The average American spends more than 90,000 hours at work during their lifetime¹. With so much valuable time spent at work, a space that’s comfortable, efficient, and healthy is important. That’s what is on our minds when the Milliken team puts thousands of work hours into developing products to meet those needs. Everyone wants a chair that remains comfortable after hours of working on a presentation, and wall panels that help create an attractive space – decorated just the way you like. In addition to great functionality and design, we should also be considering materiality.
EnviroPanel® is used in the Knoll Antenna system shown here. Photo courtesy of Knoll, Inc.

What’s in Your Office Panel?

When you think about office sustainability, you might consider reducing paper consumption and switching to an automated light system. Or, you might be thinking further ahead, focusing on the growing market concern about the long-term effects of non-renewable materials that may be used in office products. For example, many of the interior substrates inside office panels used in facilities across the country are not easily recyclable or degradable.

Because we know customers and end-users alike are looking for environmentally-friendly options that offer the same performance features of conventional office panels but promote better recyclability, Milliken Specialty Interiors formed a team that, over multiple years, tackled the objective of creating an office panel substrate that marries functionality with environmental benefits.

The Journey to EnviroPanel®

EnviroPanel® is used in the Knoll Antenna system shown here. Photo courtesy of Knoll, Inc.

With a legacy of innovation and developing sustainable solutions, we embraced the tough challenge of creating a recyclable product made with recycled content that meets the performance criteria. The journey to EnviroPanel® involved four years of research, collaboration with more than a dozen experts and specialists, and countless trials and product tests.

Traditional office panel substrates include fiberglass, which may have formaldehyde that can contribute to off-gassing – the emission of gasses that can create odors and adversely affect indoor air quality.  Fiberglass is also an irritant for both the skin and the lungs.   To provide an alternative to fiberglass panels, we created EnviroPanel® from 100% polyester, PET, and developed the blend to contain recycled fibers, which is not typically offered in fiberglass substrates today. Additionally, most fabrics and glues used in the industry are made of polyester, so the entire panel could effectively be recycled.  These qualities establish EnviroPanel® as a unique, recyclable alternative for traditional office panel systems, tiles, and screens.

Creating a fire-resistant office panel substrate proved to be our greatest challenge. For more than a year, we worked to develop a material that passed industry fire-resistance benchmarks. After testing several material blends, we engineered a solution with polyester that met the flammability requirements.  In addition, we were able to offer recycled content and a product that could be recycled at the end of life.  In 2011 - nearly four years after its conception, Milliken received a patent for EnviroPanel® for this innovation in fire-resistance.

Customers as Innovation Partners

After solving many of the technical hurdles, our team needed to demonstrate EnviroPanel’s® feasibility as a solution in real-world panel systems. So, the team grew to include partnerships with customers for product evaluation and field testing. In addition to ensuring the effectiveness and desirability of our products, these partnerships sped up problem solving and innovation.

EnviroPanel® is used in the Knoll Antenna system shown here. Photo courtesy of Knoll, Inc.

Through collaboration with contract furniture office leaders like Knoll, we tested EnviroPanel® in panel systems for fire resistance, acoustics and rigidity and found that this product delivered the performance customers demand and the environmental benefits they desire, helping them meet their business and sustainability goals.

It’s rare for people to stop and consider the material inside everyday products or the amount of time, research, and collaboration devoted to problem-solving for sustainable solutions. Our team at Milliken spent years immersed in the composition and functionality of the dividers that help keep workspaces private and minds focused. Recognizing the importance of materiality, we’re continually striving to solve complex problems and drive progress for the places and people that matter most.