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Dr. Reese Halter

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Herman Miller Embraces Nature and Engages Our Youth

Posted: 07/18/2012 9:45 am

In 1953, DJ De Pree, the founder of Herman Miller, wrote "We will be a good corporate neighbor by being a good steward of the environment." This core value, along with a triple bottom line, and inventive design that solves problems with excellent products, makes Herman Miller a world-class leading company.

Over the years of teaching climate change, resource management, sustainability and conservation biology, my students have made a number of in-class verbal presentations on how Herman Miller has used nature as an inspiration to both solve problems and create new products.

Since the middle of the 20th century Herman Miller has clearly understood that all pollution and waste are lost profit. They saw that many companies were taking raw materials and fuels from nature, cycling products through the economy and then generating tons of trash. That trash was, in turn, polluting the ground water.

An "open loop" system exploits nature's resources and deposits toxic waste at both ends. With over 7 billion people on Earth, we cannot do this any longer.

A "closed loop" economy, on the other hand, is one where the full array of actual costs is accounted for within the system. Companies and consumers are rewarded for reducing waste and the environment is safeguarded. Herman Miller and many other companies including: Interface, Google, Intel, Northface, Patagonia, Disney, Coca Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Staples, FedEx, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, 3M, Ford, Apple and Walmart are embracing the principles of a "closed loop" and have set aggressive targets to erase their footprints by 2020.

Herman Miller helped fund the U.S. Green Building Council, which gave birth to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED's buildings lower operating costs, increase asset value, reduce waste sent to landfills, conserve energy and water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and they are healthier and safer for people.

In fact, in 1995 renowned environmental architect William McDonough designed Herman Miller's environmentally friendly manufacturing facility next to 45 acres of rolling prairie in Holland, Mich. Called the 'GreenHouse,' it's an award-winner.

Soon after it was constructed, thousands of wasps began building nests around the GreenHouse. In keeping with De Pree's core values to protect the environment, Herman Miller decided against hiring exterminators and using synthetic insecticides. Rather, they choose to work with nature, bringing 12 honeybee hives (about 600,000 bees) onto their property. Wasps, you see, don't get along with bees at all, and they vacated the exterior of the GreenHouse post haste. Today those beehives are providing a vital service by assisting in cross-pollinating the spectacular 45-acres of prairie wildflowers. And by the way, a scrumptious by-product of those hives is wild prairie honey -- a gift from the honeybees that Herman Miller shares with its clients and visitors.

By 2020, Herman Miller, which has manufacturing plants in the U.S., China, Italy and the UK, has sustainable targets that include: zero landfills, zero hazardous waste generation, zero air emission, zero process water use, 100 percent green energy use (already achieved), company buildings with minimum LEED Silver certification and 100 percent sales from design for the environment-approved products.

They certainly understand that students are their future customers, demanding eco-friendly products and green life-styles. As a matter of fact, 68 percent of U.S. college applicants are now selecting schools based on their green principles, according to the Princeton Review's 2012 Hopes and Worries survey.

Interestingly, Dan Broersma (Herman Miller's environmental health and safety officer) assisted Grand Valley State University, their neighbor in Holland, Mich., by leading an initiative to effectively reduce the amount of recycled material dumped in landfill-destined bins by 90 percent. Grand Valley State University removed trashcans from every classroom and office in all its buildings. Instead, four recycling centers were set-up on campus with four bins each: one for paper; one for plastic, glass and metal; one for compostable waste; and one for the landfill.

Between classes, students and staff now recycle as they move around the campus. Broersma took a page right out of how Herman Miller's worldwide facilities efficiently operate, and helped the neighborhood university implement this method.

I applaud Herman Miller for engaging college students with their splendid annual student video contest: "What Makes Your Campus Green?" Jeff Vredevoogd, director of Herman Miller Education, and I spoke about these students and their desire for a healthy, green, sustainable future. "DJ De Pree instilled a commitment to the environment that runs through every aspect of our work, both inside and outside our walls here at Herman Miller. The video contest reflects the value we place on sustainability, and has been a fun and engaging way to learn more about the many green efforts on college campuses," he said.

This year at convocation around the nation there are 6.4 million graduates coming through colleges and universities that have embraced sustainability and low-carbon emissions as a part of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment. Herman Miller celebrates eco-friendly initiatives like these that make campuses near and far sustainable, green places to live and learn. In the spirit of life-long learning, young people must now help answer the question: "What makes your world green?"

Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster, distinguished biologist and author ofThe Incomparable Honeybee and The Insatiable Bark Beetle.

 

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