As a global leader of researching and understanding the use and effectiveness of workplace environments, it’s not surprising Steelcase is also a leader in sustainable and clean practices within their manufacturing facilities.  Scott Rice reached out to our Steelcase team member, Gail Youngman (Steelcase Wood Sales Consultant) to share more about the environmental values her organization has been implementing for several decades. 

What do you value about your company?  Are you proud to say you work for them?  Do you think they are a responsible organization?

I can answer YES to each of those questions.  I’ve worked for Steelcase for more than thirty years.  We’ve grown a lot, and we have changed over the years; but we have always been good citizens of the Earth.  From recycling paint in the finish lab, to producing fabrics made from the plastics recycled from the ocean, we continue to look for ways to keep the earth happy.  Does this get us more business?  Does this make us more profitable?  Maybe, and maybe not; but it’s the right thing to do.  And we can look our clients in the eye and know we are doing our best for the environment as a manufacturer.

Steelcase is continuously looking for ways to reduce their waste and focus on more sustainable practices.  This is clearly outlined in our annual Steelcase Impact Report.   Environmental responsibility is at the core of Steelcase’s business.  The commitment to sustainability has let us to set goals of reducing our environmental footprint in four key areas by 25% over the last decade. There are quite a few examples of our Environmental Initiatives.  Examples include the dedication to the tracking of waste and water usage, LEED initiatives and Low emitting VOC water-based finishes.

Steelcase Wood Plant in Grand Rapids. This facility was the first LEED Certified manufacturing facility in North America. We met standards for energy efficiency, safeguarding water, conserving materials and resources, and much more.


In 2018, we began to track water invoices directly in our global data platform, streamlining the process, gathering better data and tracking more data points as a result.  Where previously we had to periodically rely on best estimates of water use, we now have a complete portfolio of water usage.

This has helped us find new, data-driven opportunities for improvements and optimization.  For instance, we had one site where we saw an unexpected jump in our water usage.  Because we were tracking the data closely, we could confidently say this was abnormal, and investigating the data led us to discover what had been an undetected leak.  Thanks to our data experts tracking numbers and observing trends we are able to identify these opportunities, saving water, resources and money.



Wetlands provide us another opportunity to support the environment surrounding our plant.  Decisions about where parking lots should be located – help with drainage and retention of these necessary eco-systems.


Water-borne finish – this allows for recycling any run off and is cleaner. A side benefit, we produce LOW EMITTING FURNITURE, which contributes to better air quality.

An excellent way to lower emissions is to use a water-borne finish. As a company offering thousands of furniture components, this was no easy task, but we knew working to eliminate materials of concern in our finish process would greatly impact the air quality indoors as well as reduce hazardous waste.

Our journey began in 2001 with the introduction of our first water-borne finish, which led to an estimated 91% reduction in VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). We continued to improve our finish and reached a milestone in 2007 with the introduction of Clarity™, a water-borne wood finish including the wash, sealer, and top coats applied using an environmentally friendly process. We tried and ruled out several other water-borne finishing technologies. We worked with different suppliers, modified formulations, and tested many unique processes.

It took about 18 months to perfect the Clarity™ finish and process for our products. The consistency and transparency of the finish allow the natural beauty of the wood to come through, and the clear top coat cures faster than solvent finishes, making Clarity™ more durable during delivery and installation. Clarity also allows for repairs should damage occur.

The finishing process uses no added formaldehyde, and enabled us to reduce the total amount of hazardous waste generated during manufacturing by an estimate of over 85%. All products using Clarity™ finish are Indoor Advantage-certified for indoor air quality.

Looking forward, we continue to work on ways to make the entire manufacturing process more friendly to the environment.



Gail Youngman | Steelcase Wood Sales Consultant




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