Humanscale is the leading designer and manufacturer of high-performance ergonomic products that improve the health and comfort of work life. Through leveraging new technology in functional yet minimal designs, Humanscale’s products have been honored with more than 140 prestigious design awards and have been featured in museums such as The Museum of Modern Art.
The Diffrient Smart chair makes a striking addition to any modern office, thanks to its geometric design and minimal lines. The task chair’s arm rests are attached to the back of the chair, so they move with the user for dynamic support. Its brushed aluminum finish ensures the Diffrient Smart chair’s longevity, while its automatic recline supports every individual that sits in it. Diffrient Smart’s revolutionary, tri-panel mesh backrest, designed to mirror the shape of the human body, offers instant support and allows the user to engage in healthy, ergonomic postures.
Like all Humanscale products, the Diffrient Smart chair was designed with a constant and genuine focus on its environmental impact at every stage of its development. For Humanscale, the best designs in the world achieve more with less, and sustainability is the natural result of this focus. The Diffrient Smart chair’s lightweight design minimizes the environmental impact of its shipping. Its use of highly recyclable aluminum and simple, modular design makes it easy to disassemble and maintain, rather than replace the chair completely.
Taking on the Challenge
A number of years ago, Humanscale made the decision to expand its sustainability initiative to go beyond reducing harm, and aim to make an overall net positive impact on the world. Since then, Humanscale has been working hard to implement projects and initiatives in order to achieve this objective. One challenge Humanscale encountered was to determine a feasible way to measure net impact in order to more clearly see and monitor its positive impact. By providing a framework for evaluating overall impact for manufacturing products, the Living Product Challenge aligned well with this interest.
When deciding to take on the challenge, it came as a pleasant surprise to Humanscale’s team to see that significant progress had already been made toward achieving much of the LPC Standard. The missing gaps, for the most part, were changes they had already intended to make. The team felt that the LPC complemented Humanscale’s existing sustainability approach and they quickly received approval to take on the challenge in its entirety.
Getting buy-in throughout the organization was a crucial component of achieving full Living Product Certification. By assigning tasks to different teams, the effort was more evenly spread out across the company and departments felt greater ownership of the work that Humanscale was doing. The LPC framework became a part of how they approached work, making sustainability integral to their other goals, and not a competing force. Everyone had a role to play.
In order to achieve full certification, Humanscale had to first demonstrate that they were Net Positive for energy and water on-site at the final manufacturing facility at the time of certification. This was achieved through existing rooftop solar panels and the installation of a rainwater capture system.
The standard then also requires that manufacturers develop a three-year plan to achieve a product Handprint greater than the Footprint calculated from the LCA. To meet the imperative requirements, Humanscale started a Handprinting initiative to take on projects to intentionally make a positive contribution. Projects vary in their focus, and are not limited to direct influence of suppliers but should contribute to positive overall contributions in water, energy and carbon. In December of 2016, Humanscale hired an intern to start making those projects a reality. This intern, now a full-time employee, will be working with ILFI and the LPC assessor over the next few years to ensure their goals are met prior to recertification.
|Red List Material Changes||1. PFC stain-resistant coating was discovered on textiles. Humanscale worked with a government laboratory to develop a test for the durability of the coatings. After testing, they found that the coating was ineffective after a short time, and Humanscale had its suppliers stop using it. 2. Chromium (VI) was discovered on the interior of caster wheels. Humanscale had its supplier source a chromium (III) coating and completed durability testing to ensure comparable performance quality. 3. Halogenated Flame Retardants were used in textile backing. These had been included by the supplier without consent from Humanscale, which updated its documentation to clarify that HFRs were not allowing the product. Humanscale then had its supplier source a new HFR-free textile backing.|
|Waste Diversion Tracking System||Review of all waste coming from production line, and all waste from entire facility. Meetings with all internal stakeholders. Review of current waste haulers, and RFQ process to source vendors with ability to recycle additional materials. Review of facility waste & recycling containers to ensure they support the materials being separated correctly. Education for team members on proper recycling methods.|
|Product Complexity||Initial configurations were chosen to go through LPC certification so that the toxicological review required for Net Positive Material Health would be done within months instead of years. To communicate which configurations are LPC certified, a filter was set up in the online product configurator to allow only LPC options to be selected.|
01. Responsible Place and Habitats Imperative
The manufacturing facility for the Diffrient Smart chair is located in Piscataway, New Jersey, on the south side of the Raritan Valley. Founded in 1666, Piscataway remains home to a number of forests and a good population of wildlife. It also contains a significant amount of industry and manufacturing, including a number of global headquarters.
