Georgia Water Coalition honors 13 for cleaning waterways, including Interface flooring

By David Pendered

The commercial flooring company founded by Ray Anderson, the corporate environmentalist who preached the value of sustainable manufacturing processes, was named Wednesday as a Water Hero in the second annual Clean 13 awards program sponsored by the Georgia Water Coalition.

ray anderson

Interface flooring founder Ray Anderson became known as ‘the greenest CEO in America’ for his efforts to make his manufacturing plants more sustainable. Credit: Corbis via economist.com

Interface, the flooring company, was among a total of 13 companies, organizations or individuals honored for “extraordinary efforts [that] have led to cleaner water in Georgia,” according to a statement from the water coalition.

This is the second year the coalition has sponsored the Clean 13 event, which is a bookend to the Dirty Dozen report the coalition produces to shine a spotlight on situations that harm the state’s water quality.

Clean 13 intends to highlight positive efforts in Georgia to clean waterways, Joe Cook, advocacy and communication coordinator with Coosa River Basin Initiative, a Georgia Water Coalition member organization, said Wednesday.

“We got to thinking that there are lot more good things going on than bad,” Cook said. “It’s infinitely easier to find nominations for clean than it is to identify places that we need to highlight as dirty. There’s a whole lot more good things going on than bad.”

Such is the case with Interface, which Anderson founded in 1973.

Anderson’s role in leading the way for manufacturers to conserve natural resources can’t be overstated. The Washington Post published an obituary of Anderson under a headline that tagged him as “the greenest CEO in America” and observed:

the ray

Though not mentioned in the Clean 13 honor, Ray Anderson’s environmental influence reaches to a stretch of I-85 named The Ray, in honor of Anderson. Among the sustainable entities it tests are these weight-bearing solar panels installed in 2016 at the Georgia Visitor Information Center in West Point. File/Credit: wattwaybycolas.com

  • “Mr. Anderson preached environmentalism with the conviction of a convert. He pursued what he called ‘Mission Zero:’ to make Interface fully sustainable by 2020 through the use of recycled materials and renewable energy sources.
  • “’It’s not often that you have a corporate CEO who is as committed to environmental issues or more than those of us in the environmental movement itself,’ said Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute. ‘I don’t think any other corporation has come close to doing what he has done.’”

Lisa Conway, Interface’s vice president for sustainability in the Americas, rattled off some benchmarks that indicate the company is on track to meet at least some of Anderson’s lofty goals – including a 96 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since the goal was set.

“Now that we’re nearing 2020 and the top of the mount of sustainability, we’ve set our sights on what is next,” Conway said in a conference call regarding Clean 13. “The next mission is climate take-back, our promise to reduce global warming. In [an event] San Francisco, we agreed to be carbon negative by 2040.”

Details about all the award winners are available in a slideshow available on this page at the Georgia Water Coalition’s website.

This year’s honorees of the Clean 13 are:

  1. Riverview Farms in Gordon County, which protects the Coosawattee River by preserving natural buffers along the river and by fencing cattle and hogs to prevent them from fouling the river;
  2. Stripling Irrigation Research Park, managed by the University of Georgia, works with farmers to encourage them to adopt water efficient irrigation practices;
  3. The University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, which breached an obsolete century-old dam to reconnect 22 miles of the Middle Oconee River and improve habitat for numerous fish species;

    Riverview Farms

    Riverview Farms, in Gordon County, was recognized for its organic practices, which eliminate chemical fertilizers, and efforts to keep animal waste from reaches the waters of the Coosawattee River. Credit: gawater.org

  4. UGA’s Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineering professor, has become a leader in research on plastic pollution in oceans;
  5. Interface, one of the world’s largest producers of modular floor coverings, has set the bar for sustainable manufacturing practices;
  6. In Carrollton, Southwire, a world leader in the production of wire and cable, now uses rainwater collection in a 5 million gallon system at its manufacturing facility;
  7. House Majority Leader Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington) has used his position to push legislation protecting Georgia’s water and land as well as the property rights of all Georgians;
  8. Glynn Environmental Coalition (GEC) is recognized in the report for the organization’s nearly 30 years of efforts on behalf of Glynn County communities;
  9. Water utilities in Savannah, Augusta and Columbia County have banded together to fund a study that will ultimately restore the health of the river by reconnecting its main channel with bends or “oxbows” that were cut off during 20th century engineering projects;
  10. The Clayton County Water Authority is restoring the Flint River by building a new sewage treatment plant that for the first time in some 30 years will return treated wastewater directly to the river;
  11. The Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority’s efforts to promote water conservation among its customers and improve the efficiency of its network of water lines has led to a significant reduction in the amount of water it pumps from Lake Allatoona;
  12. The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island has become a model for sustainable tourism on Georgia’s barrier islands;
  13. As Georgia continues court battles with Florida and Alabama over the equitable use of water shared between the states, the work of the Apalachicola Chattahoochee Flint Stakeholders has provided a road map for ending the litigation and creating a plan that protects the rivers and their many users.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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