Example the Mirra Chain and Aluminum

McDonough and Braungart present an argument for using "local" materials for sustainable design wherein they state that use of local materials opens the doors to profitable local enterprise and avoids problems of bioinvasion, citing the Herman Miller factory as an example [29]. However, when it comes to shippable sustainable products, Herman Miller's Mirra™ chair serves as an example. The Mirra™ chair is designed to accommodate 95% of the world's population and to be up to 96% recycled. The chair represents Herman Miller's vision of "sustainable capitalism—using benign, closed-loop materials and processes that protect and enhance the natural environment for future generations" [30]. In essence, products made from already existing plastics or already extracted metals,

Table 17.1 Material Content and Recyclability for Mirra™ Chair

Material-Type

Percent PCR

Percent of

Percent of

Recycled

Percent PIR of

of Total

Total Product

Total Product

Content (%)

Total Weight

Weight

Weight

Recyclable

Aluminum

100

6

6

2

100

Total

Foam Total

0

0

0

2

100

Plastic Total

0

0

0

29

89

Steel Total

53

5

25

56

100

Textile Total

0

0

0

0

0

42

11

31

100

96

PIR is post industrial recycled; PCR is post consumer recycled.

PIR is post industrial recycled; PCR is post consumer recycled.

alloys, etc., may be deemed sustainable, as most of the Mirra™ chair's materials may be sourced and formed from already existing stock.

Herman Miller provides a document entitled "Mirra™ Seating Material Content and Recyclability" (Table 17.1). This document outlines several elements of the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBCD) Cradle to Cradle Design Protocol:

■ Material Chemistry and Safety of Inputs—what chemicals are in the materials we specify, and are they the safest available?

■ Disassembly—can we take products apart at the end of their useful life to recycle their materials?

■ Recyclability—do the materials contain recycled content, and more importantly, can the materials be recycled at the end of the product's useful life?

With respect to aluminum, a commodity material, the Mirra™ chair includes 100% recycled aluminum. Thus, at some level, production of the Mirra™ chair impacts the aluminum industry. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, in 2003, 7 companies operated 15 primary aluminum reduction plants and 6 smelters were temporarily idled [31]. Further, in 2003, the U.S. aluminum production industry employed about 60,000 (about one-third at primary smelters) while imports for aluminum consumption continued to increase, primarily from Canada. World production also continued to increase as capacity expansions, most notably those in China, India, Mozambique, and Norway, were brought on-stream. These statistics demonstrates the far- reaching consequences of using aluminum in a product. This simple Mirra™ chair example also demonstrates that a sustainability analysis requires a web approach—where each step from the product outward appears to require more information from more entities.

To make the point more clearly, consider efforts taken by the aluminum producer Alcoa. Alcoa recognizes that recycling aluminum is much less costly than mining bauxite ore and extracting aluminum, an extremely power intensive process—typically subsidized by the construction of hydroelectric dams.

One may speculate that at some point in the future all of the aluminum needs of the world will be met by recycling. Does a sustainable policy account for retraining workers in the bauxite mining and processing industries, redirecting the power from the dams or even removing the dams?

Alcoa recognizes that "Sustainability requires environmental excellence, economic success and social responsibility." Alcoa has developed a vision where: "All wastes have been eliminated; products are designed for the environment; the environment is fully integrated into manufacturing; the workplace is free of injuries, spills and leaks, and Alcoa is recognized as a leader and partner in every community where it has operations" [32].

Alcoa also participates in the Green Power Group, which was convened by the World Resources Institute and Business for Social Responsibility in 2000. Again, the aluminum industry is one of the most power intensive industries on earth. The Green Power Group's goal is to create 1000 megawatts of new cost-competitive green power for corporate markets by 2010. Members of the Green Power Group include Cargill Dow LLC, Delphi Corporation, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, General Motors, IBM, Interface, Johnson & Johnson, Kinko's, Pitney Bowes, and Staples. Thus, Alcoa appears to have a glimpse of the future and to be taking steps toward sustainability to ensure its continued existence. Further, in early 2004, another aluminum company, Alcan Inc., created a $1 million annual prize to recognize outstanding contributions from the not-forprofit sector to the goal of sustainability. Alcan made the announcement at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland [33].

Certain aspects of the aluminum industry are at the forefront of sustainability rhetoric due to the success of aluminum can recycling on behalf of consumers. For example, in 2002, about 53% of all aluminum cans shipped were collected for recycling. Incredibly, this number is down from a high of about 67% in 1997 [34]. However, when compared to statistics for some foreign countries, it is apparent that the U.S. is not at the forefront. For example, in an article from American Metal Market, "Specialty alloys, zinc spur Imco Recycling's earnings," an official from Imco Recycling, Inc. stated that "the sinking proportion of cans recycled in the United States had cut the availability of can scrap by 400 million pounds annually" [35]. He added that "[T]his trend must be reversed in our industry or legislative action by state and federal governments may become necessary," while other Imco executives noted that Brazil and Japan recycled more than 80% of their aluminum cans. Thus, in terms of a global sustainability, would it be best for Herman Miller to acquire its recycled aluminum from countries other than the U.S.? Would a sustainable procurement code provide measures to account for such subtleties?

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