Herman Miller gives Eames form with new sustainable fibreglass

Fiberglass Eames Chairs, Herman Miller, 2013

The Herman Miller Collection in collaboration with the Eames Office is reintroducing the Eames Moulded Plastic Arm and Side Chair in fibreglass using a new more environmentally sensitive material and manufacturing process. Presented at NeoCon 2013 in Chicago, Herman Miller is also announcing plans for a take-back program to encourage recycling.

The moulded plastic chair was first introduced by Herman Miller in 1950 as the first mass-produced plastic chair. The iconic design reflects the philosophy of exploration and insight with which we have come to know through the work of Charles and Ray Eames. The enduring design of the Eames Moulded Plastic Arm and Side Chair have evolved throughout the years with new colours, height options, base variations and the application of upholstery.

In the late 1980s it became obvious that the fibreglass reinforced plastic shells and the original plastic material had a detrimental effect on the environment both in its manufacturing process and at the end of the chair’s life. The material chemistry and the inability to recycle the fibreglass led Herman Miller in consultation with then-widowed Ray Eames to eventually discontinue its production in 1989. Herman Miller continued to explore alternative materials and began offering a recyclable polypropylene version, reintroducing the Moulded Plastic chairs in 2000.

Through the use of current materials and technologies in sustainable fibreglass, material chemistry and new manufacturing processes first developed in the automotive industry to eliminate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) in production, Herman Miller was able to reproduce the design icon while honouring their commitment to environmental sustainability. Sustainable colour pigments faithfully reproduce nine vintage colours and the chairs can be combined with the wire, dowel, four leg, stacking or rocking bases.

The fibreglass is now formed and processed using a woven dry binder method instead of the traditional wet process and eliminates the use of wet glue adhesives relying on heat-activated dry polyester instead.  This has also eliminated thermal oxidizers and associated environmental control equipment in the production process.

The production process for the new fibreglass chairs is emission-free and uses a new monomer-free resin creating a safer environment for workers and a greener recyclable shell. Herman Miller’s new take back program will allow both the new fibreglass side and armchair to be recycled at the end of their useful life initially through a national network with the support of Herman Miller distribution partners in the U.S. serving as points of return. Additional networks in other regions will be added in the future.

See the press release.