Herman Miller: So Not Retro

Herman Miller designs - known instantly for their embodiment of nineteen-fifties and sixties efficiency chic - run deep.

Eames molded plastic chairs with wood are 84-93 percent recyclable at the end of their useful life. Eames molded plastic chairs without wood are 99-100 percent recyclable at the end of their useful life.

 An Evolving Approach

Since 1991, the company has worked to establish a rigorous sustainability protocol, developing standards to measure the environmental impact of a given material. "In some cases, this might involve tracking material back through four or five tiers of suppliers; the company that manufactures a chair component, the company that manufactures the plastic for that chair component, the companies that make the colorants for the plastic, and finally, the companies that make the pigments for the colorants.

Every ingredient of every material, down to those that make up as little as .1 per cent (by weight) of both the material and the final product is identified."1

At Herman Miller, designers can consider, for example, data related to a given material's human health concerns, or to the  renewable resources used to create it. They can then make design choices accordingly, addressing sustainability concerns as they would cost or aesthetics.

It's called "Cradle to Cradle," and it "goes beyond regulatory compliance to thoroughly evaluate a new product," the company says.2

"Our commitment to corporate sustainability naturally includes minimizing the environmental impact of each of our products. Our Design for Environment team (DfE) applies environmentally sensitive design standards to both new and existing Herman Miller products."2

Those design standards are categorized under:2 

  •  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 theirmaterials?
  • Recyclability Do the materials contain recycled content, and more importantly, can the materials recycled at the end of the product’s useful life?

A (New) Classic Emergence

The Aeron chair’s components are constructed from aluminum, steel, plastic, and foam/textile. The Aeron chair is up to 94 percent recyclable at the end of its useful life.

The often imitated Herman Miller Aeron chair (listed in the MOMA Architecture and Design Archives  in 1992 as a work by Donald T. Chadwick and William Stumpf)3 is an exempalry manifestation of the company's design process. "From its earliest developmental stages, the Aeron’s raw material selection and sourcing process emphasized environmental friendliness, with a preference for renewable, sustainable, and recycled source materials."2

According to the company, Aeron is "certified level 2," indicating "a comprehensive, independent, and impartial assessment of the environmental and social impacts of a product."4

"This means that Aeron is composed of environmentally safe and healthy materials, is designed for material reuse in a closed-loop system, such as recycling or composting, and is assembled using 100% renewable energy," the company says.

It's a lot to think about - the Herman Miller protocol really demonstrates how important it is for companies - and individuals - to embrace and pursue innovation, however it manifests.  

Obtain an Aeron  office chair - or a few of the quintessential molded plastic Eames chairs -  through DWR (4310 Sharon Road Suite 21 Charlotte, NC 28211 (704) 365.6514) or visit www.hermanmiller.com

Event:  Happenin' Herman

Thursday, July 26, 5–8pm DWR Charlotte Studio, in association with Herman Miller®, invites you to join us for a screening of “Eames: The Architect and the Painter,” a feature-length documentary by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey about the world of Charles and Ray Eames. Using archival footage and modern-day commentary by friends and family, this must-see film presents an exclusive inside look at the husband-and-wife team, highlighting their influence on significant events in American history and revealing their untold personal lives. Sip refreshments and enjoy popcorn while watching the film.

RSVP to cwarner@dwr.com