When You Succeed, Try, Try Again

HM_LOGOHere is this month’s piece on the changing world of work from furniture maker Herman Miller, a company for which Peter Drucker long consulted and that continues to exemplify his principles of innovation and effectiveness.

Reaching a goal can be a milestone. Or a stepping stone. It all depends on your willingness to keep pushing ahead.

For Peter Drucker, each success was another opportunity to reevaluate, set a new course, and keep moving toward the next objective. “The best rule is to put your efforts into your successes,” Drucker advised. “When you have strong performance is the very time to ask, ‘Can we set an even higher standard?’”

At Herman Miller, that sense of momentum appeals to us, and it’s the same model we use to pursue all of our goals, including greater sustainability. We set our first goal for environmental responsibility in 1953, when our founder, D.J. De Pree, pledged to be “a good corporate neighbor by being a good steward of the environment.” Since then, environmental science has taken many giant leaps forward, and the more we learn, the better we understand what good stewardship of the earth requires.

Image courtesy of Herman Miller
Image courtesy of Herman Miller

By the 1980s, our environmental action plan included recycling and generating electricity from waste, two processes that were made possible with new advances in technology. Ten years later, we implemented an Environmental Quality Action Team and Design for the Environment (DfE) program, putting people and strategies in place to accomplish our plans. In 2004, new technology and consumer expectations led us to redefine our goals again. We established the Perfect Vision plan, setting ambitious targets that included a zero operational footprint and 100% green electrical energy by the year 2020.

Nearly a decade later, we had largely met these goals, achieving a 92% reduction in our footprint, and using 100% renewable electricity for more than three years. With these achievements behind us, we believed it was time to expand our efforts yet again. So last year, we took a hard look at our strategy and identified several areas with room to improve.

The insights from that period of reflection formed the basis for our new 10-year sustainability strategy, Earthright. The program begins with three principles: being positively transparent, considering products as living things and becoming greener together. We have sharpened our goals around the smart use of resources, eco-inspired design and becoming community-driven. We’re also identifying new ways to involve employees, suppliers and customers in establishing more sustainable practices.

By 2023, our goal is to achieve zero waste, 50% less water use, 50% less energy intensity, and 50% more local renewables. We’re also committing to taking back 125,000 tons of product each year.

Someday in the not-too-distant future, even these lofty goals will look like stepping stones to where Herman Miller ought to be. So in Drucker fashion, we’ll raise our sights again, because there’s always more to learn, and we’re just getting started.

—Gabe Wing, Director of Safety and Sustainability