Industrial centers are often located in close proximity to wildlife. However, in researching the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) species report, Humanscale determined that their manufacturing facility does not directly contribute a threat to recognized endangered species in the area.
02. Habitat Exchange Imperative
Beyond the facility, Humanscale actively contributes to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Humanscale CEO and Founder Robert King has been a member of WWF’s National Council for more than 15 years, and believes the non-profit is a natural extension of Humanscale’s mission.
King had an idea to restore a wild place to its natural existence before being exploited by commercial hunters and loggers. He selected the Eastern Plains in Cambodia for their rich ecological diversity and habitat of many endangered species. Since 2008, Humanscale has committed significant resources to the project, which focuses on the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mondulkiri Protected Forest.
03. Net Positive Water Imperative
The Piscataway site was a mixture of shrubs and trees prior to development, which occurred sometime around 2003-2004. An unnamed tributary to Ambrose Brook, which currently runs along the western edge of the property line, receives stormwater runoff from the building roof and parking lot. The proximity of the site to the unnamed tributary indicates that this site may have been a riparian forest or wetland in the distant past.
The production of the Diffrient Smart chair requires water onsite during the manufacture of the foam seat cushions. The cushions are made of a two-part polyurethane, which chemically reacts in the mold. Water is used to regulate temperature for each of the two chemicals prior to being injected in the mold, as well as the mold itself. This ensures the chemistry will react the same way each time, allows the process to be controlled, and produces consistent quality parts. The foam machine is used for all Humanscale chairs requiring foam cushions. 100% rain water is used for foam production, which is captured and re-used in the process.
On-Site Annual Water Use:
0.00005 gallons per chair
Life Cycle Water Impacts:
484 gallons per chair
- Production of glass-filled nylon
- Treatment of post-consumer aluminum scrap
- Production of glass-filled nylon
- Polyol production
- Cryogenic air separation
04. Net Positive Energy Imperative
Main uses for energy at the facility of final assembly include natural gas for heating, and electricity for lighting, machinery, processing, assembly power tools, a central air compressor, and air conditioning. Whole building energy use is tracked annually. Energy use was allotted to the Diffrient Smart chair production based on the proportional amount of total production from the facility, calculated by dollar value.
In 2014, Humanscale installed a 775.5 kilowatt photovoltaic system. The system was designed to produce over 85% of electricity needs for the facility, an estimated 942,233 kWh of production in the first year. Installation of the system began in May, was completed in August, and bidirectionally metered as of October, 2014. In practice, the system has proven to perform as designed and produced 980,011 kWh of electricity in 2015. The on-site renewable electricity was compared to the energy used for production of the Float table and Diffrient Smart chair and found to be 255% of the energy used for production of both products, greatly the exceeding the LPC requirements.
For the Life Cycle Assessment, Humanscale used OpenLCA software with the most recent data set from OpenLCA Nexus: EcoInvent_3.2_apos. LCA models followed established Product Category Rules to determine the scope and many assumptions. Data was pulled from a number of sources, including production Bill of Materials, ERP data about vendor location and shipping method, and primary data for waste. The system boundary started with point of extraction, included processing, shipping, manufacturing, assembly and ended with shipping to the customer.
On-Site Energy Use:
7.4 kWh per chair
Life Cycle Energy Impacts:
144 kWh per chair
- Production of polypropylene
- Production of glass-filled nylon
- Production of polyurethane foam
- Production of caster wheel
- Production of corrugated cardboard packaging
Humanscale focuses on creating a more comfortable place to work. This is reflected in the products it manufactures, which are aimed to keep people in healthy, natural body postures. Its products aim to fit technology to the human body, instead of the other way around.
It is also reflected in the manufacturing facility, which provides numerous opportunities for the employees making the products to have access to nature, natural light, and programs that encourage an active, healthy lifestyle.
05. Net Positive Material Health Imperative
To achieve Net Positive Material Health, the Smart chair was required to undergo a risk assessment for Carcinogeninc, Mutagenic and Reprotoxic substances (CMRs), and achieve the status of “optimized,” meaning that it does not contain risk of exposure to any:
- GreenScreen® assessed Benchmark 1, or GreenScreen® List Translator LT-1 scored chemicals.
- Polymeric ingredients that are assessed under the U.S. EPA Safer Choice Program as “Not-Acceptable.”
