Father and Son Embedded in Steelcase’s New Report

When Peter Martin Wege moved to Grand Rapids to open his own metal-furniture business in 1912, he could not have imagined Metal Office Furniture—started on a $75,000 bank loan—would become Steelcase, the world’s largest office-furniture company. Wege’s experience as a metal fabricator himself created the workplace culture that continues a century later. Peter Martin knew the success of his new business depended on his employees, and he made sure to treat them well and pay them well. If his company was to prosper, he wanted his employees to do so as well.

When his son Peter M. Wege went to work for Steelcase, he, too, left a permanent mark on the company’s culture based on an airplane ride. During World War II Peter M. Wege flew for the Army Air Force; one sunny day trying to land in Pittsburgh, the smog was so thick he couldn’t see the ground. From that day in the cockpit on, for the rest of his life Peter M. Wege devoted his time, energy, and financial resources to cleaning up and protecting the environment.

And he started at his father’s company. Peter M. Wege’s influence on Steelcase led to the company’s becoming a pioneer in environmental manufacturing from biodegradable paints to ergonomically clean air to protecting furniture with reusable blankets instead of boxes. In 2001, Steelcase built the world’s first industrial manufacturing plant to receive LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Peter Martin Wege died in 1947 and Peter M. Wege in 2014. But Steelcase’s attached report confirms that their legacies live on. Titled appropriately Sustainability, it highlights the company’s triple-bottom-line mission to make profits, protect the environment, and promote positive social change. Peter Martin and his son Peter M. Wege had a lot to do with this

Steelcase document.

Beetles to Bees to Bacteria Fighters: Nature’s Teachers

Ever since Leonardo da Vinci drew a flying machine patterned after birds’ wings, humans have looked to nature for good ideas.  And why not, as biologist Janine Benyus says, since Mother Nature has been perfecting her designs for 3.8 billion years while we humans have barely arrived on the planet. This year’s speaker for the 13th annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability at the University of Michigan, Janine Benyus’s topic,A Sustainable World Already Exists, was all about looking outdoors.

While the word biomimicry is now a global term, Benyus was the one who coined it with her first book in 1997, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.  Benyus has written five more books on the subject since and co-founded the world’s first consultancy bringing nature’s sustainable designs to over 250 clients, many of them Fortune 500 companies.

The many national honors she’s won, including Time Magazine’s Hero for the Planet in 2008, attest to her passion for sustainability by educating people about where the best designs have already been created and tested.  Mimicking the cochlear shape of a calla lily, for instance, led a method for circulating water than cleans it with less chlorine.

Then there are the beetles that teach humans in parched lands how to make water out of fog.  Fireflies have shown LED makers how to make their bulbs produce 55% more light.  And why can appliance manufacturers now make their products talk to each other calling for only the energy needed?  At peek hours there’s enough energy but at down times the appliances reduce their energy draw by mimicking the swarm technology of bees and ants.

Steelcase, Inc., the company founded by Peter Martin Wege, is turning to sharks to make their office furniture healthier.  The microscopic ridged texture of sharkskin rejects bacteria.  By copying the shark’s skin pattern, Steelcase can manufacture their products’ surfaces with germ-resistant finish.

Janine Benyus’s mission is much bigger than new products.  She knows that the more we learn from Mother Nature, the more we’ll want to protect her.

Janine Benyus, the biologist who coined the word ‘biomimicry,’ is pictured at the lectern giving the 13th Annual Peter M. Wege Lecture in Sustainability at the University of Michigan March 31, 2014.
From the left, Jack Hu, U of M Interim V.P. for Research; Ellen Satterlee, CEO of The Wege Foundation; Janine Benyus, speaker for the 13th Annual Wege Lecture at the U of M; Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda, Dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment; and Dr. Gregory Keoleian, Director of the Center for Sustainable Systems holding framed posters of Benyus’s lecture on Biomimicry.



Jim Hackett learned teamwork early on when he played football for the legendary Bo Schembechler at the University of Michigan. Hackett never forgot Bo’s coaching.  When Hackett received Aquinas College’s 2013 reflection Award in October, he was all about honoring those who made possible his successes as Steelcase’s CEO.

He started with his wife Kathy, their two sons, his assistants, and then he went on to thank all the people he’d worked with as the team who’d earned the Reflections Award along with him. In 1981 Jim started at Steelcase Inc. in sales and marketing where he continued to earn promotions over the next decade.

The big leap happened in 1994 when, at age 39, he was named the company’s chief executive officer.  Taking over the world’s largest manufacturer of office furniture before he was forty made James P. Hackett one of the youngest CEOs in the industry.

This January after 32 years with Steelcase, the past twenty as CEO, James P. Hackett will retire from the office furniture company founded as Metal Office Furniture in 1912. During his tenure, Steelcase went from being privately owned to becoming a publicly traded company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Under Hackett, Steelcase continued to lead the way globally on environmental manufacturing, a corporate value dating back to the 1970s and the progressive vision of Peter M. Wege, the son of Peter Martin Wege, a Steelcase founder. This January Hackett’s unnamed successor will take over a thriving corporation, including 670 dealers around the world and revenue of $2.9 billion in fiscal 2013.

