Bringing cradle-to-cradle thinking to the rest of us

Steelcase's Think chair is arguably the most environmentally benign piece of furniture ever--free of PVCs, CFCs, VOCs, and other bad seeds from the chlorine family. This past November, the company's 100% recyclable Answer product line became the first workstation to win cradle-to-cradle certification. And that, apparently, was only the beginning: This pioneer in high-performance, environmentally sustainable office furniture is now preparing to roll out an online diagnostic tool--the inelegantly named Eco-Design Project--to help companies assess their products' environmental footprint. An online questionnaire will collect data on materials, production processes, use, disposal, and myriad other factors; an algorithm will then analyze the user's choices with respect to human health, the environment, and the bottom line. "Since the diagnostic combines life-cycle thinking and materials chemistry, it gives you a very complete environmental picture of your product's impact," says Allan Smith, Steelcase's chief of environmental strategy. "Product development teams can then use the analysis as a benchmark for, say, eliminating all carcinogens." No longer just a furniture maker, Steelcase is now manufacturing intelligence.

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