NextGen Spotlight: Jay Lanier

“It’s interesting really. Of all the family, I am the one with the most ‘outdoor’ inclination,” says Jay Lanier, who is Ray Anderson’s oldest grandchild and son of Foundation Trustees, Jaime and Mary Anne Lanier.

And with that, it seems natural that Jay would be most comfortable spreading the power of his influence among those organizations and initiatives that have the most impact on forests, water and wildlife. 

In fact, Jay has just been elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), an organization that Ray passionately supported for many years with his time, talents and treasure.  Ray served on the NWF’s President’s Advisory Board for five years, and he received a Conservation Leadership Award from NWF.  Upon Ray’s passing in 2011, Mary Anne Lanier assumed her father’s role on the President’s Advisory Board.

When asked about how it feels to be living Ray’s legacy with the NWF Board appointment, Jay was very humble.

“I was a Ranger Rick kid, but I never imagined I would be on the board of the organization that publishes that magazine.” Jay said. “Of course it all has more meaning now.  I just found out about the Board appointment in early August, so I’m very excited for the opportunity to repay that debt of gratitude from my childhood.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the NWF leadership during the past few months, and the appointment is tremendously flattering.  It is truly an honor to represent Ray’s legacy with an organization he cared so passionately about.”

The missions of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and the NWF are closely aligned, especially when it comes to a common commitment to tomorrow’s child.

The Foundation’s mission is to promote a sustainable society by supporting and pioneering initiatives that harmonize society, business and the environment for the present generation and tomorrow’s child.

The NWF has a three-year goal to get 21 million American children, teens, and young adults out of their indoor habitat and into the great outdoors.  As the NWF notes on its website, “this goal propels us all toward a future in which all kids spend time outside each day, creating a generation of happier, healthier children with more awareness and connection to the natural world.”

The connection to tomorrow’s child holds an even more important place in Jay’s heart now, with the birth of his son, August Lanier, eight months ago.

Speaking as a new father, Jay says tomorrow’s child is at the core of all we do for all people. The familiar poem entitled "Tomorrow's Child" by Glenn Thomas, that Ray often recited, references the generations yet to come: “without a name, an unseen face” and “knowing you has changed my thinking…”  Jay says the significance became substantially more meaningful when August was born.

“It is more real when you have that little person, chomping for the chance to go outside. One of his favorite things is to explore the yard. To watch, feel, play, grab leaves and try to eat them.  The outdoors has always been refreshing for me.  It’s reinvigorating to be able to share it with August.  I can’t wait to share all my secret spots and connect with him in those special places.”

In 2012, just one year after Ray’s passing, his two daughters, Mary Anne and Harriet were still finding their place in the philanthropic world. With their private family foundation, created in Ray’s memory, they quickly realized the importance of involving the next generation in crafting its future; from that the “NextGen” Committee was born.

“We didn’t have the opportunity to practice philanthropy in concert with our father, so we wanted to be sure our children had that chance to practice it right along with us,” said Mary Anne Lanier, president of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “We’ve allocated money each year to the NextGen Committee to allow them to help us reach out further, and to enable us to look at things through a different lens as we continue to drive Daddy’s legacy forward. As a result, the NextGen Committee continues to surprise and delight us with the projects they have discovered and funded.  They are truly a great source of inspiration.”

Jay Lanier was the first chair of the NextGen Committee, and he has seen it develop and grow rapidly over the past six years.

“When Ray chose to leave much of his legacy to the Foundation, Mom and Harriet were ‘thrown into the deep end,’ so the NextGen members are fortunate to have been given some training wheels to help establish our own learning curve, and to allow us to get more savvy on the roles and opportunities that exist,” Jay said.

When asked what his favorite NextGen funded project was, Jay was quick to respond.  

My favorite moment was watching the current trustees co-opt one of the NextGen’s most successful grants and then expand on it, thereby turning it into a chance to fund an even larger endeavor at Georgia Tech.

The initiative that Jay referred to is Georgia Tech’s Carbon Reduction Challenge, which is a cross-institutional collaborative project and competition that first allowed students from the Scheller College of Business and the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences to engage in real-life projects, with real businesses and institutions in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. The goal of the program is to identify and measurably reduce carbon emissions and bottom-line costs for various companies, showing the truth that exists in sustainability’s triple bottom line.

A $30,000 NextGen grant funded expansion of the program beyond the initial classroom challenge into a higher profile program for 30 Georgia Tech interns and co-op students who integrated the Challenge into their work environments with companies like SunTrust, Delta and many others. 

Following that, the Foundation was able to learn more about Dr. Kim Cobb’s work related to climate change, which then led to a $500,000 seed grant from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation to help establish Georgia Tech’s Global Change Program.

Since its inception, the NextGen has awarded more than $300,000 in grants, many of which have been focused on reducing global warming and providing much needed education on climate change.

The NextGen committee chose to align with the Foundation’s climate goals.

“As much as we share passions that vary slightly from the challenges around atmospheric carbon imbalance, if you don’t get that part right, very little else matters,” Jay said. “A stable climate is the foundation for any sustainability and conservation initiative.”

Jay noted that we all stand at a critical juncture with a tremendous challenge ahead of us. 

He said, “Clearly we are not the biggest players, but we can find success in the multiplier effects.  The rate at which the NextGen has been able to focus its efforts on addressing global warming and climate change education has proven effective.”

He noted that he was especially pleased that several of the projects the NextGen Committee has funded are much more efficient than simply purchasing carbon offsets on the open market, and they have often carried bonus social or economic benefits.

Lastly Jay noted, “As a fly angler and upland bird hunter, the trout and ruffed grouse I pursue in the southern Appalachians are a holdover from the last Ice Age. Those activities are a direct result of a stable climate, far south of where those pockets of biodiversity should exist. I view it as a responsibility to make sure our grandchildren can experience the joy of a rising brookie or flushing bird on a bright October morning.”