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Visiting artist promotes green practices

March 6, 2009
By MIRIAM MOELLER Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - The trend to go green is not only being noticed by individuals. More and more corporations are looking at what they can do to be more environmental friendly and energy efficient. One example is the iconic furniture company Herman Miller Inc. with its headquarters in lower Michigan.

Recently, Steve Frykholm, creative director for Herman Miller for more than 35 years, came to speak at Northern Michigan University on his company's efforts to go green.

"Green is really hot right now," he said. "Every corporation is talking about it."

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However, Herman Miller started getting into environmentally responsible production and design as early as the 1980s, when the company's energy center began burning waste to generate power for its manufacturing plant.

"We built an energy center that burns our manufacturing waste to generate energy," he said.

But Frykholm said the company's sustainable business practice really started with the late company founder D.J. DePree, who had a humanistic business vision based on his faith.

"It was religion that DePree drove," he explained, adding that he followed the saying: "It is God's Earth, we got to take care of it."

Since then, Herman Miller has embraced a variety of green endeavors. For example, since 1994 the office furniture manufacturer has reduced its environmental footprint by 79 percent, its air emissions by 87 percent, its hazardous waste by 91 percent, its landfill volume by 84 percent and its process water use by 70 percent.

In 2008, the company purchased 36,000 gallons of biodiesel to run its fleet and the company is partnering with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council to clean up local rivers. Sixty-three percent of the company's electrical energy used is renewable and 28.8 percent of all sales come from Design for the Environment-approved products.

According to Herman Miller's 2008 annual report, the company's quest is "to eliminate by 2020 all impacts from operations, including solid waste to the landfill, air emissions, hazardous waste and water use. We plan to use 100 percent renewable electrical energy by 2020."

In his presentation, Frykholm told how the company has tried to deal with problems in a more environmentally responsible way.

"One of our facilities had a problem with paper wasps," he said. "Someone suggested to get honey bees. The honey bees will take all the food away from the wasps."

As a result, the company imported 600,000 honey bees and within a month, the wasps were wiped out without the use of toxic pesticides. As a bonus, Herman Miller helped pollinate the wildflowers on its landscape site and ended up with a lot of honey from the bees.

"We actually bottled it up and when we have guests, we give it to them," he said. Frykholm also said the company's employees have been working on many grassroots projects - such as picking up waste along the highway - to reduce their impact on the environment. As a result, an Environmental Quality Action Team was formed.

"We feel very good about our progress and what we're doing for the environment," Frykholm said.

Frykholm's presentation was part of the NMU Devos Museum's visiting artist series in connection with its current exhibit, "Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art," that concludes March 30. The last presentation by environmental impact photographer John Ganis of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Mead Auditorium, West Science Room 2701.



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