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Here's the text: WITH ITS SLIGHTLY curved back and adjustable armrests,
Steelcase Inc.'s "Think" chair doesn't look particularly radical, but
it embodies a lot of forward thinking by the nation's biggest office
furniture maker. The $900 chair can be disassembled with basic hand
tools in about five minutes and most of its parts are recyclable.
The "Think" chair is Steelcase's first product to meet a design ideal
being embraced by a growing number of furniture, carpeting and other
manufacturing companies: using parts that can be recycled several
times, and manufactured in ways least harmful to the environment. The
goal is to abandon the cradle-to-grave path of man- made products that
end up in garbage dumps and instead make them C2C, or "cradle to
At the forefront of such thinking are architect William McDonough and
his chemist partner, Michael Braungart. The pair's 2002 book, "Cradle
to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things" has become a manifesto for
a growing group of "green" industrial designers. Mr. McDonough says
many designers feel challenged to make better products. "We want clean
production that's based on a regenerative technology," he says.
"Pollution is a symbol of design failure."
For example, the "Think" chair is made at factories that buy "green,"
or renewable power, from sources like wind turbines and solar panels,
says Allan Smith, director of environmental strategy for Steelcase. All
known carcinogens were eliminated in the manufacturing process and each
part is stamped with icons showing how they should be sorted for
recycling. The chair is 99% recyclable.
Companies making more ecologically friendly products aren't just trying
to be fashionable. Consumers are increasingly seeking environmentally
safe products and are sometimes willing to pay a premium for them.
Because the makers avoid harmful substances, they are less likely to
injure workers during the manufacturing process. And the economics of
green design are changing, too. The recent run-up in the price of oil,
for instance, has pushed up the price of petrochemicals and made it
more cost-effective to recycle old synthetic material.
The U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington nonprofit coalition of
builders, manufacturers and public agencies that promotes construction
of energy-efficient buildings, estimates that $5.8 billion was spent on
green-building initiatives last year, a 34% increase over 2003.
Yet going green isn't an easy business decision. Much discussion has
taken place within these companies about whether environmentally safe
products can be commercially viable. Some manufacturers have decided to
start with products that already are particularly profitable, giving
them latitude to experiment.
Shaw Industries Inc., the nation's biggest carpet maker, was initially
skeptical about the economics behind the cradle-to-cradle concept, says
Steven Bradfield, head of environmental products for the Dalton, Ga.,
unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. In the past five years, however, his
firm has found ways to recycle old carpet retrieved from its own
customers. The recycled material is now cheaper than an equivalent
amount of new raw material.
Shaw has redesigned its $150-million-a-year business of carpet tiles,
typically used to cover large commercial spaces. Its entire carpet tile
business is now made of material that can be recycled. In addition, the
company now guarantees buyers that it will recycle all carpet squares,
and an 800-number is stamped on the back of each tile for customers to
call to have the tiles picked up. In the past, the cost of discarding
old squares in garbage dumps was hidden in the cost of new carpet.
Companies like Shaw that have become converts "will quietly adopt this
as a basic business practice," says Mr. Bradfield, adding that his firm
is looking for ways to extend the concept to other product lines like
Steelcase, too, is looking to expand the concept to its other products.
It's begun to change its buying practices, for example, selecting wood
for desks that comes from tree farms that practice
sustainable-harvesting techniques, Mr. Smith says.
Advocates of the green approach say it forces manufacturers to find out
what's in the materials they use. Office design company Herman Miller
Inc. now asks all its vendors to submit exact specifications and
chemical ingredients of the materials they supply.
"If a company won't give us their secret formulas, then we won't do any
new business with them," says Scott Charon, head of new products at the
Zeeland, Mich., company. He says a couple of suppliers balked
initially, but have since changed their minds. Products that meet the
strict "cradle to cradle" protocol currently account for only about 5%
of sales, a figure the company plans to increase to 50% by 2010 as it
designs new products and redesigns old ones.
Herman Miller prefers to use environmentally sensitive materials
whenever possible. Polyvinyl chloride, commonly called PVC, that's used
in office chair armrests has been one of the most difficult materials
to replace because alternative materials can cost four times as much.
The company uses unconventional materials at times, such as the fabric
made from extracts of corn that's in its "Mirra" office chair. The
fabric can be stripped off and composted while about 96% of the chair
can be recycled.
The cradle-to-cradle recycling concept has even spawned a home design
competition in Virginia at the Roanoke Regional Housing Network, a
group that promotes urban revitalization and fair housing. None of the
625 "C2C" designs achieved the complete life-cycle goal, but each
contained elements to conserve energy and employ materials that are
durable and benign. Gregg Lewis, an architect whose firm administrated
the competition, is trying to raise money to build some homes using the
designs in Roanoke.
One home designed by a Seattle team has a photovoltaic "skin" on the
exterior walls that produces electricity from the sun in a way that's
similar to rooftop solar panels. Rainwater is captured and used to
flush toilets. The roof has a sod layer due to its natural insulating
Other entrants' designs used earth-friendly materials like linoleum
made from linseed oil, pine resin and wood flour, a finer form of
sawdust. Other materials used were concrete containing fly ash -- a
byproduct of coal burned for electric-power generation; wallboard made
from wheat chaff; and insulation derived from recycled cotton.
"The good news is industry is coming out with new materials each
month," says Matthew Coates, a member of the Mithun Architects team in
Seattle that won first place in the professional design category.
One such supplier is the German chemical maker BASF AG, which
advertises itself as the company that "doesn't make the products"
people use, but instead makes the products people use "better." BASF is
developing products that are in the two main cradle-to-cradle
categories -- "biological nutrients," such as those made from plants
that can be returned to the earth and "technical nutrients" like those
made from metals and plastics that can be recycled.
A foam made by BASF that's commonly used as a packaging material, for
example, has been reformulated so it can be ground up and recycled.
"The challenge is getting it back [from customers] to recycle it," says
Gene Zimmerman, the U.S. unit's business director.
--- Monica Wilson <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> If anyone has access to today's Wall Street Journal article called
> Recycling: Manufacturers Embrace 'C2C' Design" by Rebecca Smith, can
> please share it with us all? Thanks.
> From GRIST:
> THE CRADLE-TO-CRADLE WILL ROCK
> Smart, eco-friendly design making inroads in the business community
> The seminal 2002 book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make
> Things," by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael
> Braungart, inspired a slogan for 21st century designers: "Pollution
> is a symbol of design failure." They proposed that every material
> used in manufacturing should be capable of either biodegrading
> harmlessly into the soil or returning with no loss of quality into
> the manufacturing process. More and more businesses are embracing
> the C2C concept, for economic as well as environmental reasons.
> Office design company Herman Miller Inc. hopes to have 50 percent of
> its products meet C2C specs by 2010. Carpet maker Shaw Industries
> now offers to pick up and recycle all of its carpet tiles, reducing
> both waste and money spent on new materials. Office furniture
> company Steelcase has released "Think," a 99 percent recyclable
> office chair. Going C2C is getting easier, too, as industry
> introduces new eco-friendly materials and economies of scale push the
> prices down. As that happens, more companies, says Shaw's Steven
> Bradfield, "will quietly adopt this as a basic business practice."
> straight to the source: The Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Smith, 03
> Mar 2005 (access ain't free)
Seattle, Washington, USA
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