April 1, 2011
As the words “green” and “sustainability” become part of business vernacular, it shouldn’t be a surprise that hundreds, if not thousands, of conferences have emerged to discuss these topics. The conference we never miss is Fortune Brainstorm GREEN, held this year in Laguna Nigel, California, April 4-6.
Fortune, together with its program partners, The Nature Conservancy, NRDC, and the Environmental Defense Fund, gathers, as it describes, “the smartest people we know” in sustainability from business, government, and NGOs.
Since 2009, Herman Miller has been a major sponsor of this dynamic event. We enjoy contributing to it, but we feel that we gain even more through the rich conversations and relationships we build there.
We’ll be live tweeting from the conference, so follow us @hermanmiller for real-time updates. Or you can also follow @brainstormgreen or search for hashtag #FortuneGreen to get an inside look into all of the discussions happening during the conference.
And, though it’s too late to join the conference in person, you can virtually participate in some of the sessions via video stream.
Better World, Design
March 30, 2011
You are what you eat, right? Peter Williams thinks you are where you live. Give people suitable sanitation, proper ventilation, adequate eaves, like in the award-winning Breathe House design above, and they’ll be healthier. And they won’t need drugs to manage many of the diseases that attack them, such as tuberculosis.
Williams is founder and executive director of ARCHIVE (Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments). He’s working to increase awareness of the link between housing and health. It’s a connection that can make a difference: in many of the world’s cities, one in six people live in overcrowded, unstable structures that lack adequate sanitation.
At a recent event at Herman Miller’s National Design Centre in London, Williams spoke about ARCHIVE’s mission to combat diseases by making architecture central to a systemic process of improving lives. And with projects such as Kay e Sante nan Ayiti (Creole for “Housing and Health in Haiti”), he’s showing how we can all participate in creating a better world.
Photo via ARCHIVE
Kay e Sante nan Ayiti competition
1st Place Entry: Breathe House
Anselmo Canfora (assistant professor of architecture); Richard Guerrant (medical doctor); Ewan Smith (engineer); Galen Staengl (engineer); Michael Stoneking (architect); Aja Bulla-Richards, Sara Harper, Sally Lee, Nathan Parker, Chase Sparling-Beckley, Lauren Thompson (architecture students)
Better World, Design
March 22, 2011
We’ve been observing, too. Our connections there began with George Nelson, Herman Miller’s famous design director. Here he is taking music lessons, flanked by his teachers. The photo is probably from his two-month tour of Japan, late 1957 to early 1958. A guest of the Japanese government, Nelson lectured in several cities and met with designers, manufacturers, and students.
Nelson first traveled to Tokyo in 1951, and became enamored of the city. He was fascinated by the care he observed in the design of all things. Even the most ordinary items received an attention that he found fascinating, as did the noted Japanese graphic designer Hikeyuki Oka. Nelson added a foreword to Oka’s book How to Wrap Five Eggs, a mid-60s classic of Japanese design.
Writing in the foreword, Nelson said that “what we have lost for sure is what this book is all about: a once-common sense of fitness in the relationships between hand, material, use and shape, and above all, a sense of delight in the look and feel of very ordinary, humble things.”
A sense of delight continues to energize us, as does a real connection to Japan. Fast forward 60 years after Nelson’s first trip there, and you’ll find our latest touchpoint: the Herman Miller store in Tokyo. Opened in January of this year, the store makes great design available to consumers, from chairs and desks to games and toys.
Photo 1 Copyright Jacqueline Nelson
Photo 2 Weatherhill Publishing
Help Us Act
As with everyone in Japan and the world, we are preoccupied with helping the country rebuild after the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the Sendai area. The disaster has prompted us, and our employees, to make donations to the relief efforts. Find out more about what we’re doing and how you can help make a difference. Thank you.
