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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