Most of the materials’ chemical ingredients had been gathered over a 2-year period prior to the LPC, and this information was used by a toxicology consulting firm, ToxServices, to do the assessment. Because of the large number of textile options, which each have a complex recipe to achieve the desired colors, Humanscale chose to limit the textiles included in the initial assessment to the most popular options. The others will be done in a second phase of work. The textiles and components associated with the initial certification will be clearly indicated when purchasing using their online builder.
Humanscale’s Design For Environment program has all material ingredients assessed systematically. This is a major initiative for the company, and all of the ingredients are required to comply. The company’s goal is to have all of their products be free of Red List ingredients.
After having made required changes for the Diffrient Smart chair to become Red List-free, Humanscale’s product passed the requirement of “optimized” without requiring further material changes.
06. Human Thriving Imperative
The Diffrient Smart chair was designed to encourage people to move as their body naturally requires – changing posture throughout the day. Many people who had previously been using static chairs that restrict movement would use their own bodies in a more natural way with the Diffrient Smart chair. Although other task chairs offer ergonomic adjustments, movement was still restricted by the cumbersome effort required to make the adjustments. Office chairs had many knobs and levers which are simply too complicated. Movement was allowed in theory, but the effort required from the user restricted the amount of movement happening in practice. Diffrient Smart allows movement to be so simple that it actually happens in practice.
In fall of 2014, Humanscale installed skylights over the production area of our Piscataway facility, allowing employees on the manufacturing lines to be exposed to natural light. Research shows that sunlight can have a significant effect on the human body. The color temperature of sunlight changes throughout the day, starting with more blue hue in the morning and ending with more red hues in the evening. Exposure to sunlight, especially in the morning, seems to reset our natural circadian rhythm, making us fall asleep more easily in the evening, sleep more deeply, wake more rested, and be more alert the next day. Exposing employees to sunlight throughout the day should help keep them more in tune with the natural rhythm of the day.
Areas where employees from the production lines spend their break times all have views and access to nature. The cafeteria has floor to ceiling windows for two of four walls, overlooking a wooded stream on one side and then parking lot and forest on the other. An outdoor lunch area for employees is set up next to the wooded stream, which is used regularly during the summer. During the certification process, a composting garden tower was installed outside in the outdoor lunch area and is used by employees.
Humanscale installed a walking path through the trees, along the stream, and around the building to encourage employees to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. After the walking path was installed, the Human Resources department hosted a friendly competition called “Step-it-up” to see who could walk the most miles. Employees were given pedometers, at their request, to track the miles walked. The “Step-it-up” program has been repeated most years to continue to encourage employees to be active.
Humanscale aims to use the earth’s precious resources responsibly. Its Design For Environment (DFE) program is built into new product development, which ensures the optimal decisions are made by its design and engineering team. Any new product is evaluated several times to ensure it uses no chemicals of concern, materials are being used efficiently, products are designed for longevity, and can be disassembled for recycling after use. The Diffrient Smart chair went through the DFE program to have its materials reviewed at several phases of development.
07. Red List Imperative
Through the thorough inventory of chemical ingredients, a small number of Red List ingredients were discovered in the Diffrient Smart chair. The engineering team worked to use alternate materials without Red List ingredients. These changes were researched, engineered, tested, validated, and implemented into production prior to the certification being awarded.
A few chemical ingredients were not disclosed to Humanscale because they were deemed proprietary by the supplier. However, suppliers confirmed that the ingredients were not on the LBC Red List and disclosed them to ToxServices, a third party who completed the full assessment of the product’s ingredients for Imperative 05.
08. Living Economy Sourcing Imperative
Humanscale’s manufacturing sources from a global supply chain. Suppliers are evaluated across many requirements, such as their quality assurance systems, pricing, lead times for inventory, minimum order quantities, logistics of shipping/storing inventory, as well as their environmental initiatives and social responsibility. During the initial evaluation process, Humanscale requests information on all these areas as a pre-screening measure. Once suppliers are to be engaged, they are required to agree to Humanscale’s Supplier Code of Conduct. Key suppliers, who perform final assembly of products, are held to a higher set of requirements, including having a third-party on-site audit.
When multiple suppliers meet the criteria, preference is always given to the supplier closest to their production facility. This is not only a way to contribute to the local economy, but also facilitates logistics for Humanscale. Shipping and lead times are reduced, and communication is improved. However, it is often the case that preferred (and most sustainable) suppliers are not located within the boundaries described in the LPC standard. Sometimes there are very limited suppliers with the capabilities to supply the components required for the product. Humanscale pursued the alternative compliance path of disclosing their impacts on society through the identified sections of GRI reporting, as outlined by ILFI.
