First LEED Factory
Five LEED certification categories were used to assess the Steelcase facility: conservation of materials and resources, improvement of energy efficiency, enhancement of indoor environmental quality, safeguarding of water, and sustainable site planning. The factory earned credits in each of these categories, netting a Silver-Level LEED Certification overall.
The construction process reduced resource consumption by using post-consumer recycled materials for 24 percent of its building materials. All steel used in constructing the facility consisted of 95 percent post-consumer recycled material.
Conservation through Recovery
To improve energy efficiency, the building structure includes a waste heat recovery system comprising seven dust collectors that remove hot air, cooling the building in summer. In the winter, the hot air is filtered and returned to the building.
To maintain indoor air quality, each air handler in the facility is equipped with a monitoring system that ensures clean and efficient operation. In addition, Steelcase has developed a plan for creating a completely tobacco-free campus for the 700 employees.
Water-efficient plumbing fixtures, rainwater recovery that feeds the irrigation system, and landscape plantings that require no additional watering earned points for safeguarding water.
A sustainable approach to site planning included planting nearly 1,000 drought-resistant trees to provide shade to the parking areas. These will reduce the "heat zones" on the asphalt, which will lower the temperature within the facility and decrease the energy needed to cool it.
Manufacturing Environmental Benefits
In addition to meeting the criteria for LEED certification of its building, Steelcase is carrying its environmental values into the wood furniture manufacturing process itself. Over two years of research and development and a significant investment in state-of-the-art finish equipment have enabled the new facility to incorporate low-emission wood finishing using water-based stains and topcoats.
This shift is expected to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 380 tons (345 tonnes), or 70 percent per year, even as wood furniture production increases significantly. For finish process VOCs that remain, Steelcase has instituted technologically advanced emission control processes.
U.S. law regulates VOC emissions by granting manufacturing facilities a limited number of emissions "credits" per year. Companies that do not use all their credits may transfer or sell them.
Commendably, Steelcase has decided not to sell its approximately 340 emissions credits from the wood furniture facility — worth between $3 million and $4.5 million over five years. Instead, the company will remove these credits from the market, permanently eliminating the environmental damage they represent.
"With the implementation of environmentally sound manufacturing processes, Steelcase Wood Furniture has set a standard for the industry," says general manager Ruth Howard. The new facility "allows us to accelerate our speed to market by using state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, and sustainable processes."
Founded in Grand Rapids in 1912, Steelcase Inc. has led the office furniture industry in sales every year since 1973. Its portfolio includes interior architectural products, furniture systems, seating, lighting, storage, and related products and services. Steelcase and its subsidiaries have manufacturing facilities in more than 30 locations and over 20,000 employees around the world.