Think Sustainability Is too Costly? Think Again.


The United Nations Population Division anticipates that the world population will increase by 2.6 billion between now and 2050, when the population will reach 9.2 billion. That increase alone is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950. *1 The state of our natural resources in 2050 depends in large part on what everyone starts doing now, including companies.

Unilever is working toward the goal of halving the environmental footprint of its products as it increases corporate revenue. A year ago, when Harvard Business Review interviewed CEO Ron Polman about that ambitious plan, he said, “[I]t’s very clear for businesses that if they make [sustainability] their business model, in my opinion, and plan for this carefully, it is actually an accelerator of growth.” *2 Its recently released Sustainable Living Plan Progress Report proves it.

Herman Miller, too, has long believed that sustainability and profitability aren’t mutually exclusive. An advocate of environmental responsibility since 1953, when then CEO D.J. De Pree said, “We will be good corporate neighbors by being good stewards of the environment,” we track our progress toward sustainability, as well as the costs associated with it, on a number of fronts. Our corporate environmental goals are a key metric of our business success, and our current CEO’s compensation is based, in part, on progress toward those goals. In 2012, almost $2.3 million dollars made it to our bottom line, the result of waste prevention and recycling, conservation programs, and market energy purchases. In states that offer de-regulated alternative energy suppliers (AES) programs, Herman Miller purchases bulk electricity and natural gas from these “non-utilities,” which run 10 to 20 percent lower than a utility’s regulated tariff rates.

Herman Miller, which has been named to the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes annually since 2004, gladly shares what it knows about sustainability with anyone who asks, including competitors. For more information, visit hermanmiller.com/environment. “We don’t have all the answers,” says Gabe Wing, Herman Miller’s director of Safety and Sustainability. “But we do know that you have to commit—truly commit, as in ‘dedicate resources to’—and then put your best minds on it.”


1. Friedman, p. 28, quoting the United Nations Population Division.

2. Adi Ignatius, “Unilever’s CEO on Making Responsible Business Work,” Harvard Business Review, May 17, 2012, http://blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2012/05/unilevers-ceo-on-making-respon.html (accessed June 25, 2012).