Herman Miller’s Gabe Wing speaks about environmental advocacy, corporate social responsibility

Charlotte Lang

Colorado State University business and international studies students spent most of Monday night listening to Gabe Wing, the director of environmental health at Herman Miller Inc., present the journey his business has embarked on in order to reach a future of social responsibility and growth.

man speaks to audience
Herman Miller’s Director of Environmental Health, Gabe Wing speaks on topics of sustainability in buisness at his lecture. (Vinny Del Conte | Collegian)

Sponsored by organizations such as the Institute for the Built Environment and the College of Health and Human Sciences, Wing’s presentation took place in the Bohemian Auditorium of Rockwell Hall. The night included Wing’s lecture and a quick question session from students and faculty members.

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Wing’s speech centered around corporate social responsibility and the good such a value has allowed Herman Miller— a furniture company based in Michigan— to do for the environment.

Using a quote from Larry Finn, the chief executive officer of investment firm BlackRock, Wing emphasized that the purpose of companies is to answer the demand of society. A demand that, Wing and Fink said, calls for them to prove a positive contribution to said society.

“Businesses have a responsibility to do more than just maximize short-term gain,” Wing said. Though he followed this statement with suggestions of what sort of responsibilities this entails— gender equity, for example— he stuck with the topic of sustainability for the night.

The presentation covered Herman Miller’s choice to prioritize sustainability, as well as their reasons and the results of this decision. Wing filled the time with examples and anecdotes to engage the audience, even if few of the listeners spoke before the allotted question time.

Though Wing’s speech covered many aspects of sustainability in the business world, his greatest focal point remained on goals for the future of Herman Miller.

Specifically, Wing expressed a desire to engage with 53 percent of employees and 100 percent of suppliers within the next ten years. He claimed that inspiring these people to believe in sustainability would only serve to achieve greater things at a quicker rate.

As a director of the safety and sustainability area of Herman Miller, Wing also included a page on his PowerPoint he called “The Brag Slide” to show the results of goals, such as zero waste and less pollution. These results included 92 percent reduction in landfill waste and an increase in sustainable products by 75 percent.

All of these results were not only a product of sustainability goals but also of the move towards corporate social responsibility.

While framed as a demand from society, Wing said this responsibility has benefits of its own. One such benefit Wing showed was the claim that such action enhances talent attraction. In short, companies have found that people are making job choices based on which businesses make a positive impact.

By claiming responsibility for societal issues like sustainability and working to positively affect it, Wing believes Herman Miller to be a more attractive workplace to prospective employees.

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“People want to be connected to an organization they feel proud of,” Wing said.

How does this connect to Herman Miller?

“When you shop at Herman Miller… you get knowledge,” Wing said of the company’s responsibility. “ We’re not just giving you furniture— we’re helping you understand how to think about business.”

As Wing’s time with the audience came to an end, he used his conclusion to ask students— and any other listeners— to find this responsibility in their lives as well.

“Find a company that shares your values,” Wing said. “And, if you end up at a company that doesn’t, change it because everybody can make a change.”

Collegian reporter Charlotte Lang can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @ChartrickWrites.