Q&A with Humanscale’s Sustainability Officer, Jane Abernethy
Jane Abernethy is dedicated to developing the strategic vision for sustainability at Humanscale. Recently elected to the HPD Collaborative’s 2017 Board of Directors, Jane has become a strong advocate for sustainable practices in the manufacturing industry. We recently spoke to Jane about her background and Humanscale’s commitment to making a net positive impact on the earth.
Q: How did your experience as a designer prepare you for a role that is focused on sustainability?
A: I was originally a product designer for about 10 years. When I was a student, I was hesitant about becoming a designer because I knew how often products end up in landfill. But then I looked at it from a different perspective. As a designer, I had more choice what goes into products – many that would be repeated hundreds of times in mass production. Customers can choose whether to buy a plastic or reusable bottle, but designers can choose what goes into the bottle in the first place.
Q: Why should companies and consumers choose sustainable products?
A: Choosing sustainable products ensures that more good is being done to users and the environment than harm. It is a tangible way to make a positive influence on the world. In order to attract and retain top talent, companies need to think about sustainability. I think a growing part of the workforce wants to work in a place that has sustainable goals and pays attention to whether there are toxins in its products. The office is where many of us spend most of our time and the products around us directly impact our health.
Q: What sparked Humanscale’s commitment to sustainability?
A: In 2011, customers started asking whether our products were BIFMA level certified. Because I had been so vocal about sustainability, I was asked to lead the certification process. This was a great first step in seeing how we were doing and exploring the potential for us to do better. After that, I had conversations with the top executives in the company to discuss what sustainability means for us. We had to decide: do we want to just take on the level certification or are we going to do more? That’s when we made a commitment to achieving a net positive impact – meaning that our efforts will be measured and calculated. Since no one’s done it before, this was an ambitious goal. There really wasn’t a clear path how to get there but we had to take the first steps. Our vision was to truly understand our footprint, aim for a net positive impact and make the necessary changes to support this goal. Through achievements like completing the Living Product Challenge, we’ve come a long way. This has allowed us to achieve a quantifiable net positive impact, which has been exciting to see.
Q: What are the next steps for Humanscale’s sustainability efforts?
A: We would like sustainability to be a more fundamental part of our culture. Right now, we are a small team but there are people throughout Humanscale who want to be involved and engaged. Our overall impact will grow greatly from that.