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Author Andrew Winston makes a business case for saving the earth – evoking the memory of Ray Anderson

By Maria Saporta

Corporate environmentalist Andrew Winston, the speaker at Southface’s Visionary Dinner on Oct. 1, quoted from Georgia’s own legend — the late Ray Anderson.

“What’s the business case for ending life on earth?” Winston asked, quoting Anderson.

Winston is the author of “The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World;” as well as the best-selling “Green to Gold” books.

Though he didn’t say it explicitly, Winston would probably rephrase Anderson’s question and ask: “What is the business case for saving life on earth?”

Andrew Winston

Andrew Winston

The eerie part of Winston’s message, however, was how similar it was to the one that Anderson had begun preaching in 1994 – 20 years ago when he was the CEO of Interface, a carpet tile manufacturer.

Anderson would tell audiences that he had just read Paul Hawkens’ book: “Ecology of Commerce,” and all he could do was weep. He realized that his company had been part of the problem – not part of the solution.

But Anderson quickly set Interface on a path to become as sustainable a company as it could. More importantly, Anderson became a national advocate in the corporate world to urge other companies to do the same.

He was convinced we were running out of time to clean up the earth and fix the damage that mankind had made in a relatively short period of time.

The power of Anderson’s message is still with us – evidenced by the second annual “RayDay” that occurred on Sunday, Oct. 5 at Serenbe when hundreds of Anderson followers and admirers celebrated his life and vowed to continue his legacy. Anderson passed away in 2011 from cancer.

Since 1994, during these past 20 years, has our world heeded Anderson’s call for environmental cleansing?

To listen to Winston, it has not. There have been incremental improvements – companies that have established sustainability programs, initiated novel ideas of how to improve their businesses and reduce their global footprint.

Ray Anderson - may he rest in peace

Ray Anderson – may he rest in peace

But the bottom line from his Visionary talk is that we are still waiting for the “wake up call” — the call that will force us to radically change our behavior and dramatically shift or accelerate our progress.

“Climate change is a serious issue that is already costing us billions and billions of dollars,” Winston said. “We are living in a hotter, more volatile world.”

Demographic forces make it also more complicated as more and more people are moving to cities and entering the middle class.

“In one year, China built 17 billion square feet of new space,” Winston said. “That’s the equivalent of 30 Manhattans. We are seeing a fundamental shift in how our world works.”

Winston, however, is not a doomsday kind of guy. Although he knows that a dramatic shift will inevitably cause the end of some industries, he believes – as does Richard Branson – “that this is the wealth-creating opportunity of our time.”

The clean economy market is a growth opportunity, and Winston said that companies prepared to embrace the change and seek the business potential from a more sustainable future will be the ones that will succeed.

Dennis Creech and Rutherford Seydel present Mayor Kasim Reed with the Argon Award

Dennis Creech and Rutherford Seydel present Mayor Kasim Reed with the Argon Award

Meanwhile, we are losing ground everyday, Winston said. We need to de-carbonize our economy. by 6.2 percent per year in order to protect our planet, but currently the world is de-carbonizing at 1 percent a year. Every year that we don’t meet the 6.2 percent goal, we fall further behind, he said.

Some companies are taking the right approach. Kingfisher, the British version of the Home Depot, has an initiative encouraging people to build homes that generate more energy than they use.

Closer to home, Winston favorably singled out the Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo – two of the fiercest competitors in corporate America – for collaborating on the development of new cooling machines for their beverages that don’t use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are extremely harmful to the environment.

“This very careful partnership to explore new technologies has given suppliers confidence that a market will be there for them,” Winston wrote in his book. “The Big Pivot means calling a truce with enemies on the big issues….”

One of the most telling moments of the night came when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed received the annual Argon Award from Southface – presented to him by Rutherford Seydel, a friend of the mayor who has worked with him on the Better Business Challenge, the Chattahoochee River and as an owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

Upon receiving the award, Reed said he was deeply moved to be given an award by people he deeply respects and likes so much as those attending the Southface dinner, especially founder Dennis Creech.

“You all changed me from being someone who cared about the environment and sustainability for political purposes to someone who authentically cared for the environment and sustainability,” Reed said in a brief moment of raw candor.

"Brighten your corner where you are" - one of the Ray Anderson quotes on display at Sunday's RayDay

“Brighten your corner where you are” – one of the Ray Anderson quotes on display at Sunday’s RayDay

He went on to pledge that Atlanta was “just getting started” in becoming a model city for sustainability.

“What we are going to show is that decisions we are making tonight are the right decisions,” Reed said. “It’s not just to grow our bank account. We are going to grow our compassion account.”

