The Herman Miller Aeron has been an award-winning, best-selling office chair for nearly 30 years. Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick’s innovative design rethought the use of materials and the priority of ergonomics for the purpose of fitting more body types than the average chair. The designers opted to use molded plastic and a skin of woven fiber called pellicle instead of the typical foam and leather. The result was what many deemed as “the most comfortable chair in the world.” But as Herman Miller notes, “design can’t stand still if the problems we’re solving change.”
The next evolution of the Herman Miller Aeron chair is the introduction of ocean-bound plastic within its design. The brand announced earlier this month that its entire Aeron line will contain plastic that was found near waterways and along coastlines around the world. The chairs will be made up of 0.5 to 2.5 pounds of “mismanaged plastic waste” per chair depending on the configuration, equivalent to 23 to 114 plastic water bottles. Much of the new material can be found in the frame and tilt covers of the chair.
Along with the traditional Graphite, Carbon, and Mineral palettes inspired by Earth’s materials, a new Onyx Ultra Matte color option will be available and will contain the most ocean-bound plastic at almost 2.5 pounds per chair. The full Aeron line is now up to 90% recyclable and constructed of over 50% recycled content. This update is projected to save over 150 tons of plastic staying in the ocean each year or, as the brand compares, approximately 15 million single-use plastic water bottles.
The effort to reinvent its popular portfolio of chairs is due in part to Herman Miller’s founding membership in the NextWave Plastics consortium, an ocean-bound plastic supply chain initiative and network comprised of global tech and consumer brands. Additionally, the company has set an overall sustainability commitment to use 50% recycled content in all materials by 2030.
“Every year, an estimated eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean. This is roughly equivalent dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute,” said Herman Miller Director of Sustainability Gabe Wing in a press release. “We joined NextWave to play an active role in taking on the ocean plastic problem and cast a wide net for opportunities to incorporate ocean-bound plastic across our global operations. We’re proud of the progress we’ve already made with packaging and textiles and are eager continue doing our part in preventing harmful plastic from reaching our oceans by adding it to the iconic Aeron Chair.”
Herman Miller has reengineered other products with ocean-bound plastic, including parts of the new OE1 Workdplace Collection, the Sayl Chair in Europe, and Revenio – it’s latest textile collection made of fully recycled materials and biodegradable polyesters.
The company receives the recycled plastic through the NextWave supply chain: suppliers partner with local pickers to collect plastic from land, beaches, and streams within a 50 km radius of the coastline. The raw materials are then ground, washed, turned into pellets, and sold to manufactures like Herman Miller for use in consumer products like the Aeron Chair. The plastic for the chair is currently sourced from India and Indonesia.
The goal is to not only source the necessary materials from these locations but to establish infrastructure for the local community in order to meet this growing demand. “We’re doing more than making an environmental impact,” said Herman Miller Director of Supply Bob Teasley. “By working with coastal communities around the world to harvest ocean-bound plastic, we’re increasing demand, creating jobs, and boosting economies.”
NextWave Plastics is an open-source collaboration among leading technology companies and consumer brands to develop the first global network of ocean-bound plastics supply chains. Convened by Lonely Whale, this consortium aims to keep plastic in our economy and out of the ocean, and has committed to preventing 25,000 tons of plastic waste from entering the oceans by 2025 across countries most impacted by plastic pollution. Members include Dell Technologies, Herman Miller, HP, IKEA, Trek Bicycle, and others.
“In bringing the Aeron chair made with ocean-bound plastic to market, Herman Miller is not only proving the commercial value of the material but showcasing the power of collective action in developing ocean-bound plastic supply chains,” said Dune Ives, CEO of Lonely Whale. “Herman Miller, and all members of the NextWave Plastics consortium, are taking the necessary action – today – to make a positive impact for the ocean and for us all.”
To learn more about the new Earthy-friendlier Herman Miller Aeron, watch the promotion video above, directed by Jake Sumner with creative direction from Harry Bernstein. The chair will be available to order starting later this month, September 2021.