Helping create great experiences ? wherever work happens

Sunday 23 May 2010, by Karin Duque, Monica Capdevila, Natalia Jimenez, Neus Soler

8 inspired

a) The main facts about the activities of the company.

Steelcase is the global leader in the office furniture industry specialized in the advice, design and equipment of office environment. They have been dedicated to create innovative products and helping people work more effectively for almost a century by promoting the integration of technology, architecture and equipment for the achievement of companies? aims and workers? well-being.

Any company performs better when their workers are happy, and Steelcase believes a better and closed workplace makes companies more successful. Because of this, their objective has always been to provide clients with the environment and the tools to do whatever they need to carry out better, faster and more effectively, improving the quality, richness and success of their clients whole performance.

In order to improve client?s experiences, Steelcase, as workplace experts, observes how people work to decode the changing needs of individuals and organisations and to understand them at work. So, they help people to have a better work experience by providing their designed and manufactured products and services, including, office chairs, desks, storage, and space divisions, into the ways they work.

Their portfolio of products includes interior architectural products, furniture systems, technology products, seating, lighting, storage and related products and services, in which innovation and sustainability are embedded.

Steelcase Inc, globally accessible through a network of channels, encompasses three core brands: Steelcase, Turnstone and Coalesse ; and several sub-brands like their healthcare division Nurture.

As they say, Steelcase is dedicated to design for social, economic and environmental sustainability in order to help people work more effectively and organisations use space more efficiently.

b) The ethical challenges this company is addressing.

Steelcase was founded in 1912 by a few people with a strong commitment to integrity and doing the right thing for their customers, employees, business partners, associates and neighbours.

?Our employees are our greatest asset and living these values is at the core of all that we do, just as it was in the past. At Steelcase we act with integrity, tell the truth, keep commitments, treat people with dignity and respect, promote positive relationships, protect the environment and excel.?

According to Steelcase?s words, ?Sustainability is our lens for innovation.? They now their decisions have lasting implications on the community, the environment and economies worldwide. In this sense, one of the company?s aims is to create enduring value through their resources, capabilities and relationships, in order to be able to foster change and progress.

These days, sustainability is one of the most important business challenges. For this reason, Steelcase inspires itself in the commitment to care for planet and people, with a continuous growth based on environmentally friendly activities and innovative products leading them to deliver more and more value to their stakeholders and customers in particular.

?Nearly a hundred years ago we made a promise - that we would act as stewards of the environment. Since then, we’ve been dedicated to serving our customers in a way that never becomes a disservice to our planet. We believe that, big or small, every action that safeguards and restores the environment is significant. By inspiring lasting, meaningful action we can all benefit from lasting meaningful results.?

Regarding social, environmental and economic value creation, the company possesses an integrated bottom line focused on people, planet and profit concerns respectively. This is social responsibility plus environmental sustainability plus profitability results in this triple bottom line that characterizes the path the company has forged.

People - Social value creation

Firstly, its social responsibility takes place by aligning the company?s goals for people with its planet and profit aspirations in line with its mission and values. Steelcase aims to benefit the communities in which they live and work, making community support efforts an integral part of their procedures, such as education, community and economic development, human services, arts and culture, and sustainability. In addition, it is dedicated to diversity and cultural inclusion in business relationships and the workplace.

Furthermore, Steelcase employees across the world are encouraged to take part in volunteer and leadership opportunities with its unique community programs. Particularly, the firm provide cash and furniture donations to communities that help Steelcase grow, innovate and attract outstanding talent. And it is worth stressing that the company is internally dedicated to continual diversity support, training and acceptance. For instance, they partner with organizations that promote community cultural programs, and also lead regular diversity seminars and discussions to demonstrate their dedication to serving global markets.

Planet - Environmental value creation

Secondly, the company recognizes that pushing themselves to preserve and renew their shared planet is a catalyst for innovation in their business as well as their product portfolio. The approach Steelcase follows is holistic, research-based and measurable and their commitment is long-term.

As an industrial company, they carry out a big environmental responsibility. That?s why Steelcase also creates and offers no shortage of sustainable, innovative products. They take into account the impact on the environment of every step in the value chain of their products, through the design, manufacture, delivery and product lifecycle, so the company tries to take advantage of any opportunity to make things better. On the one hand, the materials the firm uses in its products and processes are safe, healthy and ecologically sound, down to the molecular level (materials chemistry).

Moreover, they work to minimize the environmental impact of these products in every stage of their lifecycle, from materials extraction to end-of-life and into the next (life cycle assessment), besides from being constantly seeking new ways to avoid and reduce waste through smart design and practices (recycle/ reuse).

