Humanscale: Less Bad is Not Good Enough

Humanscale has announced the release of its annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report. Aligned with Earth Overshoot Day, the calculated date that marks when humanity has depleted its resources beyond Earth’s capacity to regenerate them within a given year, the report illustrates a conviction deeply held by the company’s CEO and Founder Bob King: less bad is not good enough. Since founding the privately held company as a young entrepreneur over 35 years ago, King has navigated with purpose and a respect for the planet that is evident throughout every aspect of the company. While many manufacturers aim to reduce their negative impacts, King knows that the challenges facing our planet require more. From operations and product development to company-wide initiatives and individual actions, the detailed report outlines Humanscale’s goal to achieve a net positive environmental impact.

“We took a look at our manufacturing and operational activities to understand our key impacts: energy, water, emissions, resource depletion, wildlife preservation, social responsibility and healthy materials,” states King. “In each area, we consider what it would take to go beyond “sustainability” to making a truly positive impact on the world around us. If a company can make a positive impact in all of these ways, it will be acting like a tree. While trees aim to grow, they’re self-sustaining and they replenish the environment. If we want to live at peace with the planet, then our factories must be like trees; our companies like a forest.”

Responsible Operations
The CSR report shines a spotlight on what manufacturers can do to be self-sustaining and actually give back more than they take from the environment. Humanscale’s efforts to achieve a net-positive impact begin with operations that touch every level of the company, at the headquarters in New York to offices and facilities around the globe. By implementing high standards, the company continues to meet new goals each year, reducing energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and waste. Solar energy provided 771.1 MWh, which accounted for nearly 70% of electricity used by the company’s main manufacturing facility in 2018, normalized greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 63% since 2011, rainwater is used for 100% of production water in the USA and the company is closing in on its goal to divert 90% of its waste from the landfill.

In 2018 Humanscale was the only company to achieve BIFMA Level 3 (the highest level of BIFMA certification) for all of its products. This certification examines multiple attributes of each product, including water use, energy use, emissions, chemicals, waste, and design for environment. Level is audited by a third party, and reviews the product, the manufacturing facility, and the company as a whole.

Transparency Transforms
Material transparency is key to Humanscale’s success. King and Humanscale’s Chief Sustainability Officer Jane Abernethy believe that it is an essential step to transforming traditional manufacturing. They advocate that furniture should have ingredient labels, much like food, that clearly disclose what they’re made of. While this takes a lot of time, effort and cost, as it involves going deep into the supply chain, it is something they hope other manufacturers follow as they feel it is essential for the future of our planet and the health of the global population. Furniture often contains chemicals of concern, which can off-gas and negatively impact the environment around it. Material transparency labels such as Declare labels and Health Product Declarations (HPDs) call attention to toxins and unhealthy materials and allow consumers to make informed decisions before introducing potentially harmful chemicals into their homes or offices. Humanscale works with numerous outside partners and obtains accreditation from third-party organizations to remain accountable and focused. Humanscale is leading the industry in material transparency, committing to researching its supply chain and declaring the materials found in its products. As of December 2018, 60% of all Declare labels and 54% of all Health Product Declarations (HPDs) that exist in the entire furniture industry were published by Humanscale.

Challenging Traditional Design & Manufacturing
Humanscale’s design team is aware that the materials they use have an impact on the environment. When they design a new product, they weigh the material’s potential impact, from the supply chain to the product’s end of life. They design to use fewer materials and to make products that last a long time. They regularly evaluate their impact through monthly product reports that guide product development.

Taking it to the next level, the report also reveals the results of a year-long design exercise that challenges traditional manufacturing and examines ways to innovate with materials that support a circular economy, reclaim waste or mimic nature’s innate knack for problem-solving through the construction of a simple stool. The project, organized in partnership with the MIT SHINE Program (Sustainability and Health Initiative for Net Positive Enterprise), reveals the environmental benefits of the life cycle assessment process. The resulting designs demonstrate the viability of alternative materials. Humanscale is proud to be among a select group of manufacturers who are embracing new material sources to put the planet first.

Conscious Company Culture 
While Humanscale’s sustainability mission started with the commitment of its CEO, King has developed a culture at Humanscale that encourages a proactive approach to sustainability at every level of the company. The report profiles a number of people that are taking action within the company; from Chief Sustainability Officer Jane Abernethy and the Humanscale Design Studio’s Industrial Designers Jacob Turetsky, Sergio Silva and Paul Sukphisit, who are challenging traditional manufacturing by exploring different approaches to sustainability, to the company’s designated Sustainability Champions who are working together to foster this sustainable culture and create an open dialog with customers in key markets. One of the company’s Sustainability Champions, Ashley Lang, along with several clients, climbed the 1776 steps of Toronto’s CN Tower in aid of the World Wildlife Fund and wildlife conservation across the globe. The CSR report also highlights the “handprints” of close to 500 Humanscale employees, who are voluntarily tracking their activity at work and at home. While footprints are a measure of the damage caused to the environment (carbon footprint, water footprint, chemical footprint, etc.), handprints are a measure of the positive impact brought to the environment. In just the past year, Humanscale employees have completed over 10,340 activities saving water (281,670 gallons – enough to fill 10,060 bathtubs), saving energy (139,570 kwh – enough to power NYC for 80 seconds), reducing waste (12,240 lbs), and cutting down emissions (151,962 lbs – as much CO2 as taking 14 cars off the road for a year).

Positive Impact Partnerships
Humanscale’s approach to manufacturing is reflected in the brand’s partnerships, including that with the NextWave Plastics Initiative, a consortium of companies focused on developing a distribution web that supports the reuse and repurposing of plastic before it ever reaches the ocean. Humanscale’s Smart Ocean chair was one of the first products to launch from the consortium and uses nearly 2 pounds of recycled fishing net material in the production of each chair, removing what would otherwise be harmful ocean plastic pollution.

The brand also has a longstanding relationship with the World Wildlife Fund, engaging in 10+ years of conservation work with the WWF as part of a program that aims to restore and protect a 1.5 million-acre area home to endangered and indigenous species. In 2018 the project continued to secure the sanctuary on the Eastern Plains of Cambodia, adding eight new ranger outposts to protect the area from poachers. Other Humanscale partners include HPDC (the Health Product Declaration Collaborative), a coalition aiming to improve the transparency of information and the material health of the built environment; the International Living Future Institute, a global network encouraging healthier buildings, products and communities; the Net Positive Project, a coalition working together to achieve a net positive impact; the UN Global Compact, the United Nations pact encouraging businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies; and the US Green Building Council,  a group promoting sustainability in building design, construction, and operation.