As an interior designer, my friend Victor receives gifts and tokens from the local finish and furniture reps on a daily basis. Usually these items are not terribly distinctive; however, last week I saw a tiny bottle of honey sitting on Victor’s desk. I couldn’t help but notice a tag around the neck that read: Herman Miller. “Surely they don’t make this themselves,” I said aloud. But why was an office furniture company giving honey away?

Upon further investigation, I found that Herman Miller does indeed make honey. The story goes something like this:

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About ten years ago, Herman Miller opened a new manufacturing facility on a 45 acre plot in Michigan. Designed by well known “green” architect William McDonough, the facility was a model for current and future projects, promoting the company’s philosophy of sound environmental building practices. Dubbed the “Greenhouse,” it was selected by the USBGC as a pilot project for the development of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process. The Greenhouse was situated in a rolling prairie and landscaped with native vegetation and flowering plants.

Sometime in the spring of 2000, paper wasps began to show up. The wasps became aggressive, threatening workers and visitors to the facility, and eventually made their way into the building. Given the “no pesticide” policy of the Greenhouse, the caretakers of the facility were obliged to find an alternative method for eradicating the pests.

In addition to the insect problem, many of the flowers that had been planted around the site to enliven the landscape had not produced colorful blooms as expected. After speaking with some experts, the facility caretakers brought in 12 beehives (with approximately 600,000 honeybees) to cross-pollinate the gardens. As an additional bonus, the bees took over the main food source, forcing the wasps to vacate.

And of course, the bees began to make honey.

In 2001, Herman Miller estimated the bees’ honey production to be about 4,800 pounds. While the honey is not currently for sale, it makes a nice souvenir, as well as a symbol of Herman Miller’s environmental commitment. Going beyond responsible product development with their protocol of “Design for the Environment,” Herman Miller strives for sustainability through its entire enterprise.

In 1993, Herman Miller helped fund the start-up of the United States Green Building Council, and has since committed to building or renovating all of its facilities to achieve a minimum LEED silver certification.

+ Herman Miller Greenhouse