Bill Birchard’s new book Merchants of Virtue explores Herman Miller’s commitment to building an environmentally sustainable business. That word ‘sustainable’ gets tossed around a lot these days. How did Birchard define it? ”For a company, sustainability means operating with no long-term impact on the health of the planet or its people. The definition widely recognized by business comes from a U.N. commission report from 1987. The commission defined “sustainable development” as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That’s the definition Herman Miller adopted, and many others have also. Many people today have expanded the definition to include a wide range of benefits to the communities and society in which we live. The short definition of sustainability is leaving the planet as good as we got it, for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. ”
Birchard interviewed over 100 people for the book – from CEO to factory heads. He also found himself trawling through our extensive archives. The result is an in-depth look at a company committed to sustaining the planet for generations to come. Here we take a tour of Birchard’s home office in Amherst, New Hampshire, where he wrote the book, and learn about his work habits.
“I keep many sizes and kinds of notepaper, tablets, and post-it notes in the shelves in front of me, and I use whichever seems to “feel” right when I’m brainstorming. Sometimes I use a post-it to capture a small thought. Sometimes I use a tablet to sketch out a long chapter lead. Sometimes I use cheap paper or the back of an envelope for “throwaway” thoughts I’m “testing” but doubt I’ll keep, etc. Although I also keep many notes on the computer, I find the tactile and sketching qualities of paper helpful in shaping thoughts and arranging priorities. I’m definitely not in favor of a “clean desk,” since inspiration for metaphor, etc., come from anywhere, even pictures of family camping trips, etc. The exception is when I’m writing. I write almost exclusively from electronic documents on my computer, since the volume of documents needed to write a book is much too great to arrange on a desk.”
“By the way, one of my favorite quotes about writing (which will appear in my upcoming book on writing), is the following, which explains why a good chair, an Aeron, is so important to me:”The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” It’s from Mary Heaton Vorse, suffragette, journalist, novelist, single mom, 1874-1966. I spend a lot of time glued to my chair.”
Update: Herman Miller has just been recognized as a leader in corporate sustainability by The Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI World). This is the eighth year we’ve garnered the attention of DJSI World. It was launched in 1999, and was the first global index tracking the financial performance of the leading sustainability-driven companies worldwide. Herman Miller joins 300 other companies in the top 10% of leading sustainable companies in the world.