US Commercial Design Scene: Trumped Up?

US Commercial Design Scene: Trumped Up?
Courtesy of NeoCon

At a time when the citizens of the world question individual and global responsibility to better care for the environment, Chicago’s NeoCon commercial design fair ran its 49th edition with a number of conferences focused on sustainability and eco-friendly design. How are commercial furniture manufacturers responding to this need despite President Donald Trump’s decision to take the U.S. out of the Paris Accord?

“Every company, no matter its size, is responsible for its footprint on the planet,” American furniture brand Jasper Group included in their statement on sustainability.

Many U.S. commercial furniture manufacturers have incorporated several procedures to better their environmental footprint. Companies like Knoll, Jasper Group and Herman Miller are why we can remain confident that, despite President Trump’s decision to remove the U.S. from the Paris Accord, individuals from the U.S. will take it upon themselves to continue implementing environmental solutions.

French President Macron, like the rest of the world, can rest assured that the U.S. will still aim to “make our planet great again.”

During the NeoCon fair, companies were more than enthusiastic about discussing the subject because they truly are invested in healing our damaged planet. They often work with several entities such as the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) to bring about positive changes.

Here’s how the U.S. commercial design scene is performing:

The Greats that Excel in Eco-friendly Design

“Health and happiness are connected to our spaces,” Arianna Huffington, who launched Thrive Global last September, said in her keynote talk, which was sponsored by IIDA and Humanscale, one of the greatest human- and environment-centered furniture manufacturers today.

“This is a wonderful time to be in our industry,” said Humanscale founder Bob King before presenting Arianna Huffington. “We’ve gone away from the traditional cubicle, boxed-in office style, to a more collaborative and inspiring one. Now we need to ensure these wonderful spaces are healthy and environmentally conscious.”

Huffington worked with Humanscale when she launched Thrive Global; Humanscale helped design the office for Thrive Global with its product line. Humanscale was the first company in the world to produce two net positive products. The Diffrient Smart chair and the Float table were awarded the Living Product Challenge certificate in September 2016, the first products ever to be awarded this distinction.


Courtesy of Humanscale

Courtesy of Humanscale


Five Reasons: To Adopt Environmental Design by Harvard Design Magazine.

ingredientsThe challenge strictly forbids specific materials, including chrome 6, a heavy metal known to cause cancer in animals and humans. As seen in the film
Erin Brockovich, repeated in The Guardian in 2016, chrome 6 is extremely dangerous.

Chrome 3, however, doesn’t contain toxins like chrome 6, Peter Stacey of Humanscale told ArchiExpo e-Magazine during the event. Similar to transparency in food ingredients, we should all know what our furniture and buildings contain. Humanscale offered NeoCon guests a seed paper embedded with basil, parsley and chive seeds, the back of which revealed the ingredients to the Diffrient Smart chair.

Humanscale also recently partnered with Bureo, another Living Product Challenge achiever, to develop innovative solutions to eliminate ocean plastic pollution. Read more about the new prototype of Humanscale’s Diffrient World Chair made from 13 pounds of fishing net from Bureo’s recycling program.

Learn more about the Living Product Challenge here.

Another thick portfolio containing solutions, procedures and certificates is Knoll. Here’s another American manufacturer ahead of the pack as an exemplary brand whose objectives include having a positive impact on the world.

The company promotes the use of renewable energy sources and diverts waste from landfills, exemplified by its Energy Management Program, with a special focus on reducing transportation energy, and its investment in energy efficiency initiatives and infrastructure. After successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the manufacturing facilities, Knoll joined the Carbon Disclosure Project and reworked its carbon disclosure reduction strategy, which now includes the Life Cycle Assessment methodology and LEED guidelines in constructing, renovating and retrofitting facilities. The strategy also includes a supply chain metric for CO2 reduction in processing steel and wood and assembling products.

We invite you to visit their website to learn more as this is simply a small window to their environmental efforts.

Architecture and design professionals are expecting this level of product design more and more, and it is also becoming a common client demand, according to Bob King from Humanscale.

Manufacturers are taking their social responsibility very seriously. It started with companies like Herman Miller and Bernhardt Design, one of the first companies to be Greenguard certified in the U.S., and it continues to be on the rise, opening the market to constant innovation.

Coming Soon: Health Data Platform for BIM

One of the first conferences held on Monday, June 12, 2017, addressed the problem of missing or outdated data from manufacturers. Mark Rossolo, public affairs director for UL’s environment department, mentioned the quick come-and-go lifespan of tools designed for BIM. These tools, created with good intentions to help architecture professionals develop sustainable plans, simply don’t survive for lack of data.

As Rossolo said, today we can find a lot of research on the impact on human health, including the impact of buildings and furniture. So how can we integrate green furniture into a BIM project lifecycle? Rossolo asked this question during his talk, and added that in order to respond, UL will officially launch its Spot product library platform for BIM at the end of the third quarter of this year. The launch party will take place at Boston’s GreenBuild exhibition in November. The platform will be free to download and use, with over 1300 manufacturers from the furniture industry already involved.

Furniture manufacturers embraced this ‘go green’ concept before other parts of the industry, according to Rossolo, so it’s no surprise many manufacturers are already on board. UL will continue to show the economic benefits for all eco-friendly products.

“It’s not enough to [tell manufacturers] how eco-friendly products are good for the environment. You have to be able to show economic impact,” Rossolo said. “When architecture professionals search a product on Spot that doesn’t yet have any certified eco-friendly products to list, we can go to the manufacturers and say ‘here’s a need in the market to fill.’ Who will do it first?”


Although it has yet to be released, Spot has already claimed…a spot in the minds of architecture professionals. In the following seminar entitled Life Cycle Thinking: Energy and Human Health, given by LEED Fellow and founder of H2 Ecodesign Holly Henderson, an interior designer asked how Spot relates to the existing tools for green building.

As its name spins around the professional field, Spot is clearly an upcoming major player for BIM users and an incredible point of interest for manufacturers. The platform will assist professionals in creating an entirely eco-friendly and sustainable interior.

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