NeoCon goes green
By Ken Jennison, Managing Editor and Jessica Taylor Bond, Associate Editor

No matter where you looked at this year's NeoCon, one thing was apparent. The emphasis in most if not all showrooms was on offering eco-friendly or "green" products.


In fact, even before setting foot in a showroom, attendees were informed that the Chicago Merchandise Mart, the building that houses the trade show, was pursuing LEED certification, and the wrapper on the show daily sought to lure visitors to one booth by offering winners of a contest drawing a full year of carbon offsets (see sidebar).


Admittedly, many companies have had green initiatives in place for a long time. However, it seems this was the year for everyone to jump on the bandwagon, and among the major showrooms there was a wide interpretation of what exactly constitutes being green, ranging from changes in individual product offerings to company-wide philosophical overhauls. For the moment, at least, it appears that green is somewhat in the eye of the beholder.


Percentage of green

At Teknion, green was perhaps best demonstrated in its casegoods introduction of District. The District product was designed with Teknion's DFE Design For Environment process. The materials used within District are either recycled or very easily recyclable, according to Harry Ward, director of marketing and corporate communications.


Veneer used in the introduction is a reconstituted veneer. "You do lose a little bit of the character of a natural veneer because reconstituted veneer is so consistent, but it still gives you a great wood finish and look and feel," Ward says. The upside, he adds, is that the consistency of finish allows for pieces to be moved from station to station without jarring visual aesthetics.


Overall, Ward notes that District runs about 65 percent green, noting that about 30 percent of panel systems consist of fabric, which, once adhered to the panels, is difficult to remove and recycle.


By the numbers

Particularly notable among Nucraft Furniture Co.'s introductions this year was Moment, a collection of contemporary occasional tables, benches and consoles. "What we've done is incorporate a number of elements in these products that make them green solutions," Bob Surman, director of marketing says.


According to Surman, being green boils down to the numbers. "The trick is to try and quantify what green means. In our industry the reference point for green is the LEED rating systems that are part of the U.S. Green Building Council."


At Nucraft, individuals can go to the company's Web site and download the environmental statement on all their offerings as part of LEED documentation requirements. These statements break down exactly how each Nucraft product satisfies LEED guidelines.


Simple, straightforward

At the contract division of Harden Furniture Inc., the Quin collection by Tom Newhouse is green by a simple emphasis on sustainability. The Quin collection is made of trees grown and harvested in Harden's 10,000 acre, environmentally managed forest. Harden is known for using hardwoods in its products.


"Unlike laminate or veneer furniture, our products will be refinished and used again and again never entering the waste stream in most cases," says Greg Harden, CEO.


At Knoll Inc., the new Graham Collection of private office furniture by San Francisco-based designer Brian Graham offers a more general nod to the green universe. It is manufactured using clean technologies, including VOC-free wood stains and recycled-content materials, and is available with wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The Graham Collection can contribute to LEED certification.


Something new

Perhaps one of the most interesting green offerings of the show was the HON Co.'s Nature Core board, which HON featured in its Initiate panel system. Nature Core is made from an agrifiber called knaff, which is an annually renewable crop that is grown all over the world. HON's Nature Core has tackable properties and is fire-rated.


According to Mindy Billingsley, product business manager/environmental & sustainable initiatives for HON, Nature Core is a natural material, so HON doesn't need to add any formaldehyde in the process of making it.


According to Billingsley, another distinct advantage of Nature Core is that there is no additional charge for it, unlike green products offered by other companies.


Another green offering of note was Steelcase Inc.'s Montage product line of panels, wood work surfaces, tile fabric, seating and overhead storage. Montage received a silver MBDC Cradle to Cradle Certification for the line.


A new standard

Haworth Inc. presented arguably the most comprehensive green display at the show. Its Planes casegood collection is actually part of a company-wide philosophical conversion to green.


"We're trying to walk the talk," says Julie Smith, senior public relations administrator, marketing. "We're redoing our corporate headquarters back in Holland, Mich. It's all raised access floors, and it has a completely open plan, and movable walls to promote sustainability."


Haworth displayed a complete sustainability lab at NeoCon, showing attendees the benefits of working with green materials with an eye to sustainability. According to Smith, the lab was timely. "In a Behind the Scenes seminar with the best of NeoCon judges, the statement was made that Sustainability is compulsory. You can't introduce anything new these days without having some sort of component of sustainability,'" adding, "It's a new standard."


Haworth even has a sustainability product expert on its staff, "To make sure that at every step we're as socially, economically and environmentally sustainable as we can be," Smith says.


"I think to some people green may be a buzzword. However, as a company, I think it all depends on what are you willing to commit to."

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