How this bright athlete born in Columbus, Ohio, ended up a Wolverine instead of a Buckeye is still unclear.  But the standing ovation by the full house of people who came out to honor him at Reflections said they were very glad he did.

Jim Hackett, CEO of Steelcase, Inc. and winner of Aquinas College’s 2013 Reflection Award is shown with Greg Meyer, Aquinas College’s Vice President for Advancement, at the October Reflection dinner.
Attending Aquinas College’s 20th annual Reflection Award banquet honoring James P. Hackett: from the left, Msgr. Stalker, Msgr. Duncan, and Father Mark Przybysz.
Accepting the 2013 Aquinas College Reflection Award from President Juan Oliverez, is James B. Hackett joined on stage by his wife Kathy, her mother Joan Hedges, and the Hacketts’ son Patrick and his wife Melissa.

Steelcase son Peter Wege to enter environmental hall of fame

Matt Vande Bunte | mvandebu@mlive.com By Matt Vande Bunte | mvandebu@mlive.com 
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on March 20, 2012 at 12:17 PM, updated March 20, 2012 at 12:53 PM

GRAND RAPIDS – The inaugural class of inductees into the new Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame includes Peter Wege, the Grand Rapids philanthropist whose father was a Steelcase, Inc. founder.

Wege, 92, who authored “Economicology: The Eleventh Commandment” and a 2010 sequel, is among five individuals, one education program, one environmental project and one nonprofit organization set to be inducted in a 7 p.m. May 2 ceremony at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids.

The Hall of Fame was created by the Muskegon Environmental Research and Education Society to honor in-state individuals, organizations and schools for environmental stewardship. The nonprofit operates the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve in North Muskegon.

RELATED: Coverage of Steelcase’s 100th anniversary

The society got 25 nominees, a spokesman said. Inductees include Wege, Robert “Bud” Slingerland, a former state lawmaker who introduced Michigan’s “bottle bill” that established a 10-cent deposit on may beverage containers, Tom Bailey, executive director of Little Traverse Conservancy, Theresa Bernhardt, a stay-at-home Muskegon mom who chairs the Ruddiman Creek Task Force, and Gloria Miller, founder of the non-profit Friends of the Looking Glass that promotes preservation of the Looking Glass River, which flows into the Grand River in Ionia County.

Other inductees: The Tuscola Intermediate School District’s Tuscola Technology Center in Caro, where students can learn about solar power, sustainable agriculture, biofuels, wind energy and green construction; Ruddiman Creek Task Force that works to clean up and restore Ruddiman Creek and Pond, which flows into Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan; Huron River Watershed Council, a 47-year-old coalition of residents, businesses and governments that works to protect the Huron River system in southeast Michigan.

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When Susan Broman, Executive Director of the Steelcase Foundation, called Ellen Satterlee, her counterpart at the Wege Foundation, about Catherine’s Health Center, Ellen agreed to check it out. The non-profit general-practice clinic for Grand Rapids’ low-income and medically underserved was not a typical Wege Foundation grantee.

But Ellen knew Broman would not have made the unusual request if she didn’t think Catherine’s was a special case. Not far into her visit, Peter Wege’s executive director understood why Susan had called. CHC’s mission is directed at the working poor: the people who make too much for Medicaid, but whose subsistence jobs don’t offer health insurance.

Named for Catherine McAuley, the 18th Century founder of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine’s provides medical care, screening, and health education to people from all over Grand Rapids. Some 85% of CHC’s regular patients have no insurance, but pay $10 for a visit – when they can. And while drug companies get a bad rap for their prices, Dr. John Walen – CHC’a staff physician – works with them to get free medications. Last year Dr. Walen’s patients received $700,000 worth of free pharmaceuticals.

Catherine’s came to be in 1996 under the auspices of Saint Mary’s Health Services after a nearby well-child clinic closed. Until this year, Catherine’s operated out of 1200-square foot corner in the basement of St. Alphonsus Church. Thanks to the generosity of donors like Steelcase and The Wege Foundation, in 2011 Catherine’s moved next door into the former Alphonsus grade school remodeled into a 6800 square-foot health clinic. The $1.3 million new CHC space earned a LEED Silver Medal from the U.S. Green Building Council.

In 2005, Catherine’s became independent from Saint Mary’s. Today Catherine actively partners with many other human-service agencies, demonstrated by CHC’s earning the first annual Douglas Mack Award for collaboration and improving the health status of our community.