Profit - Economic value creation

Finally, many ethical practices and corporate social responsibility initiatives are absolutely profitable. Thus, Steelcase is aware of the fact that by consuming less, polluting less, rethinking its systems and investing in communities, they are learning every day that sustainability actually pays. All the positive consequences for their firm, their business, their shareholders, customers and other stakeholders, and disadvantaged people worldwide come up as they look into options and effective solutions. In particular, according to the company, their first objective starts always with the company. Hence, bringing value by working with them to create comfort and friendly workplaces is one of their main aims. Naturally, it is also their responsibility to provide their shareholders with value so they can continue to reinvest in the business and develop new products.

c) What makes you believe this company is really ethical and why you trust it.

Steelcase has received numerous environmental recognitions since they began running in 1912; and this fact turns them into a company you want and can trust.

All European Steelcase plants received the PEFC certification for the forest sustainable management implicit in their wooden products. A PEFC certified forest assures the health and the long-term productivity for the production of wood and others; for the conservation of waters quality and simultaneously it provides such social benefits as stable and lasting work to the community.

They were the first company in the office furniture industry to apply Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in the design of their products since 2000, which entails the investigation and evaluation of the environmental impacts of their products or services caused just by its existence. And they were also the first and the one recognized with a Green Power Leadership Award for commitment and contribution to helping the development of the nation’s voluntary green power market.

The environmental transparency characterizes every Steelcase product with tools like the Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and the Product Environmental Profiles (PEP), that give credibility to their discourse which defends Steelcase products are better for the environment, cheaper to maintain, and cleaner to recycle than otherwise similar products.

Moreover, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded Steelcase with the MBDC Cradle to Cradle Certification for sustainable products in 2006, which suggests that industry must protect and enrich and maintain safe ecosystems and nature’s; and with the LEED Certification for Environmental Excellence in 2001, providing verification that Steelcase community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and management of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

With all these recognisements, Steelcase confirms the environmental responsibility actions they undertook to carry out along the whole life process of their products. The achievement of all them is a very positive qualitative jump in Steelcase?s permanent determination for staying in the forefront of the office furniture sector and serving better their clients and the whole society.

Bearing all those points in mind, there is little doubt that Steelcase is a perfect example of a company with an ethical behaviour, and we feel sure about its good practices especially when taking into account such an impressive range of recognitions and certificates the company boasts. The achievement of these certificates is a really positive quantum leap in the firm?s constant performance in order to keep itself in the vanguard of the office furniture sector and moreover to serve better its customers and the society as a whole.

d) The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how you think this company may improve.

Although Steelcase is a company with an ethical business model, it also has some opportunities in order to empower excellence in all their activities.
Regarding renewable energies, Steelcase has to invest more in renewable energy in order to pollute less. Nowadays they only have a wind farm in Texas that generates a fifth of their U.S. electricity needs. So, how could Steelcase eliminate the use of fossil fuel-generated electricity? This can be achieved by sponsoring more industrial-scale win farms all over the world, therefore each community would provide necessary energy for its own production and global CO2 emissions would be reduced.

We also take into account the transportation of products. Although Steelcase has made lots of efforts on the sustainability of their packaging materials, we think that it has to focus in the form too. By transporting their products in flat-packs as IKEA does, more products would be transported at one journey, this is translated in a less consumption of fuel, and in consequence, fewer emissions.

Moreover, this would benefit the recycling as it would be easier to recover raw material, useful for the next production process. We have to point out that last year, Steelcase did an important project in order to assess The Notre Dame Law School to donate the unneeded furniture. Because of that, we think its interesting in order to expand their business activities to start a join venture with the Institution Recycling Network (IRN) in order to donate what is useful to the needed ones, and in the other hand, to refurbish or recycling. With this vertical integration, going one step further on the supply chain, Steelcase would reinforce their business plan of implementing and managing growth strategies that will preserve their position as the world?s largest office furniture manufacturer.

Another possible challenge is to expand their offerings into adjacent markets; the key point is to find more niches rather than the traditional companies. The alternatives would be to increase selling strategies such as pushing their products in vertical markets of healthcare, higher education and government.

Last but not least, Steelcase has to take into account the global markets’ exigencies. On the one hand, considering the emerging markets, and, on the other hand, their needs. It is not enough to structure a distribution system in countries as India, Middle East or China. Steelcase has to adapt their products. If there is a trend to reduce the floor space of the office, Steelcase has to develop products that even reducing half of the meters, they do not reduce comfort at all. If they are not able to adapt their business to this sort of changes, their revenues will be negatively affected.


Location: Michigan (United States of America)

Sector: office furniture industry

Official website:

Key figures:

?N?1 in the office furniture industry
?13,000 employees worldwide
?$ 3,2 billion annual revenue (Fiscal 2009)
?28 plants worldwide
?Management systems for Quality (ISO 9000) and for Environment (ISO 14000)
?More than 650 dealers in over 850 locations around the world (North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa)
?More than 500 product lines
?Approximately $ 930.000 million annual gross profit, 29% of their revenue (Fiscal 2009)
?More than 1300 active patents worldwide
?$ 143,9 million invested in research, design and development activities over the past 3 years
?More than 80,000 clients served over the past 5 years
?Since 1998, ’Class A Common’ on the NYSE under the symbol SCS.

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