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Herman Miller: Environmental Record

The Herman Miller furniture company is known around the world for their ingenious design, quality products, and modern approach to furniture. Their focus on the individual customer’s wants and needs has enabled them to create award-winning products with legendary designers around the world. While the company focuses on excellence in design and manufacturing, Herman Miller conducts business in a way that doesn’t blindly focus on the bottom line.

As a company, they are not only concerned about the customer and the products they sell, but they’re also dedicated to making sure the way they create, produce, and manufacture those products has a positive effect on the environment. While environmental consciousness has become increasingly accepted and encouraged amongst global corporations, this is a company that is founded on a core value — its ability to be a good steward of the resources it has been given. Much of their environmental philosophy can be traced back to the founder of the company, D.J. De Pree. Mr. De Pree believed that, like individuals, corporations also have a responsibility to be good stewards of the environment around them. He announced this to the company in 1953 as a part of their corporate values, and this core philosophy (now referred to as Policy 53) shapes how they do business today.

This was an incredibly progressive concept in the 1950s, when Mr. De Pree stated that “Herman Miller [would] be a good corporate neighbor by being a good steward of the environment.” The company’s approach to stewardship was founded on that statement, and they view their environmental policy from two angles. Not only are they focused on the present and providing the very best products for current customers, but the company also strives to look forward to the future and make sure their actions today won’t negatively affect coming generations.


Herman Miller Collection

Herman Miller focuses on working toward “economic, environmental and social equity,” and to that end, the company created Perfect Vision in 2004, an action plan of sorts to achieve specific environmental targets by the year 2020. These targets were carefully chosen by a committee of employees. These employees began reviewing the company’s business practices and how they affected the environment in the late 1980s. Over time the committee created and refined an action plan for the company as a whole, which resulted in a remarkable strategy that would span over 15 years.

Once you learn of Herman Miller’s ambitious Perfect Vision goals, you will realize they’re serious about protecting our environment. Targets include constructing all of their buildings at an LEED certification level no lower than Silver. In addition, the company’s vision includes using “100 percent green electrical energy,” not to mention they will strive to generate zero hazardous waste. Their goal was to meet 80% of their goals by 2010 — quite an impressive mission for this determined organization. Perfect Vision describes company-wide efforts that employees have been and will be working toward for the next ten years. These goals are one example of the way Herman Miller furniture approaches their work in relation to the environment and their efforts to be environmentally responsible in all that they do. Herman Miller furniture doesn’t just aim to meet the minimum requirements. They expect their company to far exceed expectations on every level.


Environmental Quality Action Team (EQAT)

Herman Miller has high expectations for their company when it comes to the environment, and their dedication to protecting the environment we live in is evident. Exceeding expectations is a defined portion of the company’s Environmental Policy. In 1989 several employees got together and created the Environmental Quality Action Team (EQAT) to set company environmental policies and targets and to measure the success of these efforts.

EQAT, still comprised of company employees today, monitors their ability to achieve the impressive targets the company has set out for itself. With manufacturing sites and office buildings in over 80 countries around the world, this committee of individuals can better assess the company’s effectiveness when looking at the company in its entirety. The company’s goals have progressed greatly since EQAT’s formation. In 1991 the first-ever environmental policy statement was created. The first goal set by the committee was to have absolutely no landfill use.

Herman Miller’s environmental goals and priorities have evolved over time, and the company now monitors and reports on eight strategies each month. In addition to EQAT, there are several supporting committees to help with environmental policy efforts. For example, some of the supporting groups include a communications team, a green buildings team, an energy reduction team, and an environmental affairs team. All in all, around 400 employees at Herman Miller furniture are working toward achieving these environmental standards set forth by EQAT and the supporting committee teams. Herman Miller’s company-wide efforts to reach their Perfect Vision goals are impressive, and their approach to good stewardship has been recognized around the world.


Green Buildings

D.J. De Pree founded the company in 1923 with his father-in-law. As founder of the company, his values and direction have shaped their path. His dedication to the environment and his belief in good stewardship are values Herman Miller and its employees adhere to today. He believed in a healthy environment, which included green space and energy-reducing methods. Mr. De Pree once stated that every employee should be able to look out their office window and be no more than 75 feet off the ground. He wanted windows in all offices and manufacturing plants to allow for natural ventilation. Now over 50 years later, this concept is better known as harvesting natural light, and this method helps reduce energy costs and pollution. In addition, Mr. De Pree also mandated that any corporate site built by Herman Miller furniture must dedicate 50 percent of the site as green space. The “green” ideas Mr. De Pree had about office buildings have since been expanded and implemented throughout the company. The values Mr. De Pree instilled remain today, and the company has become known world-wide for its dedication to environmental responsibility.


