the office furniture manufacturer, is pushing major soft drink producers such
as Coke and Pepsi to remove antimony oxides from
their plastic bottles as part of a major green design initiative.
Antimony oxide, which is used as a catalyst in the
production of bottle-grade polyester, is a potential health hazard to humans,
says Scott Charon, new product business development manager of Herman Miller,
which is putting a strong emphasis on recycle content such as bottle waste in
its office furniture designs. The Celle,
for example, has 33 percent recycle content and the Teneo, due out later this
year, will have a recycle content of 24 to 42 percent.
Antimony oxide is part of what Charon calls Herman Miller's
"X" list of materials that are avoided in new furniture design. Concern about antimony oxides comes from a report
issued in 2006 by the Institute of Environmental Geochemistry at the University of Heidelberg in Germany
concluding there is "unambiguous evidence" that antimony trioxide leaches
from polyester water bottles. "Comparison of three German brands of water
available in both glass bottles and PET containers showed that waters bottled
in PET contained up to 30 times more Sb (antimony)," the report states.
There is no debate that antimony can be an irritant in
humans. It's listed as a priority pollutant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European
Union. There is debate about the extent of its role as a carcinogen. Charon
told Design News in an interview that Herman Miller is relying on a chemical
consulting company called McDonough Braungart
Design Chemistry (MBDC) in its
exploration of potentially harmful chemicals.
"We're also concerned about fluorinated chemicals and we're
moving away from halogenated compounds," Charon said in a sustainability
conference session during National Manufacturing Week in Rosemont, IL. PVC is also being designed out.
"We are designing products very differently now and
designing a product until the end of its life," Charon says. Herman Miller is using a cradle-to-cradle
design approach espoused by McDounough Baumgart in which the company takes responsibility
for its products for their complete life.
Complete analysis of chemistries of all materials used is
one approach. Another is design for disassembly. Herman Miller is avoiding use
of adhesives assembly and processes such as sonic welding that make disassembly
more difficult. It should be possible, says Charon, for a worker to disassemble
a Herman Miller product in less than 30 sec with a common tool. Materials
must also be clearly identified to facilitate recycling.
The catch, of course, is how much this will actually take
place because of high costs and lack of recycling infrastructure in the U.S.
Herman Miller is exploring a pilot program in which federal prison inmates
would be enlisted to test disassembly. The third area is use of recycled
content, where the old soft drink bottles become an issue.
"We use a simple spreadsheet to score all of our products
three times during the launch process: the early stages, middle stage and then
when we launch a product," says Charon. Those scores plus issues such as costs
and supply chain factors are all taken into consideration.
One other goal is use of biobased materials. Herman Miller has developed Kira
fibers for use in wall coverings that contain polylactic acid, a corn-derived
polymer developed by Cargill. The
material quickly degrades when composted, says Charon.