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Reuse, Reduce, Recycle: Designing Products and Processes for Sustainability

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle: Designing Products and Processes for Sustainability

Environmental responsibility is one of the foundations Herman Miller is built on. In 1953, Founder D.J. De Pree stated that “we will be good stewards of the environment.” Our journey to be a more sustainable company has become more complex and far-reaching in the nearly 60 years since D.J. spoke those words.

Take the way we design and manufacture products. We focus on maintaining our high quality standards while incorporating more environmentally sustainable materials, features, and manufacturing processes into new product designs. We have created a strict set of protocols called Design for the Environment (DfE), which guides our decisions as we work on new and existing products.

A lot of product manufacturers focus on recycled content and recyclability. We go farther upstream and downstream in a product’s life cycle. We pay attention to all of the components, materials, and processes that create a product. The Design Protocol adopted by Herman Miller goes beyond regulatory compliance to thoroughly evaluate new product designs in three key areas:

  • Material Chemistry and Safety of Inputs. What chemicals are in the materials we specify, and are they the safest available?
  • Disassembly. Can we take products apart at the end of their useful life to recycle their materials?
  • Recyclability. Do the materials contain recycled content, and more importantly, can the materials be recycled at the end of the product's useful life? If you can’t separate the steel from the foam, you are less likely to recycle that chair. When we design our products, we think about that. We don’t want our products to end up in landfills, and we want hospitals to have better options for recycling.

Another of our design tenets is durability. We design products for repeated use, repair, maintenance, and reassembly using standard parts. The better made the product, the longer it maintains its functions and looks—and stays out of the landfill.

Our products are also manufactured in the U.S. We consider the impact of transportation costs and fuel usage; minimizing both of these is another way we reach our environmental goals. Our suppliers are required to meet our DfE protocols, as well, so we know that every part of the product and process meets our criteria.

Hospitals can use this same kind of upstream-downstream thinking in their sustainability programs. Are your vendor partners employing sustainable practices in their own businesses?  Is contribution to the facility’s sustainability goals one of the evaluation criteria for product purchases?

Like hospitals that are constantly evaluating their processes to achieve higher levels of patient care, we keep learning more and applying new knowledge to the ways we design and manufacture our products.  If we can save money while building quality products that improve your facilities--without compromising our impact on the environment—then we’re all moving in the right direction.

Joel Van Wyk, Director of Product Management, Herman Miller Healthcare, leads the product management group. His responsibilities include strategic planning, new product development, and customer project support. He has been with Herman Miller for 18 years in various capacities and enjoys engaging with customers and creating product solutions to meet their needs.

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