Interface boss Ray Anderson has shown that environmental sustainability need not come at the expense of profits, writes Mark Tran.

Just after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Ray Anderson was walking along a mountain trail in Nova Scotia, when he came across an enormous bull moose. The chairman of Interface, the world's biggest maker of commercial carpets, sees his encounter with the creature as a metaphor for Katrina. Just as the trail was the moose's territory, so the atmosphere was the earth's territory. Katrina was earth's devastating riposte to man's challenge in the form of global warming.

At 72, Mr Anderson no longer runs Interface on a daily basis. But as its founder, Mr Anderson helped turn the company into a champion of environmental sustainability long before some of the world's biggest corporate names - Wal-Mart, General Electric, Tesco and HSBC - saw the green light. As well as being a pioneer on green issues in the business world, he showed that sustainability and profits were compatible.

The fact that making carpets is a "dirty" business only bolsters his credibility. Mr Anderson, one of the unlikely stars of the 2004 documentary The Corporation, a critique of big business, now gives about 100 speeches a year about his quasi-religious conversion from being a "plunderer" of natural resources to a "recovering plunderer".

Mr Anderson yesterday visited Oriel College at Oxford University to preach his message of environmentally responsible capitalism. He thought of clapping his hands to shoo it away, but realised it would be a stupid thing to do. "I was the intruder and I backed off. The trail was the moose's territory and it would have been foolish for me to challenge it," Mr Anderson said.