November 11, 2021
Jane Abernethy Insists on Walking the Talk
This sentiment rings particularly true of her work for Humanscale, where her overarching goal has been to eliminate environmentally harmful products: no more Red List chemicals, which are often found in coatings, finishes, and additives; and no more hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, a highly toxic form of chrome and a known human carcinogen.
Abernethy joined Humanscale in 2007 as an industrial designer with a focus on health care. Sustainability was always top of mind even then, she says. But she quickly learned she would need to have company-wide influence to make a meaningful impact. “Different people have different ideas of what sustainability means. There wasn’t a cohesive approach,” she explains.
Then, in 2012, Abernethy was named Humanscale’s sustainability officer, a role that has since evolved into the company’s first chief sustainability officer. The company’s approach to environmental design has since become cohesive, accompanied by a groundbreaking set of goals.
This June, for instance, Humanscale announced that 25 of its products (the list has since grown to 26) were certified climate-, water-, and energy-positive. In other words, 60 percent of the company’s products have a measurable, positive impact on the environment, meaning they give back more than they take. The certification is provided by the Living Future Institute under its Living Product Challenge, which is considered to be the most advanced sustainability standard for materials.
Building on the success of its Smart Ocean chair, Humanscale recently launched the Liberty Ocean chair, each of which is made with nearly two pounds of reclaimed fishing net. Abernethy says another chair will launch this year.
As for other measurable goals—lest she be accused of claiming the reward before the hard work—she would like to see the percentage of climate-positive Humanscale products climb from 60 percent to 100 percent. And when it does, the company will have officially made good on its promise to go, as it says, “beyond sustainability.”
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