With the UN predicting more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, the world needs to make changes to preserve its waters. In an effort to do just that, Herman Miller joined the NextWave consortium to address the issue of ocean-bound plastics. Herman Miller and the other partnering organizations are creating the first global network for ocean-bound plastics supply chain and finding new and unique ways to reutilize the material before it becomes lost in the oceans.
Western Michigan University
In 2017, the NextWave Plastic consortium was established with an aim to keep plastic waste out of the oceans and in the economy. Herman Miller and the other NextWave members are developing the first global network of ocean-bound plastic supply chains through transparency, cooperation, and a focus on the future.
The process begins in locations such as Indonesia, Haiti, and India where plastic pollution are a major issue. Through partnerships with organizations such as OceanCycle, local pickers are employed to collect plastic from the coastline. The plastic is then sent to reprocessing facilities where they ground, wash, and pelletize the plastic which is then shipped to manufacturers like Herman Miller. Once the plastic is received, Herman Miller tests and re-engineers the plastic to fit the variety of products being produced. This process includes handling any variations within the aggregated recycled plastic and making necessary alterations to the plastic or machines so that no production issues occur.
When creating these sustainable supply chains, Herman Miller initially looked at the available materials and where current suppliers were located. High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE) was the first material used by Herman Miller for products such as trays and interior locking mechanisms. Through NextWave partnerships, Herman Miller was connected with Polindo, a HDPE supplier located in Indonesia. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) was the next material Herman Miller sought to utilize, with textiles being a major area of opportunity. For this, Herman Miller reached out to its current textile suppliers of which three of the four agreed to take on the challenge of utilizing ocean-bound plastic. Through the production of polyester, Herman Miller was able to increase its available product selection significantly. So far, Herman Miller uses ocean-bound plastics in the Aeron Chair, Aeron Stool, Tu Storage Utility Tray, Revenio Textile Collection, and the OE1 Storage Trolley. Additionally, the Revenio textile collection is made from 100% recycled materials and includes biodegradable polyester.
D.J De Pree, the founder of Herman Miller said in 1953, “Herman Miller will be a good corporate neighbor by being a good steward of the environment." So, when Dell, both a supplier and customer of Herman Miller, presented the idea of NextWave and finding ways to decrease the volume of plastic entering the oceans, Herman Miller agreed to assist with the mission at hand.
Management dedicated a team to pursue areas of opportunity with the simple but challenging instructions to “Go have an impact." Instead of going through the motions and creating a new product based solely on sustainability, the goal was to prove both internally and externally that ocean-bound plastic is an underutilized resource that can be used in producing a variety of products. This focus revolved around not only the finished product, but establishing sustainable supply chains. Bob Teasley clarified the meaning of sustainability supply chains is “not just being environmentally friendly, but building supply chains that will last over time."
Joining NextWave and finding ways to utilize ocean-bound plastics also fit in line with current targets Herman Miller had previously established. Earthright is Herman Miller’s 10-year sustainability strategy that is focused around three principles: positive transparency, products as living things, and becoming greener together. These 2023 commitments include:
• Zero waste
• 50% reduction in water use (30M gallons)
• 50% reduction in energy intensity
• 50% more local renewables (50,000 mwh)
• 100% Design for the Environment-approved products
• 100% level 3 certified products
• 125,000 tons of product taken back per year
While plastic usage is a main focus of numerous industries, Herman Miller and the other NextWave members are developing a sustainable supply chain that will result in long-term plastic reduction. By the end of 2025, NextWave member companies are committed to diverting a minimum of 25,000 metric tons of plastic which is equivalent to 1.2 billion single-use plastic bottles. Herman Miller alone estimates it will divert up to 234 metric tons of plastic per year.
Additionally, the supply chains being established are laying the ground work for future organizations to follow in their footsteps. NextWave was created with Transparency as a founding principle, so upon the completion of a supply chain, Herman Miller presents what they are doing and with whom. This information is not just for members, but external businesses as well. This is all done in an effort to promote the wide-spread use of ocean-bound plastics. Herman Miller is showing companies across all industries that it is not only possible to create sustainable supply chains, but to incorporate ocean-bound plastic in a variety of products.
As the production increases and more organizations see the possible benefits of using ocean-bound plastic within products, the larger the impact on the coastal communities. “Value for the material, creates infrastructure, creates jobs,” Bob Teasley explained. “The more they can earn the better they can take care of their families." Working with the communities to harvest ocean-bound plastic creates sustainable employment, stimulates the economies of these impoverished areas, and provides the opportunity for a better life for those picking up the plastic.
By using ocean-bound plastics in products such as the Aeron chair, Herman Miller has seen demand increase above initial projection. While margins have reduced in the short term, Herman Miller is strategically placed to take advantage of a growing supply chain with numerous resources. As more organizations see the value of ocean-bound plastics and create additional demand for this resource, supply costs will go down and margins will improve.
The mission of removing and utilizing ocean-bound plastic from coastal areas provides the dual benefit of employing impoverished pickers and removing the plastic waste before it reaches the oceans. Herman Miller and other NextWave organizations dedicated years to establishing sustainable supply chains and developing products that utilize the plastic so these benefits will continue far into the future. As the founder of Herman Miller, D.J. De Pree said “In the long run, businesses and business leaders will be judged not by their profits or their products, but by their impact on humanity.”
Bob Teasley, Director New Product Development, Supply Management
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Zeeland, MI, US
Business Website: https://www.hermanmiller.com/
Year Founded: 1905
Number of Employees: 5001 to 10000
Herman Miller is an American manufacturing company that produces office furniture, equipment, and home furnishings.