Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Herman Miller ahead of the curve, but at what cost?

I just finished reading the case study on Cradle-to-Cradle design at Herman Miller and it got me thinking not only about the appeal to the producer to apply these techniques, but also how to control waste throughout the supply chain.

What is the appeal of C2C to a producer like Herman Miller? Clearly, the company was visionary, as they were already planning these steps for the Mirra chair in the early 2000's. We have seen the importance of environmental sustainability become more important to corporations as more strident legislation and public opinion have deemed it necessary. The case doesn't mention a great deal about the cost-benefit analysis of working with "Green" products instead of those on the "Red" or "Orange" list. While corporate responsibility is important, I wonder at what point actual profit must supercede the combined social/environmental externalities. The case does mention some expected "green publicity", which will undoubtedly help sales of the new product.

I also found a recent article about Great Britain's difficulty in achieving adequate decreases in product and packaging waste throughout the supply chain.

This quote was what most interested me-"Tackling waste further down the supply chain is proving much harder, not least because the more complicated and lengthier the chain is, the less control a retailer has over it. And for those companies that have several different tiers of suppliers, it can be something of a headache."

This seems to be just what Herman Miller was dealing with over a decade before this article was published! The case details the options for the company to receive the older, used chairs in order to recycle them for use in newer products. They mentioned shipping them back to Herman Miller, letting the distributors/retailers do the same thing, and even setting up leasing agreements for the furniture, rather than selling it outright. Regardless of the ultimate decision, it is much easier to control waste internally than when it leaves the manufacturing facility, as the linked article also states.

Combining the two questions I made, it seems as if it is necessary for further education and interest from the consumer in order for any waste reduction to occur down the supply chain. The article mentions that consumers continue to be confused regarding sustainability, with conflicting messages precluding the ability to make the right decision.

P.S. You IT guys are much better at formatting blog posts than I am. I stink.

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