Ray C. Anderson Foundation Awards Five Grants Exceeding $270,000 to Four Universities

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has awarded $270,000 in research grants for innovative sustainability-related programs at Georgia Institute of Technology, Auburn University, The University of Southern Mississippi and Arizona State University.

The Foundation launched in July 2012, as a legacy to the late Ray C. Anderson (1934-2011), beloved founder and chairman of Interface, Inc., and globally recognized ‘pioneer for the environment.’

Anderson’s daughters, Mary Anne Lanier and Harriet Langford, who both serve as trustees of the Foundation, spent many months studying the sustainability initiatives their father was engaged in, and meeting with thought leaders and trusted friends in the sustainability community before issuing an ‘invitation only’ pilot grant request for proposals in September, 2012; a first step in moving their father’s legacy forward.

“There are so many facets of sustainability, and they’re all important,” said Harriet Langford. “Manufacturing, improved process engineering and viable pathways to improved economic sustainability were really our father’s ‘sweet spot.’  He was a learner, an engineer, a teacher and a doer.” 

“The best way to honor him in our first funding cycle was to identify a few great projects that have the potential to infuse educational research findings directly into sustainable and innovative manufacturing processes,” said Mary Anne Lanier.

Georgia Institute of Technology has received a $43,700 grant for a joint effort between Michael Chang, at the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems and Mary Hallisey-Hunt of the Strategic Energy Institute.  The program, entitled “Vertical Integration of Research and Technical, Undergraduate and graduate Education for Sustainability (VIRTUES), will offer yearlong collaboration opportunities between Georgia’s public and private universities and colleges and the manufacturing companies that will be seeking their graduates.  Specific emphasis will be placed on creating a more sustainable Georgia workforce to take on the increasing technical and business challenges that will be necessary to preserve the planet for future generations.

“We are honored and humbled by the award, and by the trust that the Foundation has bestowed on us to further the legacy of Ray Anderson. When we drafted our proposal, we asked ourselves: “what would Ray do?” The answer that came back was to dream big then do it. And so here we now find ourselves not just trying to transform how students learn about sustainability at Georgia Tech, but how students graduating from many different schools and disciplines come together to form a cohesive workforce, endowed with the collaboration and communication skills needed to support the sustainability revolution in business and industry that Ray started two decades ago.”

Michael E. Chang and Mary Hallisey-Hunt

Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering has received $60,000 a grant for Professor Yulin Deng’s project entitled, “Green Polyurethanes from 100% Sustainable Natural Materials through Non-isocyanate Reactions.” One of the major goals of this project is to synthesize polyurethanes using natural materials instead of petroleum, and to create an intermediate product that will have applications in various industries.

"I am very excited for receiving Ray C. Anderson Foundation's award to support our research,” said Deng. “This award provides a great and unique opportunity for us to pursue research with new approaches in using sustainable materials, so we can make our world greener. This award is not only important for me, but also for my students. By working on this project, the students will learn how scientists can use their knowledge to increase sustainability in our daily lives. This award will also give us more opportunities to extend our research in developing other new sustainable materials.  The Ray C. Anderson Foundation points us in the right direction, and we would like to add our contributions to make that dream come true in the near future." 

Auburn University’s Department of Chemical Engineering has received a $50,000 grant for Dr. Jin Wang’s project entitled, “Next Generation Control Solutions for Sustainable Manufacturing in Pulp Mills.”  The team will be working to reduce the energy intensity and chemical consumption associated with the continuous digester process, in an effort to improve the manufacturing sustainability and competitiveness of the industry.

"This grant is especially valuable to our work because it funds applied research," said Wang. "Finding a sponsor that is willing to invest in applied controls research has been quite challenging, as most federal funding agencies only fund fundamental research at a molecular level.  We are glad that the Ray C. Anderson Foundation sees the value in funding our ability to seek real world, intelligent solutions for manufacturing, that have the potential to greatly decrease energy consumption.  We expect that our research will result in a minimum of 10% total energy reduction in pulp and paper processes.  When that is applied to scale in the size of of the pulp and paper industry, the impact is huge."

The University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Polymers and High Performance Materials has received a $60,000 grant for a project proposed by Dr. Sarah Morgan, Associate Professor in the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials entitled “Increasing Polymer Solar Cell Efficiency through Structures Inspired by Nature.”  The project goal is to increase the efficiency of solar cells to make them more viable, resulting in faster paybacks and greater market acceptance.

“The generous funding from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation will support undergraduate and graduate students to pursue research in polymeric solar cells," said Morgan. "Research is an integral part of the students’ education.  Research focused on renewable resources is of paramount importance for a sustainable future.  This project is aimed at improving the affordability and efficiency of solar cells. We are excited to be able to pursue this nature-inspired approach to enhance the country’s energy efficiency.”

Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and the College of Technology & Innovation have jointly received a $60,000 grant for a sustainability project proposed by Dr. Chell Roberts, executive dean for the College of Technology & Innovation, and Dan O'Neill, general manager of the Walton Sustainability Solutions Extension Service. The project will combine two existing undergraduate capstone experiences from the School of Sustainability and the College of Technology & Innovation, allowing for a single collaborative capstone experience.  It will feature an integrated approach for solving real sustainable manufacturing challenges for major corporate clients.

“The new collaborative capstone experience between ASU's College of Technology and Innovation and the Global Institute of Sustainability will combine two disciplines in ways not done before," said Dan O’Neill, general manager of the Sustainability Solutions Extension Service in the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU. "The School of Sustainability will bring together faculty and students immersed in critical thinking about the social and environmental impacts of business and the manufacturing process. How do you think through the processes and products to reduce negative social and environmental impacts? They will consider things like the lifecycle of the product, the supply chain required to produce it, and what happens to it at the end of its life.”

“This year the College of Technology and Innovation is partnering with the ASU School of Sustainability on one or more of our engineering capstone iProjects, which will give students and faculty from the different colleges the opportunity to share best practices in solution generation and prototyping," said Chell Roberts, executive dean of ASU's College of Technology and Innovation. "We recognize that solution generation is broadened when the diversity of the student team is increased. We anticipate that students will learn from each other, sharing culture and best practices and that will establish long term relationships between faculty as they work together to solve real and challenging problems. This is the epitome of the New American University.” 

"Because sustainability requires new perspectives and new knowledge to inform innovation, education is really the heart and soul of sustainability," said George Basile, professor and Senior Sustainability Scientist at ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability. "This grant, combined with the novel collaboration efforts between the College of Technology and Innovation and the School of Sustainability, gives us the chance to bring together sustainability frameworks and cutting edge solutions-oriented education with all the resources available at ASU and the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives."

Going forward, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation will continue to hold fast to its stated mission for funding innovative ideas and projects that promote visionary change in the sustainable manufacturing cycle, educating the public and business leaders alike in meaningful ways that propel a revolutionary change in the way we produce and consume products, inspiring a new generation of leaders and consumers, and connecting thinkers, builders, innovators and idealists to a shared ethical responsibility to the environment.

A request for proposals (RFP) for the 2013 Grant Process will be issued in February 2013. Those wishing to obtain the latest information on the RFP process and other news should subscribe to the Foundation’s newsletter.


View the grant presentation photos.