09. Responsible Industry Imperative
Diffrient Smart chairs have no wood-based components and are therefore ineligible for FSC certification. Textile options include both leather and wool, but neither is sourced from animals classified as near-threatened, vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. Diffrient Smart also contains no material ingredients derived from animals, nor any conflict materials, as defined by section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act.
Humanscale had to make use of a temporary exception allowing for use of SFI-certified packaging instead of the required FSC due to the projected cost of the switch.
10. Net Positive Climate Imperative
Humanscale tracks its greenhouse gas emissions from on-site combustion and from off-site electricity production for production facilities. Sources of on-site combustion include: natural gas used for heating, vehicles used for deliveries, and propane used in forklifts. The company is continually working to reduce its emissions, and have achieved an absolute reduction in greenhouse gasses from their facilities for the past three years. Humanscale reports their activities through the Carbon Disclosure Project. The most recent reports can be found here.
Climate impacts of Diffrient Smart chairs were calculated through the Life Cycle Assessment. On-site emissions were included in the LCA boundary, and not calculated separately. Offsetting these Carbon impacts is part of Humanscale’s 3-Year plan to be implemented before recertification.
Life Cycle Climate Impacts:
34 kg CO2-eq per chair
- Production of glass-filled nylon 6
- Production of polypropylene
- Hard coal mining for energy used in processing
- Production of polyurethane foam
- Production of corrugated cardboard packaging
11. Net Positive Waste Imperative
This Imperative refers specifically to waste from the production line, produced during manufacturing of the product. Other sources of waste from the production facility, such as employee lunches and office activities, were not required to be included in the calculations. However, upon reviewing production systems and sources of waste, Humanscale realized it might be more challenging to track waste by product rather than the entire facility. Therefore, it aimed to instead achieve the required diversion rates for the entire facility, believing it could be less effort to maintain, and more impactful.
In order to set up a facility-wide system, Humanscale formed a waste team, made up of leaders from maintenance, production, the office manager, and the receiving supervisor (who coordinates the waste haulers). The team reviewed the major sources of waste, and found that they could be grouped into a few major categories. They identified the disposal method, and which types had the potential to be diverted from landfill; a new waste hauler was engaged to identify opportunities for recycling; tools were set up; and then employees were trained to sort waste differently.
The waste team then identified the method of tracking each waste type on a monthly basis. Whenever possible, reports from waste haulers are used. Donated leather is weighed as part of the shipping process. Wood pallets that are reused and recycled are tracked by the receiving team. All reports and measurements are tracked in a shared spreadsheet, so they can see their progress.
12. Product Fit to Use
Design for durability is well integrated into Humanscale’s Design For Environment (DFE) process, and formalized in their Durability and Upgradeability Policy. To quote the designer Niels Diffrient, “No amount of recycling will equal using less in the first place.” Humanscale recognizes that using a product for a longer time reduces the number of products needed, which reduces the amount of material and resources consumed over time.
Humanscale’s seating line has a warranty for 15 years, used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Durability testing was performed during the product development process to confirm that each component would meet or exceed this warranty, as well as BIFMA’s functional requirements. ILFI’s online Product Life Database indicates that seating for both office and home, product code 10002201, is expected to have a lifetime of 10 years (min), 15 years (mode) and up to 20 years (max). Humanscale’s Diffrient Smart chair will meet the mode of the Product Life Database.
13. Useful Life Disposal
Humanscale has a manufacturer take-back program available throughout North America. To implement the program, Humanscale works with ANEW, a non-profit organization founded in 2005 with the mission of “Doing what’s right with what’s left.” As an organization with a sole focus on diverting materials from landfill, ANEW is much more effective than Humanscale internal staff alone at achieving waste diversion locally.
ANEW’s approach to waste diversion is to identify the least impactful methods available for each specific situation once the owner of the goods provides the details of the project – quantity, quality of items, and location. Preference is made for donation to local charities. ANEW is connected with a network of over 500 charities throughout North America, and will reach out to those close to the building site to offer available goods. If there’s no match between the charity’s needs and the goods available, ANEW will search for the closest recycling option, waste to energy, and landfill. ANEW provides a quote for several options to allow the customer to make an informed decision. Several times, donation or recycling have been lower cost options than landfilling since there can be tax credits or remuneration involved respectively.
Humanscale facilitates ANEW’s work by acting as a “Steward Sponsor” and providing a monthly donation to help ensure ANEW’s daily operating costs are covered. Humanscale advises their customers to use ANEW’s services when they have a renovation project. The Humanscale sales team receives training on ANEW’s services periodically, and successful projects are shared within their internal company news. Humanscale also uses ANEW’s services directly.