Better World, What's Up
March 18, 2011
You have to love an organization whose motto is, “Making a difference, one wag at a time.” And West Michigan Therapy Dogs is making a difference, especially to the kids at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Twice a month WMTD volunteers drop by with their canine companions to visit the young patients, and the reaction, says Herman Miller Payroll Manager Deb Caukin, is “instantaneous. The kids just love it.”
Deb was instrumental in bringing the program to the hospital four years ago. WMTD trains the dogs and there are currently 20 volunteer teams—one dog, one human—who take turns on visiting nights.
Deb’s dog Sunshine is always a big hit. “The other night, we stopped in to see a teenager, and she was so excited to see us. Her mom was taking pictures and said to us, ‘It’s so wonderful you’re here; it’s the first time she’s smiled all day…’ We hear things like that all the time.”
Jodi Bauers, manager of the hospital’s Child Life program agrees. “The dogs provide an unconditional love; they look past tubes and wheelchairs to see a new friend.”
The volunteers also go to nursing homes and other hospitals, but the Children’s Hospital is Deb’s favorite. “It’s such a great opportunity to give back to the community. Every single time I go I think, ‘I’m so glad I did this.’ My dogs give me a lot of joy and it’s wonderful to be able to spread it around.”
Better World, Design
February 21, 2011
If I was a designer or architect who’s going to be in New York City between now and May 21, I definitely would make a point to see the Center for Architecture’s current exhibit, which opened February 10. Called “Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities,” it’s all about how to design for today’s large urban cities by studying the inventive “make-do”s of India’s slums. That’s right, India’s overcrowded, packed-in living spaces have a thing or two to teach us about using limited resources, a subject Herman Miller has always had an interest in.
In fact, the term “Jugaad” specifically refers to the resourcefulness and innovation that Indian people demonstrate every day, from jerry-rigging cars and busses to turning plastic pop bottles into street lamps.
The exhibit, says Margaret Castillo, president of the AIA New York chapter, aims to educate both local and international audiences about the critical issues of growing cities. “While Mumbai may seem a world away, the lessons learned from its empowered citizens and designers can be applied to rapidly expanding cities such as Rio or Guangzhou.”
The exhibit is organized by resources — land, water, energy and transportation. It and features everything from products and prototypes, including a new low tech concept for community toilets, to lectures and Bollywood films.
“There’s always this narrative of failure and tragedy when one discusses Indian urbanism,” said curator Kanu Agrawal. “But this represents solutions; people respond creatively where there are shortages of resources.”
It’d be worth checking out even if you’re not a designer, don’t you think?
Photo 1: Jugaad canopy, New Delhi. Photo credit: Sundeep Bali.
Photo 2: Mumbai’s chawls, built in 1916. Photo credit: Rajesh Vora.
Photo 3: A jugaad chandelier constructed from cables and recycled bottles. Photo credit: Rajesh Vora.
January 31, 2011
Herman Miller has received the top rating for a fourth consecutive year in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s eighth annual Corporate Equality Index.
We are one of only 337 companies recognized for employment policies and practices that include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers and their families. The index evaluates non-discrimination policies, benefits, diversity training, and other internal resources for LGBT workers, as well as external support for the LGBT community.
At Herman Miller, inclusiveness is one of the Things That Matter to us and one of many ideals that helps us succeed.
In fact, Brian Walker, our President and CEO, says, “When we are truly inclusive, I believe we go beyond toleration to really understanding what makes us unique and what unites us as human beings.”
January 28, 2011
Within its sphere of influence, Herman Miller works hard to stay true to its ethos of environmental stewardship and to fulfill its commitment to zero waste by 2020. But whether it’s environmentally friendly facilities or responsible manufacturing processes, companies like Herman Miller can only move ahead as fast as the science that undergirds these techniques and processes.
One place where research is happening on a large scale is Biosphere2 in the desert north of Tucson, Arizona. Biosphere1 is our Earth.
