’ve had to slow down our growth.”

The Boulder restaurant will be the chain’s ninth in Colorado. As a prelude to the official opening, Ted’s Montana Grill is holding a series of preview events. On Sept. 28, Turner and McKerrow hosted a private dinner for state and local leaders. Other private preview parties are scheduled for the weekend before the opening.

The restaurant chain was started by Turner as a way to create a stronger market for bison — buffalo meat. Turner owns the largest herd of buffalo in the U.S.

McKerrow, who is also CEO of Ted’s Montana Grill, said that the plan is to open one or two restaurants per year, but that number could increase “if the economy starts to improve.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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