Raw Material Substitution

Steelcase Canada Ltd.

2008 Winner of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Pollution Prevention Award for overall pollution prevention achievements by a medium business

Steelcase Canada Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Steelcase Inc., an international office furniture manufacturer. This Canadian operation designs and manufactures architecture wall products and furniture products. The company employs approximately 400 people at its 213 360-metre-square manufacturing facility located in Markham, Ontario.


Heat pumpsIn September 2004, Steelcase Canada Ltd. became the first facility to participate in Ontario's Environmental Leaders Program. By participating in this program, Steelcase Canada agreed to go beyond legal requirements by eliminating volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from its paint facility and reducing electrical consumption by 10%. At the time, Steelcase's electricity costs were identified as its highest overhead cost, in excess of $1 million annually.

The painting facility converted to 100% solvent-free powder paint as of September 30, 2005. The powder-coating process is a way of spray-painting very fine, dry plastic powder paint onto a metal surface. Once coated, the part is then placed in an oven and the powder particles melt and coalesce to form a continuous film.

Starting in August 2004, the plant introduced an energy conservation program targeting lighting and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. A number of energy-conserving measures were implemented and include the following:

  • Two inefficient water-cooled air-conditioning units were replaced with two air-cooled units with timers.
  • All T12 fluorescent task lights were replaced with T8 lights. T8 super lamp systems with electronic ballasts yield greater energy savings and better lighting than older T12s.
  • Occupancy sensors were installed in offices.
  • Awareness programs were initiated to encourage employees to turn off all equipment when not required to support production and to reduce air-conditioning use during off-hours.
  • The Lean ManufacturingFootnote 1 principle was introduced to improve product flow and to increase machine utilization, allowing the company to reduce the equipment needed within the building.

In addition to their commitment to eliminate VOC emissions and reduce energy consumption, Steelcase Canada has also implemented a number of waste reduction and water conservation measures. From 2003 to 2006, the amount of hazardous waste decreased by 63%, mainly through the elimination of solvent-based paints and adhesives. Packaging for finished products now includes different options such as returnable blanket-wrapping, reusable containers and lightweight cardboard. A change in the process within the parts washer has lowered the operating temperature to 27°C, resulting in a 15% reduction in total natural gas usage. Natural gas consumption has also been reduced by changing internal processes (production schedules) and making upgrades to the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.

Steelcase Canada has installed a paint-washer water counterflow system that returns water to an earlier stage in the process for reuse, a closed-loop glycol cooling system for air compressors and two rain sensors on the lawn sprinkler system - changes that continue to reduce the company's water usage.



There are no emissions of any kind from the powder-coating process. Overspray is captured by filters and clean air is returned to the workplace. Switching to the new solvent-free powder paint eliminated the company's annual emissions of 9.3 tonnes of VOC. By replacing the 12 spray-paint booths with two powder booths, the company was also able to remove two make-up air units from service, saving 9 450 megajoules per hour of electricity (powder booths are not vented outside).

From January 2003 to December 2006, the total energy consumption was reduced by 15.2% from 13 825 to 11 723 megawatt-hours. This represents an annual reduction of 2 102 megawatt-hours. At the same time production levels increased by 20.67%.

Water reuse and conservation have lowered the facility's water consumption by more than 80% since 2001.


The facility's insurance premiums have been reduced, due to a reduction in fire liability as a result of the elimination of flammable solvent materials. Switching to powder paint has also resulted in cost savings, as it is cheaper than liquid paint and has lower maintenance costs as mixing equipment and pumps were eliminated.


Eliminating VOC emissions from the production process has improved the indoor air quality for employees.

Awards and Recognition

  • 2003 – Environmentally Sustainable Business Award, Recycling Council of Ontario
  • 2003 – Platinum Waste Minimization Award, Recycling Council of Ontario
  • 2005 – Water Efficiency Award, Ontario Water Works Association
  • 2006 – International Innovation Award, United States Multi-State Working Group
  • 2008 – Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Pollution Prevention Awards – Medium Business Award

Contact Information

Steve Taylor
Environmental Engineer
1 Steelcase Road, West
Markham, Ontario
L3R 0T3
Phone: 905-944-5717
Fax: 905-946-3131
Email: staylor@steelcase.com

Date Submitted

August 2008


Footnote 1

Lean Manufacturing: an assessment of each aspect of the manufacturing process with the objective to eliminate waste, increase efficiency and create value for the consumer.

Return to footnote 1 referrer