Herman Miller increases use of ocean-bound plastic with Aeron chair

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Aeron is available in four colors. Onyx is a dramatic ultra-black shade intended to modernize Aeron. Graphite is a distinctive dark gray, with a classic textured finish. Carbon offers a balanced neutral that works in warm and cool environments. Mineral is the lightest and is ideal for open floorplans and spaces. Courtesy Herman Miller

Herman Miller’s Aeron chair portfolio and other product and packaging solutions will incorporate plastic waste found near waterways as part of the company’s commitment to using 50% recycled content in all materials by 2030.

Zeeland-based Herman Miller (Nasdaq: MLHR) said this month its entire portfolio of Aeron chairs will contain ocean-bound plastic, including a new color, Onyx Ultra Matte, which will contain up to 2.5 pounds of mismanaged plastic waste found near waterways per chair. These material changes in the Aeron portfolio are projected to save the ocean from over 150 tons of plastic annually equal to about 15 million single-use plastic water bottles, Herman Miller said.

The updates are part of the company’s membership in NextWave Plastics, its ongoing commitment to sustainability, and its long-term goal to increase recycled content to at least 50%, including the use of ocean-bound plastic across all material the company uses by 2030.

Aeron is the latest in a growing list of products Herman Miller has reengineered using ocean-bound plastic. The effort also includes parts of the recently launched OE1 Workplace Collection, the Sayl Chair in Europe, utility trays as part of pedestal units, and its latest textile collection, Revenio, which is made of 100% recycled materials and includes a biodegradable polyester.

The company also is reducing its footprint by adding ocean-bound plastic to returnable shipping crates that send seating parts to and from suppliers and poly bags used to keep products safe during transit.

“Every year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean. This is roughly equivalent to dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute,” said Gabe Wing, Herman Miller’s director of sustainability. “We joined NextWave to play an active role in taking on the ocean plastic problem and cast a wide net for opportunities to incorporate ocean-bound plastic across our global operations. We’re proud of the progress we’ve already made with packaging and textiles and are eager to continue doing our part in preventing harmful plastic from reaching our oceans by adding it to the iconic Aeron chair.”

By integrating ocean-bound plastic into these products and packaging solutions, Herman Miller estimates it will divert up to 234 metric tons of plastic from the ocean annually, equal to preventing close to 400,000 milk jugs or up to 23 million plastic bottles from entering the ocean annually.

Defining ocean-bound plastic

Ocean-bound plastic is plastic material that has not yet found its way into the ocean and is classified as “mismanaged waste.” This is plastic that is not being collected, is unlikely to be collected and is found within 30 miles of a coastline. Common examples of ocean-bound plastic include plastic bottles, jugs, caps and fishing gear.

When plastic waste builds up in coastal cities, suppliers work with local pickers to collect the plastic. Once collected, the material is ground, washed and pelletized. From there, it is sold to manufacturers who test and reengineer the plastic to incorporate into products.

“On our current trajectory, we are at risk of tripling the rate of new plastic entering the ocean every year. A critical strategy to disrupt that path is to demonstrate the value of ocean-bound plastic. In bringing the Aeron chair made with ocean-bound plastic to market, Herman Miller is not only proving the commercial value of the material but showcasing the power of collective action in developing ocean-bound plastic supply chains,” said Dune Ives, CEO of Lonely Whale. “Herman Miller, and all members of the NextWave Plastics consortium, are taking the necessary action today to make a positive impact for the ocean and for us all.”

The plastic used in Aeron is currently sourced from India and Indonesia, which are two of many locations where Herman Miller and other NextWave member companies are establishing a supply chain and demand for this material. By sourcing ocean-bound plastic from these areas, the companies are employing individuals who make a living collecting mismanaged waste near the shoreline.

Aeron chair

The Aeron chair is Herman Miller’s top-selling seating solution, first rolled out in 1994. It also was the company’s first product to receive the industry-leading Cradle to Cradle V3 Silver Level certification, assessed on environmental and social performance.

Depending on configuration, the ocean-bound plastic in Aeron can be found in the frame and tilt covers of the chair, and there is between a half-pound and 2.5 pounds of the material per chair, equivalent to about 23 to 114 plastic water bottles. The new Onyx Ultra Matte colorway contains the highest amount of ocean-bound plastic, at almost 2.5 pounds per chair. All chairs within the Aeron portfolio are up to 90% recyclable and composed of over 50% recycled content.

Aeron is available in four colors. Onyx is a dramatic ultra-black shade intended to modernize Aeron. Graphite is a distinctive dark gray, with a classic textured finish. Carbon offers a balanced neutral that works in warm and cool environments. Mineral is the lightest and is ideal for open floorplans and spaces.

The new Aeron Onyx Ultra Matte colorway became available to order in North America this month.

All Aeron colors and configurations will be updated to contain ocean-bound plastic and will be available to order soon globally.

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