Debra Wierenga writes about the places where work gets done and how the design of those workplaces affects people, families, and society at large. She has been writing about workplaces for Herman Miller for over 30 years.
April 5, 2010
I may have been born a Boomer, but according to the folks at the Pew Research Center, I have a lot in common with the youngest generation now entering the workforce. Taking their “How Millennial Are You?“ quiz, I scored a 60. Since the average person of this up and coming generation (young adults between the ages of 18 and 29) scores a 73 (your average Boomer is an 11), I figure that simply adding a tattoo or piercing something other than my earlobe could conceivably make me more Millennial than many Millennials.
Or, I could start sleeping with my cell phone. Millennials: Confident, Connected, Open to Change, a comprehensive study just released by Pew Research, found the youngsters more attached to–and optimistic about the effects of technology–than their older counterparts. Not surprisingly, the generation that defines itself by level and type of technology use, surpasses Boomers and Gen-Xers in cell phone use (especially texting) and internet savvy (especially social networking). The younger generation is also more likely to say that technology “makes life easier” and “makes people closer to their friends and family.”
Compared to Boomers, Millennials are twice as likely to use Twitter and send four times as many text messages per day. Within the last 24 hours, they were also more likely than people of my generation to watch a video online, post a message on a social networking profile, and text while driving a car.
How Millennial are you? Take the 14-question quiz to find out, then post your score here (be sure to tell us which generation you really belong to).
Better World, Design, Products
March 15, 2010
Have you tried one of those online carbon footprint calculators yet? According to this one, my family of three is adding around 51 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. But another online tool gauges my annual household emissions at 36,411 pounds (about 18 tons). Clearly, calculating carbon footprints is not yet an exact science.
That doesn’t stop our Design for the Environment (DfE) group from trying, though. They’re working to gather the information required to determine the carbon footprints of Herman Miller’s products. No easy task, given that most are made of multiple parts–the Aeron chair, for example has around 200–and you have to know the composition and manufacturing process of each (and how it’s shipped and where from) before you can factor in the energy used to assemble the chair and translate the result into carbon emissions.
In a recent interview with Metropolis magazine, DfE manager Gabe Wing, explains that the challenge is “finding a standardized way to determine carbon footprints. Right now there is no single standard.” Still, if it isn’t yet possible to measure carbon emissions exactly, Wing says, it is feasible to lower them by setting benchmarks for new product designs, choosing materials that have inherently low carbon footprints, and encouraging suppliers to use renewables in their own manufacturing processes.
Better World, Technology
January 14, 2010
I’m sure you’ve been wondering how things turned out with Emerson’s Art and Design Perspectives project I reported on a few weeks back–the one where he had to list, categorize, and analyze the environmental impact of every object he owns? Well, his final tally included nearly 1,200 discrete items. Here are some of his findings.
Only 21 percent of Emerson’s stuff was made in the United States. His apartment at the University of Michigan contains items that were made in 37 other countries. Paper is the most common material used to manufacture the things he owns (30 percent), followed by plastic (22 percent). The value of his possessions averages out to $24 per item or approximately 3 hours of Emerson’s time as determined by the pay rate of his summer job. As far as he was able to determine, 706 items–60 percent of the stuff he owns–are destined for a landfill.
Bottom line? “I have a lot of stuff,” Emerson writes in his final report. “The most important thing I can do is buy less stuff and to make sure that I know where the stuff I do buy comes from, what it’s made out of, and what implications it has for the environment and for human rights.”
Professor Trumpey gave him an “A.”
Better World, Herman Miller Journal
January 8, 2010
If you haven’t already heard the story of Herman Miller’s wasp-defeating, wildflower pollinating, incredibly productive honey bees, you should check out this sweet video. If you know about the 24 busy hives located on the grounds of our GreenHouse facility–an award-winning “ecologically intelligent” manufacturing site–I’m here to tell you about what those bees do during long West Michigan winters when Black-Eyed Susans are scarce on the ground.
The GreenHouse hives are maintained by a local beekeeper who also has an operation in Georgia. In autumns past, Herman Miller’s bees were transported to the Peach State, where they could continue to produce the quantities of honey that are the happy side effect of a pesticide-free solution to an aggressive paper wasp problem. But, as for many human residents of northern climes, a recessionary economy and high fuel costs have conspired to keep the GreenHouse bees home this winter.
So while workers inside the seating operations plant continue to weather tough economic times, their apian counterparts outside form big, shivering clusters in their snow-covered hives. Worker bees take turns at the warm center (around 80 degrees F) and the chilly outer edges (46-48 degrees F)–so all can survive.
Technology, What's Up
December 30, 2009
“I tell my students that they are archeologists sifting through stuff to learn about the person who owns it and the society that made it,” says Associate Professor Joe Trumpey, who teaches at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design.
The course: Art and Design Perspectives. The assignment: Inventory, categorize, analyze and research everything you own.
My son Emerson, a sophomore in Trumpey’s class, had 438 items on his My Stuff spreadsheet (above) when I spoke with him last. (And this is only the stuff he has with him at school–you should see his bedroom at home.) For each object, he has to list country of origin, primary material, life expectancy, end of life cycle, and monetary value–and rank its personal importance in his life.
Once their inventories are complete, students will experiment with sorting them by various categories and analyze the patterns they find. “Ultimately, students see the complexities of global markets and design,” says Trumpey, who has given the assignment four years running. “Many see the excess of cheap, disposable goods versus the more meaningful or longer lasting goods.”
I’ll report on Emerson’s findings in an upcoming blog post.
December 3, 2009
A recent survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that nearly one in five U.S. companies now allow pets at work. Many of these pet-friendly offices belong to small startups (my personal favorite, Small Dog Electronics, devotes a page on its website to employee and customer dogs) probably because with fewer employees it’s easier to reach consensus on issues like pet hair and squeak toys. But larger businesses are also signing on.
Do you share an office with a furry friend? Send your stories and photos to Discover and we’ll highlight them in a future blog post.
November 19, 2009
Yesterday when my son and resident IT expert was showing me how to perform some supposedly simple computer task involving a cute little cloud icon, he made a rather disparaging comment about my organizational skills. My desktop, he informed me, was “a mess.”
This from someone whose bedroom floor has not been seen since 2005.
August 19, 2009
When my dad retired at 55—the age I am now—he had a solid pension plan and the kind of comprehensive healthcare coverage workers today only dream about.
July 1, 2009
“Try running a meeting sometime where everyone’s surfing the web and IM-ing their friends, and let me know how you feel about PDAs and laptops in meetings then.”
“So why is trying to get some actual work done at a meeting suddenly a bad thing?”
These comments, posted in response to an article on the technology blog “ReadWriteWeb,” highlight the real issue behind the latest generational gap at work: manners.
May 20, 2009
Photo credit: ColorBlind Images/Iconica/Getty Images
Not many college students make it to graduation without pulling at least one all-nighter. The fact that burning the midnight oil these days means long hours on the computer poses a growing health risk on campus.