Herman Miller Green Production

In the early 1990s, as Herman Miller continued to build new buildings and plants around the world, the company recognized that this was an opportune time to get involved in shaping sustainable building practices, something Mr. De Pree had held dear. In 1993, Herman Miller furniture helped fund a non-profit, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), to see their founder’s vision for green buildings become a reality. According to USGBC, the mission of the organization is “to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated.” Herman Miller’s partnership with this organization has been mutually beneficial since its inception. Around the time USGBC was formed, Herman Miller was embarking on a new building project with architect Bill McDonough.

Within a couple of years, USGBC had selected this building to pilot their new LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program. This building, which was named the “GreenHouse,” served as proof to the world that green design could be financially appealing to a company, aesthetically pleasing, and beneficial to the environment all at the same time. In addition to being recognized by USGBC, the Environmental Protection Agency also took notice of Herman Miller’s effort toward green buildings and conducted a study of the GreenHouse that proved what De Pree knew all along. Design can be used to create structures that are both attractive and aesthetically-pleasing without harming the environment in the process.


Sustainable Design

Herman Miller’s environmental philosophy extends not only to its buildings and plants, but also to its products. High standards have long been a mainstay of Herman Miller furniture, which is why so many of the classic pieces are still in use today. Durability, innovation, and a high level of quality are characteristics of company products both past and present. They continue to design new products and improve on the classic pieces, which is why the company has woven its environmental policies and targets throughout the design and production process. A team of employees focused on these initiatives, the Design for the Environment team, sets appropriate design standards for the company. All of these steps support the company’s Perfect Vision and their impressive targets for the year 2020.

To aid the Design for the Environment team in its efforts, Herman Miller hired Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart and their firm, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) to support the team and their initiatives. Their relationship with McDonough began with the design of their green building, the GreenHouse, which won numerous awards and recognition from organizations like the USGBC and the EPA. This successful relationship was extended to create a cradle to cradle design protocol by MBDC for all new product design. According to Herman Miller furniture, the three areas the design protocol focuses on are material chemistry and safety of inputs, disassembly, and recyclability. Herman Miller examines whether the chemicals in use are the safest both for the consumer and the environment before production ever begins.

Other core characteristics of Herman Miller furniture are dis-assembly and recyclability. The team examines whether or not the consumer can take apart their product at the end of its useful life easily in order to recycle it. Evaluation of products also includes examining how much of the product can be recycled. All in all, they put a great deal of thought into how useful a product is going to be, both to the user and to the environment. Every product comes with a 12-year warranty, but long time customers know from experience that they can count on a durable product for much longer than the warranty. The company aims to improve both work environments and the natural environment simultaneously. This is not an easy task, but the company’s dedication to both environments, which originated with the company founder, now serves as a core value of a company that has become known for world-wide.


Materials

In keeping with the environmental policies set by EQAT, Herman Miller uses sustainable materials to produce its products. The wood used in Herman Miller furniture comes from sustainably-managed forests, and their policies comply with the Forest Stewardship Council. One of the company’s requirements is that the forests must not be harvested faster than they can be replenished. In addition, the fabrics used in the majority of Herman Miller furniture are either 100% compostable or 100% recyclable and come from companies that use sustainable manufacturing techniques like green electricity.


Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair

Herman Miller designs and manufactures its products to have a long product life. Once the length of its working life has come to an end, they’ve designed products and carefully chosen materials that are recyclable and easy to disassemble. The company is a strong believer in re-using furniture as a way of recycling, and the company donates used furniture to non-profit organizations each year.

In addition to the materials used and the products themselves, Herman Miller has worked to improve the sustainability of the company’s packaging. When choosing suppliers of packaging products, the company examines whether or not the supplying company has a commitment to reducing, reusing, or recycling. Because Herman Miller is a global company, suppliers differ depending on the location of the site.

For example, in the United Kingdom, a supplier provides a particular type of shrink wrap. All of the shrink wrap is recyclable which drastically cut down on the amount of cardboard the company was using to package its furniture and other products. With less cardboard their packages weighed less, which not only cut down on shipping costs, but also gas prices and the amount of pollution created by the transportation process. As Herman Miller has proved, it is possible to do business in a way that is both beneficial to the environment and the customer. In addition to the shrink wrap used in the UK, Herman Miller uses a supplier that provides 100% recycled cardboard that is also 100% recyclable once it’s useful life is over. Shrink wrap can’t always be used, so cardboard is a necessary alternative for example when shipping Herman Miller furniture to protect them during the shipping process.


