Companies that lean on their suppliers usually do it to reduce costs or speed delivery. It’s less common for the issue to be about getting more information.
Being green isn’t easy, but it’s even harder for companies like Herman Miller that rely on thousands of suppliers. To ensure products are sustainable, materials all the way up the supply chain have to be sustainable, too. It’s an approach IndustryWeek recently profiled in its cover story, “The Green Ultimatum.”
“We began 12 years ago working with McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry to obtain the firm’s Cradle to Cradle environmental certification,” explains Kim Buckley, Herman Miller director of supply management. “Most of our primary suppliers jumped on board because of their long-standing relationships with us. But some companies further up the supply chain, such as chemicals manufacturers that might produce materials used in plastic resins, weren’t as willing because of proprietary concerns.”
Buckley says the response was to tell suppliers unwilling to divulge their chemical ingredients that they would not receive new business from the company. Less business for non-compliers also meant some increase in costs for Herman Miller. “Looking at the molecular level of chemicals in products,” says Brian Walker, Herman Miller president and CEO, “there are cases—no doubt about it—where we have to pay increased costs to get compounds and materials that are more environmentally sensitive.”
The effort—and any increase in costs—are worth it, notes Walker. “Sustainability is becoming as prevalent in customer requirements as quality was 10 or 15 years ago, and we’re at the tipping point of this movement where our customers, at least, are no longer saying it’s nice to know you do it. It’s a requirement.”