Standing in the reception room of new Catherine's Health Center at 1211 Lafayette NE are, left to right, Executive Director Karen Kaashoek, CHC physician Dr. John Walen, and Janet Zahn, Development Director. As with most of the furniture at Catherine's, the chairs in the photo were donated by Steelcase, Inc.
Standing in the reception room of new Catherine’s Health Center at 1211 Lafayette NE are, left to right, Executive Director Karen Kaashoek, CHC physician Dr. John Walen, and Janet Zahn, Development Director. As with most of the furniture at Catherine’s, the chairs in the photo were donated by Steelcase, Inc.
As a local coordinating agency with the Michigan Department of Community Health, CHC is able to provide free services specifically for women.
As a local coordinating agency with the Michigan Department of Community Health, CHC is able to provide free services specifically for women.


Aquinas College announced its new Master of Sustainable Business Degree, the first of its kind in the upper Midwest, at a luncheon held May 25 in Aquinas’s Wege Center. Introducing the new offering, President Ed Balog gave Peter M. Wege full credit for pushing Aquinas in this direction starting in 2000. That’s when Wege called on the Aquinas faculty to make a commitment to preserving the environment.

Jeanne Englehart, pictured above, from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, announced that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Siemens Corporation had just named Grand Rapids the most sustainable mid-sized city in the country. Englehart, who accepted the award in Houston with Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, said it was pretty emotional watching the live stream of the news running across the giant TV screen in New York’s Time Square. Englehart noted that this new educational opportunity at Aquinas confirmed why Grand Rapids was so honored.

debsDeborah Steketee, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Sustainable Business, described the new 1.5-2 year masters degree combining science, environmental, and business courses as a program of service to society. Steketee noted that this new graduate degree is consistent with the Dominican Sisters’ mission of doing good for the world.




nancyhNancy Hickey, representing Steelcase, a major sponsor of the new masters degree in Sustainable Business, talked about how the program fits Steelcase’s long-time commitment to green manufacturing and sustainable business operations. Rather than costing more to use sustainable practices to run their business, Steelcase’s experience is that respect for the triple bottom line – environmental, financial, and social – has given the company a competitive advantage and raised profits.


Steelcase Retirees Hear Update on Restoring the Great Lakes

Ellen Satterlee, Executive Director of The Wege Foundation, introduces Alan Steinman, Ph.D., of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University.
Ellen Satterlee, Executive Director of The Wege Foundation, introduces Alan Steinman, Ph.D., of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University.

The very active and energetic Steelcase Retirees Club of invited the Wege Foundation to speak in May at one of their regular monthly meetings held at Steelcase headquarters. The retirees wanted to learn more about the status of healing the Great Lakes. The 450 members all know Peter Wege and respect him for his years of leadership at Steelcase. They also admire the fact that Peter helped urge Steelcase into operating a “green” company long before environmental manufacturing became popular.

Dr. Steinman shared both the bad and the good news with the retirees in Steelcase’s Global Auditorium. Ninety percent of Michigan’s wetlands have been filled in. Since these wetlands act like kidneys filtering out pollutants, that bad news has serious implications. It means that non-point sources of pollution—including runoff from roads, fertilizer, and livestock—enters the Great Lakes without the cleansing effect of passing through wetlands.

The good news Steinman shared with the club members is that $20 billion in federal legislation to restore the Great Lakes is on the books and $475 million of that has already been funded.

also – National Wildlife Federation Executive Speaks on Invasive Species

Andy Buchsbaum, Great Lakes Division director for the NWF, followed Dr. Steinman on stage for their combined updates on the threats and the hopes for the Great Lakes. Buchsbaum focused on the destruction of invasive species that is already costing Great Lakes taxpayers as much as $8 billion dollars a year.

The Steelcase retirees heard that invasive species have now destroyed 94% of the diporeia, the major food source at the bottom of the Great Lakes, that supports native aquatic life. That only took ten years, from 1995 to 2005. The speed of such drastic destruction means the future of Great Lakes’ fishing is in serious jeopardy.

Buchsbaum pointed out that while keeping Asian carp out of Lake Michigan in Chicago has made headlines, the other half of needing a barrier to the Mississippi River is just as critical, but less publicized. Without separating the two bodies of water, quagga mussels – bigger and meaner than their zebra cousins – are now doing their environmental damage across the United States as they move out of the Great Lakes into our country’s waterways.

Buchsbaum, like Steinman, offered some good news. By acting now to end pollution, restore habitats, and stop the inflow of invasive species, the Great Lakes immune system can heal. The NWF officer praised Peter Wege and The Wege Foundation for launching the Great Lakes Coalition that is behind the $20 billion restoration bill.

And the Steelcase retirees were proud to learn that this coalition of over 110 environmental organization was born right there at Steelcase’s headquarters in 2004.

Above Picture – Steelcase Retirees Club vice-president Bob Burr and Wege Foundation Director Ellen Satterlee hold the board for NWF official Andy Buchsbaum. Buchsbaum’s chart demonstrates the critical loss of diporeia at the bottom of Lake Michigan from voracious invasive species. Since diporeia is the beginning link of the Great Lakes’ native fish-food chain, the destruction of this food source threatens the entire Great Lakes fishing industry.