Company Processes

There are several areas of the production process where Herman Miller has created targets or goals that will aid the company in its Perfect Vision efforts. In the area of waste management, the company works to minimize waste during the production process. When zero waste production is impossible, the company looks next to recycling. By recycling waste, Herman Miller furniture can greatly reduce or eliminate its landfill use, which is a tenant of the Perfect Vision plan. As new technologies emerge and we learn more about the manufacturing products of old, the company has shifted their use of materials to avoid using products that will create hazardous waste.

Another process that Herman Miller focuses heavily on is its energy efficiency. One of the most impressive goals of the Perfect Vision plan is for the entire company to run on 100-percent renewable energy sources by the year 2020. As the company works toward this goal, they are maintaining a balance between maintaining their high level of productivity and introducing new green sources of energy into their office buildings and plants around the world. Green energy is used in all of the United Kingdom sites. In the United States, Herman Miller has purchased energy credits and uses a mixture of wind and landfill gas to generate electricity at their American locations.

Herman Miller looks at the whole picture, so their focus is not just on the energy sources used to run their plants or office sites, but also on how to reduce their emissions and promote clean air. Every year they work toward reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, the company has hired consultants to help them reduce their carbon footprint. Clean air initiatives also focus on the transportation of Herman Miller furniture. In the United Kingdom, transportation companies are used that maintain the highest environmental standards. For example, the vehicles used are maintained regularly to ensure they are not unnecessarily releasing harmful emissions into the ozone layer.

Finally, Herman Miller furniture continues to evaluate the way in which they manufacture their world-famous products. Some furniture companies are known for their long lead times and unpredictability on delivery. This could be in large part because furniture is so customizable. Customers can order furniture exactly how they want, which sometimes can lead to companies not meeting their delivery commitments. Herman Miller believes fully in customization, but does not believe a customer should have to wait an exorbitant amount of time to receive their furniture the way they want it. Through evaluation of their manufacturing processes, they’ve been able to shave down the amount of time needed to manufacture specific products ordered by customers and deliver those products in around 10 business days. To achieve this quick turnaround time, Herman Miller teamed up with Toyota to learn from them about their manufacturing process. Through this experience, they were able to create the same great quality products faster and while using less manufacturing space, cutting down significantly on energy consumption.


Environmental Awards and Recognition

Herman Miller furniture has been recognized for years for its dedication to environmental practices throughout the company. Since 1991, the company has won over 40 awards for its environmental efforts. Awards for industrial leadership in environmental practices and recycling were given to the company in the early 1990s, when Herman Miller furniture was recognized both by national and state organizations. In 1994 Fortune magazine named the company one of the top ten most environmentally-conscious corporations in the country, and later in 1998, the magazine named the company as the “Most Admired Company in America” for social responsibility. In that same year, the Environmental Protection Agency gave Herman Miller the Champion Award, an honor given for success in overall waste reduction.

By the early 2000s, Herman Miller was gaining national prominence as a company that greatly valued the natural environment and was taking necessary steps to ensure their work didn’t harm the world in which we live. In 2001, they were listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI World). The DJSI World is an international stock portfolio that evaluates the world’s largest 2500 companies on their performance annually using the “triple bottom line” of sustainability. The “triple bottom line” examined each company using criteria that evaluated the companies’ economic, environmental, and social impact. Companies are chosen for the DJSI World based on their evaluation, and Herman Miller has been listed on the Index every year since 2001. (The Dow Jones Sustainability World Index was created in 1999.)

In addition to the previously mentioned awards and recognition, Herman Miller has also been recognized for its buildings. In 2003 the MarketPlace building was named one of the Top 10 Green Projects in America by the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment. Their dedication to green buildings is evident by the number of LEED-certified awards given for buildings built all over the world. The GreenHouse, built in Holland, Michigan, received the LEED Pioneer Award. Two sites in Michigan and one in England received gold LEED certification for New Construction and Major Renovations. In addition, showrooms in cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Toronto, Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles received LEED certification for Commercial Interiors. Herman Miller prides itself on being a corporate leader through its environmental policies to companies around the world. As the company continues to grow, Herman Miller furniture looks forward to its continued stewardship of the environment.


