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Sunday, 28 April 2013 22:00

Steelcase details progress of sustainability efforts in new report

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After making strong progress in recent years, Steelcase Inc. wants to further reduce its environmental footprint another 25 percent by 2020.

The Grand Rapids-based Steelcase outlined the goal in its recently released 2012 Corporate Sustainability Report that details the highlights of the progress it made from 2006 to 2011.

On environmental issues, the company reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent over six years, water consumption by 54 percent, waste by 23 percent and volatile organic compounds by 53 percent. One-fourth of Steelcase’s electrical usage also now comes from a wind farm in Texas.

The progress made during the six-year period “has us fired up to keep the momentum going,” Steelcase President and CEO Jim Hackett wrote in the report.

“Moving forward, we’re going to up the ante on our promise of sustainability,” Hackett wrote. “We’ll challenge ourselves to push harder, leverage our leaderships and make a deliberate leap forward. Sustainability will be a motivating force for driving innovation and transformation within the company.”

Steelcase initially set a goal of reducing its environmental footprint by 25 percent by its 100th anniversary in 2012.

The company met the goal in three of four key environmental areas and had “sort of a near miss” in waste reduction, said Angela Nahikian, director of global environmental sustainability. Over the last 11 years, however, Steelcase has reduced the amount of waste it generates by 80 percent, making progress harder to achieve and leaving fewer easy steps to take, Nahikian said.

“That’s a huge number, so the more we are able to attack that number and make progress on the number, the more difficult it is to make a significant percentage drop,” she said. “Some of it, we absolutely took advantage in the early years of low-hanging fruit. But the reductions that we’ve seen in the last six years have been really focused on strategic operation-level things.”

Part of Steelcase’s sustainability strategy is to use more recycled and recyclable content to produce products and to identify “materials of concern” used by its suppliers. The company has not yet eliminated PVC from its products, although “we are committed to finding quality substitutes and new innovations to avoid PVC and other materials of concern in our products in the future,” the sustainability report states.

Making further progress to reduce Steelcase’s environmental footprint can come from continued learning from the steps already taken, building on them and implementing them further, Nahikian said.

“It really more reflects a discovery and insight process. The more we know, the more we know and we have a deeper understanding as time goes by of what our opportunities are,” she said. “We have a lot of learning and insight and success stories around the globe. (With) the things that we’re doing in manufacturing and the business-practice side around the company, our intention is to take all that learning and just drive globalization around that and expand some of the things we may be doing in one area to all areas and to create that alignment.”

Those lessons are also getting handed down to the office furniture manufacturer’s supply base as well, she said. Any reduction of the environmental footprint among suppliers can benefit Steelcase.

“We don’t do this alone. We have the opportunity to reap the rewards of a lot of things that are happening in our supply chain,” Nahikian said.

The same goes for customers, she said. Steelcase routinely gets requests from corporate clients who want to learn about the company’s sustainable business practices and how they can reduce their own environmental footprint.

“We always have to remember we are working in two dimensions,” Nahikian said. “We are embracing this understanding that we, as a company, have the opportunity to scale our impact by working with our customers.” 

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