August 2014 will mark the 20th Anniversary of Ray’s famous “epiphany speech” to a handful of associates at Interface, and there is no way to measure how many seeds of change he planted through the years as he traveled the globe teaching others about his own “Mid-Course Correction” and how sustainability was not only the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do.
While Ray’s message has resonated to far reaching corners of the earth, it is certainly not a surprise to hear that some of the strongest roots are now bearing fruit at his beloved alma mater, Georgia Tech.
On May 1st the Ray C. Anderson Foundation trustees and staff attended the first of many events to be hosted by the Center for Business Strategies for Sustainability (CBSS), an initiative that launched just over a year ago in the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech, with a $750,000 three-year seed grant from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.
The launching of the CBSS represented many years of influence, leadership and dreaming for the future on the part of Ray, as well as the Institute’s faculty and administration. For the Foundation, it represents the next chapter of the story that Ray started, giving powerful meaning to his legacy. Watch the video to see all of the great things that are happening at the Center.
A Seed is Planted
Beril Toktay, faculty director of the CBSS and the Brady Family Chair in the Scheller College of Business recalls first coming to learn about Ray in 2004 when she was on sabbatical at Georgia Tech, working with Bill Rouse of the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE); the school that Ray graduated from in 1956, and the place where he most naturally chose to plant his first sustainability seeds, by funding the Anderson-Interface Chair in Natural Systems.
“Bill was putting together a book on enterprise transformation and he heard that I had worked on sustainability issues, so he asked me to write the chapter on Interface’s transformation,” Toktay said. “As part of that project, I read Ray’s book, Mid-Course Correction, and learned all that I could about Interface, and I met with Ray twice. He really impressed me, as you can imagine, with his vision, his sharp intellect, and his gracious demeanor. Ray is forever an example of individual leadership and industry leadership for all of my classes,” she said.
Toktay joined the faculty of the Scheller College in 2005, drawn to Georgia Tech for its Institute-wide commitment to sustainability and the university leadership’s vision of the role that the College of Business could play in that effort.
“Everything I’ve done at Georgia Tech since then in my research, teaching and outreach has been in business sustainability,” Toktay says. “I’ve really seen sustainability take hold in different business disciplines in the Scheller College of Business, like marketing, strategy, entrepreneurship, organizational behavior, finance, and ethics. The number of faculty working on these issues has grown to the point that we now have a critical mass.”
Toktay says given the critical mass and Georgia Tech’s commitment to sustainability, she and Steve Salbu, Dean of the Scheller College of Business, began a series of discussions in 2012 about establishing a Center for Business Strategies for Sustainability (CBSS) within the Scheller College, and in the summer of 2012, Salbu gave the ‘green light’ articulating his strong commitment to the idea.
Ray always said that it was “through what seemed like pure serendipity” that someone handed him Paul Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce, awakening him to his sustainability challenge, and it was also through pure serendipity that Toktay’s desire to create the CBSS timed out perfectly with conversations that were already taking place between the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Trustees and Dr. G.P. “Bud” Peterson, president of Georgia Tech.
Ray’s daughters were in the process of determining how to best make their entry into the world of philanthropy with their father’s dream now embodied in the future of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. They both felt like sustainability research and education should be at the core of their giving priorities, and there was no doubt that Georgia Tech would also be a key player in the new leaf that was being turned. Numerous discussions took place as they tried to determine if a School of Sustainability would make sense for Georgia Tech or whether such an endeavor would be too limiting, given the fact that sustainability crosses multiple disciplines.
In August 2012, the Foundation put out its first request for proposals for sustainability-related research projects to handful of universities that Ray had engaged with in the past, including Georgia Tech. The RFP was much smaller in scope than what Toktay and Salbu had in mind, and also much smaller in scope than the ultimate impact that the Foundation wanted to have at Georgia Tech, but Toktay said it provided the inspiration to “dare all of us to think bigger.”
“I thought to myself, we could really establish something here that gives body to Ray’s legacy in an institution he loved and supported.” Toktay said. “That’s why I tapped all my colleagues whose research focuses on sustainability and collectively we wrote an ambitious proposal, much beyond what could be accomplished with what the actual RFP and Dean Salbu’s funds could provide at that time. My colleagues and I were grateful that the trustees were willing to listen to what we had to say.”
CBSS Takes Shape
Toktay said she wanted the proposed Center to serve as a catalyst, resource base and connector for everything at Georgia Tech that could collectively promote sustainable business practices through the power of business, technology and innovation. The Center’s goal would be to give the engineer, the manager, the entrepreneur, the CEO, and the business leader the mindset and the business tools to help take things to the next level where the economy operates in a sustainable production and consumption cycle.
The Scheller College found itself uniquely positioned to help business leaders face the tough challenges that must be overcome in order to implement lasting change, and the Foundation trustees were still searching for a large-scale project at Georgia Tech that could adequately honor their father’s legacy.
After just one meeting with Toktay, the trustees knew they had found the ideal project. They approved a seed grant to establish the Center at that first meeting. They awarded the grant in March 2013, and the Center was up and running by summer, with three new courses already approved.
CBSS is Well Rooted – Bearing Sustainable Fruit for Ray’s Legacy
In her first report to the Foundation, Toktay noted, “To achieve our goal of educating the Ray Andersons of the Future, we need to be systematic at defining what the Center will mean for the student experience. As a first step, I have initiated a ‘student journey’ project in collaboration with the Georgia Tech Scheller College Net Impact Chapter.”
This work laid the foundation for the Center’s subsequent leadership in developing a university-wide sustainability education initiative, amplifying the long-term impact of the Foundation’s grant to Georgia Tech.
Innovation Tournaments for Sustainability (undergrad) Sustainable Business Consulting Projects (undergrad) Sustainable Business Consulting Practicum (MBA)
“That plan [the QEP] would not have been... selected without the credibility that the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and the Kendeda Fund provided through their support of the center.” Georgia Tech President, Dr. G.P. "Bud" Peterson
“[Students] are going to look back on the Center and say that it was crucial in their development as students, as young professionals, and eventually as business leaders. It's that legacy of marking individual students lives that is going to be the enduring legacy of the center.”
John Lanier, director, Ray C. Anderson Foundation
The Scheller College of Business was named a grand prize winner in the Dr. Alfred N. and Lynn Manos Page Prize for Sustainability Issues in Business Curricula.
The CBSS held its inaugural event on May 1, 2014 at the Scheller College of Business entitled, “The Sustainability Advantage: The Art and Science of Creating Sustainable Value.”
Ray C. Anderson Foundation Director, John Lanier, spoke at the event along with Georgia Tech’s President, Dr. Bud Peterson, Scheller College Dean, Steve Salbu, Beril Toktay, CBSS Faculty Director and Brady Family Chair, and Howard Connell, CBSS Managing Director. Panelists at the event included: John Brock, Chairman and CEO, Coca-Cola Enterprises; Heather McTeer-Toney, Regional Administrator, EPA Region 4; Phil Martens, President and CEO, Novelis; Mike Duke, Retired President and CEO, Walmart and Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, Environmental Defense Fund and Beril Toktay, CBSS Faculty Director and Brady Family Chair. Watch the video and view photos from the event.
All photos courtesy of Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business