Commitment

Herman Miller has established itself as a corporate leader for environmental stewardship. The company is committed to setting environmental policy from within, which often exceeds regulatory expectations, to set Herman Miller furniture on a path toward improved standards for the company. Environmental stewardship is a core value of Herman Miller that started with its founder, D.J. De Pree, and trickles down to all of the employees. Employee engagement is a definite reality. Employees are involved and believe in the company’s mission, and they aren’t afraid to speak up if they notice the company isn’t as committed as it should be to the environment and the customers that it serves.

This company culture led a group of employees to form the Environmental Quality Action Committee in 1989. The fact that this group of employees felt comfortable enough to approach senior management in the late 1980s and voice their concerns is a testament to the companys leadership and the principles Mr. De Pree instilled in the company from its origin. These employees encouraged senior management to create a committee of people that could focus on Herman Miller furnitures environmental efforts. This group, now known as EQAT, examines the company as a whole, from showroom sites to manufacturing plants around the world, and helps create environmental policies and targets for the company to follow.

The group started with an environmental statement about how Herman Miller would conduct business as a responsible steward of the environment, and they came up with one target for the company to strive for. Since that time, the statement, goals, and policies of the company have been refined and expanded into a much more substantial undertaking. In addition to this core group of employees, several supporting committees have been formed to focus on specific areas, like clean air or waste, the company could improve on from an environmental perspective. This process of constant evaluation, monitoring, and reporting has propelled Herman Miller forward as a successful business, corporate leader, and champion of the environment.

The foundation that was laid with Herman Miller’s founder, has been built upon over the years and greatly strengthened. The company’s commitment to sustainable design and green buildings paved the way for other companies to follow in their footsteps. Herman Miller furniture not only practices the values they believe in, but they put their money behind them as well.

With the funding of the non-profit USGBC, they have partnered with an agency that is educating companies and organizations about how green buildings can be greatly beneficial. Herman Miller furniture is passing the knowledge they have used and learned on to other companies and organizations, so their corporate “neighbors” can practice good stewardship as well. With the studies done on Herman Miller’s GreenHouse in Michigan, countless others have been able to learn from their experiences with sustainable design through green buildings. As they continue to grow as a company and build new structures, the founding principles of the company continue and have been strengthened by a company culture that believes in their corporate values.

In addition to their commitment to green buildings, Herman Miller furniture strives to create products that are designed with sustainability in mind. Products are examined using the MBDC Cradle to Cradle design protocol. As new products are created, like the 2010 release of the SAYL Chair, they must be reviewed and given a Cradle to Cradle designation. In addition to evaluating products, the company works with suppliers to produce products with the best possible materials, not only from a quality standpoint but also from a sustainable standpoint. The company’s main objective is to use materials and choose suppliers that fit in their “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. The team at Herman Miller works to continually make their production processes more efficient, effective, and green. Their efforts have received positive reaction from consumers, looking to buy products that are environmentally-friendly, and corporate neighbors alike.

In keeping with its Perfect Vision goals, the company continually evaluates and monitors its many company processes to ensure that strides are being made in every area to conserve resources and reduce waste. The company works to reduce waste during all aspects of the manufacturing process. For example, as new technologies are developed, older products that may produce hazardous waste will no longer be used. When waste is created, the company works to make sure it can be recycled properly, reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. In addition to a rigorous waste management program, Herman Miller is on the path to total energy efficiency.

Through renewable energy like wind and landfill gas, they are able to power plants and office buildings around the country. As new technologies emerge, the company will continue to explore renewable energy methods and use the means necessary to create energy efficiency throughout the company. Emissions are another area or process that they monitor closely. The company reduces its greenhouse gas emissions every year and is cognizant of how every part of their business can affect the air around us. Herman Miller FurnitureFor example, transportation companies that deliver products for customers meet the highest environmental standards, and include changing their tires frequently and having routine maintenance performed. In addition, company policies are in place so that company travel can be reduced and eliminated whenever possible, further reducing the amount of emissions. Finally, Herman Miller is constantly looking at ways to increase their production productivity while creating less and less waste. Through the company’s partnership with Toyota and their lean manufacturing process, Herman Miller furniture has greatly reduced company waste and become more efficient.

Today, Perfect Vision is evidence that this company plans to take an environmentally responsible approach to all that they do, while continuing to provide the very best products for their customers worldwide. Not only is Herman Miller furniture known for its design, aesthetic, and quality products, but it’s also recognized globally as a corporate model of how to manage a successful business while equally caring for the environment and the individual customer. This unique view and the passion behind the company’s efforts to go green has contributed to their recognition and success. As Herman Miller furniture wins design awards each year for its many products, it is now at the top of awards lists around the world for its dedicated commitment to the environment and to being a good corporate neighbor.

 

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