Speaking of compassion, a special touch of Sunday’s RayDay celebration was how dozens of Anderson’s quotes were placed on signs throughout the grounds – words of wisdom from one of the original corporate environmentalists who now lives on through his foundation.

The signs with his quotes were the brainchild of his daughter, Harriet Langford, who seemed delighted by the success of the second annual RayDay — not held on his July birthday this year, but on a wonderfully crisp summer-fall day that Anderson would have loved.

Here are many of those quotes for your enjoyment:

  1. Status quo is a powerful opiate.
  2. Doing well by doing good.
  3. Doing business by respecting earth.
  4. The consequences of our decisions affects generations into the indefinite future.
  5. We are strands in the web of life; live to help the web not hurt it.
  6. Live mindfully of the need of all species and of each other.
  7. We only pass through this world once; we can either leave it a better or worse place.
  8. Throw away…there is no away…it is either going in our land or our sea.
  9. Sustainability literally pays for itself.
  10. “EcoSense”- reduce, recycle, reclaim, reuse, redesign, redistribute.
  11. The only way the Earth can change is if business, the most pervasive and influential force on this planet, is willing to lead.
  12. Brighten your corner where you are.
  13. I looked around the bend and I didn’t like what I saw.
  14. I had an epiphany, and it was like a spear to my chest.
  15. I am a recovering plunderer.
  16. I believe the Earth is damaged and hurting…really badly.
  17. Tomorrow’s child…knowing you has changed my thinking.
  18. What bigger problem is there than the destruction of the biosphere.
  19. There is an environmental obligation as opposed to opportunity.
  20. Be a rainbow in a cloudy sky: one person, every person can make a difference.
  21. Somebody must reverse the tide…who can? church, government, education, business…that’s who.
  22. Stewardship and conservation don’t cost…it pays.
  23. Mother Earth and generations and generations to come will be the beneficiaries.
  24. I read Paul Hawkens “Ecology of Commerce” and wept.
  25. How do you eat an “elephant”…one bite at a time…that’s how.


Maria Saporta

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.



  1. Native Atlanta Boy October 7, 2014 2:53 pm

    Why do we always cite these environmentalists as they know everything.  How about the other side of this hoax? 
    What he is saying and proposing is ludicrous.  Man is not causing any global warming.  That assertion has been proven to be a hoax time and time again.  The earth is not warming and hasn’t in almost 20 years.  Period.  They want us to reduce our carbon use by 6.2% a year to protect our planet.  Protect our plant from what?  Ourselves?  The Chinese? Who or what?  Our country has already gone off the deep end with global warming BS and still they want more.  Funny how Mr. Winston cites China growing like crazy, however, he writes about what we in America have to do!!  The reason that China is growing leaps and bounds above America is for antiquated ideas that the environmental movement has forced on America all the while not doing one thing to help the environment.   
    The facts are that at one point the earth was covered in ice.  The fact is that the earth warms and cools in cycles.  The facts are that Al Gore lied in his infomercial he won an Oscar for.  The facts are that the global warming movement is simply a way for people to make money.  I bet Mr. Winston makes money spouting these lies while he flies in jets and uses cars to get to his meetings.  I am afraid that you got snookered to Ms. Saporta!Report

  2. Native Texas Girl October 7, 2014 4:13 pm

    Native Atlanta Boy 
    Perhaps read with an open mind – and understand that individual actions
    and actions by Corporations do make a big difference.  We use limited
    resources for financial gain while balancing health and the web of
    life.  Personally inspired by business with a conscience…Report

  3. Burroughston Broch October 8, 2014 9:49 pm

    @Native Texas Girl Native Atlanta Boy Do with your own funds what you will, but let me do with mine what I will. Do not seek to use the power of government to force me to your will.
    Regarding quote 9 “Sustainability literally pays for itself”, this is generally untrue in most locations unless tax rebates and subsidies are provided . For example, photo-voltaic panels are not cost effective in most locations in Georgia.Report

  4. OMG Kids October 9, 2014 1:46 pm

    We agree, we all need to chip in and do our part to make out community a greener and safer environment for future generation.  Our two young founders also agree which is why they created their Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum.  Olivia and Carter realized early on that education is the one element that can bring change to virtually any situation which is why they created their curriculum.  
    We need every school across the country to embrace and incorporate programs that will teach our next generation of leaders how to deal with issues such as plastic pollution.  Carter and Olivia are also working with the Department of State on ways that their curriculum can be added to the bigger picture of their ocean strategy.




    They also started their Plastic Awareness Coalition which we would encourage everyone to participate in:

    Thanks in advance for the great article and we hope to work with you soon.Report


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