Managed by the University of Arizona, Biosphere2 is a scientist’s dream. It’s a 3-acre Star Trek-like greenhouse of glass and steel completely sealed from the surrounding desert. Within this sealed environment, five mini-biomes, such as mangrove wetlands, a savannah grassland, and a coral reef, have been created. Because these environments can be minutely controlled, science can proceed on a large scale.
Studies are underway, for example, to compare the effect of drought on native grasses like tanglehead versus invasive species like buffelgrass. Or to examine how fast carbon dioxide is absorbed in a rain forest.
Ultimately, the kind of research that’s happening at Biosphere2 should result in a better understanding of how our planet works, as well as nuts-and-bolts ways to preserve and protect our fragile biosystems. That’s the kind of research that companies like Herman Miller might find useful in the future.
January 7, 2011
Herman Miller’s independent contractors are an important part of our community, and just before the holidays transcriber Jodie Alexiev surprised us with a wonderful gift–a donation in our name used to stock a health clinic for those in need.
Alexiev considers herself an altruistic person by nature. For example, following her dreams meant she had to give up her job at a travel agency to serve with the Peace Corps in Bulgaria. And later she created her own transcription business so that she could stay at home with her kids.
Her altruism showed through in her Christmas gifts to Herman Miller and the rest of her customers, many of which are healthcare organizations in West Michigan.
Their reaction? “They’ve been tickled and honored,” she notes.
The idea came from a gift catalog published by World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization.
“It ignites your imagination,” says Alexiev, “and you know where your dollars are going.”
January 3, 2011
Herman Miller has always led the charge in environmental stewardship for corporations. In fact, in 1995 Herman Miller’s Greenhouse helped develop the U. S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) first LEED standards. Now, achieving LEED certification for a commercial building has become a mark of distinction and achievement.
But what about residential buildings? What about your home? Private houses vastly outnumber commercial buildings, and they consume the biggest single chunk of energy (22 percent).
Well, houses can indeed achieve LEED certification, just like commercial buildings; however, seeking residential LEED certification is the decidedly less-traveled road. At this point, only a handful of residential construction firms nationally have on-the-ground experience in the many options for building green homes. “There’s a lot of information available,” says Doug Selby, president and co-founder of Meadowlark Builders in Ann Arbor, one of the few construction companies that specialize in green building. “But it’s hard to put it all together and create an action plan.” Selby’s customers tend to be highly motivated, willing to experiment, and eager to get involved in their construction project.
In the end, economic stewardship is reason enough to build green, but as Herman Miller and other companies have discovered, there are some potent economic motivators as well. Meadowlark Builders recently renovated an 1837 historic home that achieved LEED Platinum certification The monthly bill for heating and cooling this 1,850-square-foot home? $42 per month on average, and it uses 70 percent less water than conventional homes.
Straw bale house, anyone?
December 31, 2010
Herman Miller has established several sustainable practices to help it reach its Perfect Vision goals, but what are others doing to create a better world? I recently traveled to Germany and witnessed the country’s commitment to sustainability. Potsdamer Platz is one area that stands out.
Historic Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin has seen its share of turbulence. Razed during World War II and bisected by the Berlin Wall (an unobtrusive brick line still runs through the center of the square marking where the wall once stood), it once was a cement-covered no-man’s-land.
Within the last two decades, however, the square has been reborn, and it has a green story to tell.
Meandering through the square, an “Urban Waterscape” of pools, canals, and gentle cascades create “an oasis of calm and beauty,” according to design firm, Atelier Dreiseitl. Naturalized landscapes (“purification biotopes”) surround and filter the water that passes through it.
Besides the aesthetic benefits, the Urban Waterscape is a sophisticated rainwater management system. Over half of the buildings surrounding the enormous square have green roofs. Rainwater from the buildings supplies flushing toilets and fire systems. The remaining rainwater fills the pools and irrigates the landscapes.
Almost subliminally you are drawn to the vista of natural grasses, ducks, fish, and even a crane peacefully co-existing between a highway and the bustling city center. Add the environmental story, and Potsdamer Platz becomes an impressive part of Berlin’s renaissance.