Herman Miller's Approach to Sustainable Design


The good people at Metropolis magazine have posted a transcript of a terrific talk given by Herman Miller's Scott Charon and Susan Lyons about their Design for Environment, their sustainable design program based on the Cradle to Cradle protocol.
Using their task seating as an example (the Mirra chair, pictured above, is divided into its 96 percent recyclable pieces on the left and the other 4 percent on the right), they talk about materials chemistry, usability, recycling and more. If you've ever wondered why TreeHugger gets in to this stuff, it's a worthwhile read; they talk at some length about the process required to design, assemble, disassemble, reconfigure and recycle their projects, which is no easy task. Hit the jump to take a quick bite out of the transcript, and read the whole thing at ::Metropolis via ::Core77


If you look at a disassembled Aeron chair at the end of its useful life you can see there are a lot of different components that make up the furniture. When we did the breakdown we were told we really need to be better at disassembly. It took a couple of hours to disassemble the chair, and we need to make sure we can get those materials into proper recycling bins.

There are four questions we ask. First, are the materials homogenous? Meaning they can't be molded steel and plastic together. Did we use common tools to take them apart? Did it take one person more than 30 seconds to reverse a connection? If it takes longer than that the material might end up in a landfill. The materials have to be identified and marked; the plastics have to have the proper recycling codes on them so they can be recycled. If the answer to all of those questions is yes we are going to give ourselves 100 percent credit, if one of those is No, we are not going to give ourselves any credit. Finally, recycling. If a material fits into the technical or biological nutrient cycle we will score that 100 percent, if it's down-cycled we will give that 50 percent and if we can incinerate it for energy recovery we will give that 25 percent. If it has to go to a landfill we are not going to give ourselves any credit within that score card.


The second Cradle to Cradle chair that was brought to the marketplace is the Celle Chair. In this case we have made it even simpler to take the chair apart and simpler to eventually redeploy those parts and pieces once we have a system to send them in to their next cradle. The whole idea of Cradle to Cradle thinking is embedded in the design process that we use. It is about trying to think about closing the loop, even though there may not be some systems in place to do that yet.