14. Equitable Product Access
Products should be affordable for those who make them. Humanscale offers a significant discount off the list price to all employees, their families, and friends. The cost of a common configuration of the Smart chair was amortized over the anticipated life of the product, based on the warranty, to determine the Annualized Purchase Price. This was compared to the minimum employee earning to confirm the ratio was below the Product Category Share for “Furniture, furnishings, and floor coverings” of 1.3%.
15. Responsible Co-Products Imperative
Humanscale does not directly engage in any of the activities, nor produce any of the products, proscribed by the Living Product Challenge standard.
16. Equitable Investment Imperative
Humanscale’s ongoing involvement with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is helping contribute to the recovery of Cambodia’s rich biological diversity and the reintroduction of displaced wildlife. WWF’s program to renew parts of the ecosystem and help rebuild the lives of park rangers in remote Cambodia started in 2002. While Founder and CEO Robert King has been involved with WWF for more than 10 years, Humanscale has officially been supporting the Cambodia efforts since 2008. Donations in 2015 are allotted to meet requirements of Imperative 02 Habitat Exchange. Donation amount in excess of those requirements were allotted to Imperative 16 Equitable Investment. Total donation exceeds requirements of both Imperatives.
17. Just Organizations Imperative
Humanscale’s Human Resources department gathered company-wide information about its employees and activities in order to pursue a JUST label. Information about employees in all regions of the world was evaluated. Because the process began in December, all data reflects the status as of December 31st, 2015. Countries with fewer than 5 employees were not included in the calculations since there was not a large enough population sample to represent diversity and equity issues. Information about worker happiness comes from an annual survey that Humanscale puts out to their employees to gain an understanding of employee satisfaction.
The process of obtaining a JUST label was an interesting learning experience for the company. Areas of key focus to their organization, such as animal welfare and employee happiness, were well featured. It also brought to light other areas where they can expand their focus. Seeing the framework JUST used to evaluate different subjects was interesting and informative.
18. Positive Handprinting Imperative
Humanscale manufactures products for the workplace environment with the aim of making “a more comfortable place to work.” Working in uncomfortable or unhealthy postures is known to lead to long term health issues. Humanscale believes that work tools and technology should fit the human body, rather than the reverse. The in-house Design and Ergonomics teams work together to ensure that all products are developed to optimize the ergonomics, and provide maximum health benefit to the user. The Diffrient Smart chair went through this standard consideration during the product development process. The Handprint pursued for this Imperative was therefore “human health.”
The LCA developed for Handprinting Imperatives (03, 04 and 10) was analyzed to determine the number of DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Years) resulted from the production of each product. DALYs are “a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.”
The health benefits of each product had been quantified in independent research. The measured improvement in health was then multiplied by the WHO’s Global Burden of Disease for the specific areas of benefit identified in the research. This was multiplied by the number of years of use of the product, assumed to be the warranty.
The WHO’s GBD accounting provides an estimate of the impacts of each cause, and also provides a range to account for uncertainty in the data. Handprint calculations were used the estimate. The range was also reviewed to find out if the 2.5 percentile would still calculate a positive handprint for both products. It was found to have a health benefit several thousand times greater than the health hazards.
19. Beauty + Spirit Imperative
Humanscale’s design philosophy is “The best designs in the world are based on purpose and function. When a design solves a functional problem as simply and elegantly as possible, the resulting form will be honest and timeless.” Simple and elegant solutions can seem obvious once they have been defined, but they take a concerted refinement effort to achieve. Based in the New York headquarters, Humanscale’s Design Studio works hard to ensure that every product is simple and elegant enough to be considered beautiful. Their efforts have been acknowledged by numerous design awards, including the Red Dot award – possibly the most prestigious design award worldwide.
20. Inspiration & Education Imperative
Humanscale held training/education sessions with our production staff about the Living Product Challenge, general sustainability and overall goals. They shut down the production lines one at a time, and groups of about 30-50 people went through training in English and Spanish.
They also educated as many of the remaining Humanscale employees as possible, with presentations to team members from all different functions, at their local offices. Education sessions were held at 10 of their largest offices.
So far, Humanscale has hosted two educational events about Handprinting, one in New York and one in San Francisco. There have also been a series of meetings with clients, partners, and others in our network to spread the word about the Living Product Challenge, and there are plans for more.
More information about Humanscale’s journey to Living Product Challenge certification can be found on their website.