How Humanscale is Leading Sustainability in Contract Furniture
The established leader in workplace ergonomics is changing the sustainability game with innovative manufacturing and bold leadership.
“The Smart Ocean chair is a really good example of how we are aiming to operate in the world,” says Jane Abernethy, Humanscale’s Sustainability Officer. “Giving back more than we take.” Abernethy is speaking about the company’s recently launched ergonomic chair that’s made with nearly two pounds of recycled fishing net material. “We are aiming to go beyond sustainability,” says Abernethy. “Less bad is not good enough anymore. We’re aiming to make a positive impact.”
An adaption of their award-winning Diffrient Smart task chair, Smart Ocean combines a timeless design with an opportunity to help clean up the ocean. It was through Humanscale’s participation in the Living Product Challenge (LPC)— “the challenge is to mass manufacture a product to do more good than harm,” says Abernethy—that the innovative chair got its start. Here, Humanscale began a collaboration with fellow participant Bureo, a California/Chile-based fishing net collection and recycling venture.
To learn more about Smart Ocean and Humanscale’s work with Bureo, click here.
“Discarded fishing gear has been identified as the most harmful form of ocean plastic pollution due to its ability to continue trapping and harming marine life,” says David Stover, Bureo co-founder. Bureo’s NetPlus, a recycled material derived by processing the fishing nets into nylon pellets, has been used to create skateboards, sunglasses and now Humanscale’s Smart Ocean chair: the first-ever ergonomic task chair to be made from the innovative material.
“Sometimes an environmental product is a niche product, but this is a product that has mass appeal. And the byproduct is the ocean getting cleaned up,” says Abernethy. “It kind of turns our customers into accidental environmentalists.”
Humanscale’s choice to participate in the LPC—they are the only manufacturer that has taken on the challenge in its entirety—resulted in a fundamental paradigm shift. “The challenge actually makes manufacturing not just be a little bit less of the problem, but actually makes it part of the solution,” says Abernethy. “If all people’s products were manufactured this way, we would be starting to heal the earth. We would be starting to actually solve our problems while we’re manufacturing and that’s part of the solution.”
With the Smart Ocean chair now Living-Product-Challenge certified, the firm has proved to be far ahead of the game in their environmental efforts. “When we achieved the LPC we demonstrated that all of our onsite activities were net positive,” says Abernethy, “so sustainability is built directly into our design process.” Humanscale embraces the established Life Cycle Assessment methodology, as certified by ISO. “We can get a perspective on all of the impact of manufacturing through to the end of the product. Sometimes the biggest impact is us, sometimes the biggest impact is in our supply chain. We can understand this by doing this type of analysis.”
Continually pushing forward, Humanscale, is also a founding member of Next Wave, a self-described cross-industry platform that collects ocean bound plastics from waterways and moves them into the supply chain through the creation of products and packaging. Working with co-founding organization Lonely Whale and other manufacturers, Humanscale is aiming to inspire other firms to implement these materials into their own goods as well as start-ups that can potentially source and supply them. “We’d like to see this go beyond ourselves,” Abernethy says.
In house, Humanscale is working on “scaling the [NetPlus] material into as many chairs as we can,” enthuses Abernethy, by working on the development of a mesh material made from the recycled nets and generally focusing on the positive, including a unique Hand Print Campaign set to launch in the fall. “While you have an environmental footprint that you can calculate, you can also calculate your positive impact – your handprint,” explains Abernethy. “When your handprints are larger than your footprint, that’s when you’re net positive.”
Having the vision and drive to transcend the oft-perceived tradeoff between environment and economics, Humanscale is continuing to set a high bar. “Our goal is to try to operate a for profit business while we actually make a positive impact on the environment,” says Abernethy. “To go beyond sustainability.”