When it was launched in 1994, Herman Miller’s Aeron Chair was pioneering in the office furniture industry. Designed by Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick, the chair is still the top selling item in Herman Miller’s workchair collection. Aiming to create a chair that would suit a wide range of different body types, the two designers conducted extensive research before coming up with a highly innovative solution, both in terms of ergonomic and materials. The new design, which, unlike the majority of office chairs at the time, did not rely on the use of foam, fabric or leather, rapidly became the benchmark for ergonomic seating.
Now Herman Miller has announced a further material innovation to its Aeron Chair: the use of ocean-bound plastic. According to a 1 September announcement, the entire portfolio of Aeron Chairs, including a new colour called Onyx Ultra Matte, will be available with recycled content derived from what has become known as mismanaged plastic waste. The decision is in line with the company’s commitment to use 50 per cent recycled content in all materials by 2030 and follows logically from its membership of NextWave Plastics, an industry-led, open-source collaboration among leading technology companies and consumer brands to develop the first global network of ocean-bound plastics supply chains.
“Every year, an estimated eight 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 […..] are eager to continue doing our part in preventing harmful plastic from reaching our oceans by adding it to the iconic Aeron Chair.”
Aeron is but the latest in a growing list of products Herman Miller has re-engineered 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 per cent recycled materials and includes a biodegradable polyester. The company is also 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.
By integrating ocean-bound plastic into all of these products and packaging solutions, Herman Miller estimates to divert up to 234 tonnes of plastic from the ocean annually, equal to preventing close to 400,000 plastic milk containers or up to 23 million plastic bottles from entering the ocean annually.
Ocean-bound plastic is plastic material that has not yet found its way into the ocean and is classified as “mismanaged waste”. That is, plastic that is not being collected, is unlikely to be collected, and found within 50 kilometres of a coastline. Common examples of ocean-bound plastic include plastic bottles, jugs, caps and fishing gear. 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 creating demand and establishing a supply chain for this material.