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Steelcase heir and philanthropist dies, aged 94

Peter Wege, a significant donor to environmental causes and the former second-gen vice chairman of furniture family business Steelcase, has died in Michigan, US, aged 94.

Founded in 1912 by Wege’s father, Peter Martin Wege, Steelcase is the world’s largest office furniture manufacturer, reporting revenues of $2.9 billion last year.

Steelcase was publicly listed in 1998, but the family still has a significant shareholding. Wege’s son Peter M Wege II serves on the board of directors, following eight years at the helm of Steelcase’s Canadian operations.

The business, originally known as the Metal Office Furniture Company, saw its first success with a metal wastebasket, which was considered much better for fire safety than the straw wastebaskets that were popular at the time.

Following his father’s death in 1947, Wege became vice chairman of the company, remaining in the role for more than five decades before he gave up the post to work fulltime at his philanthropic foundation.

In a statement, Steelcase chief executive Jim Keane said: “Well before sustainability became a topic in most companies, Peter was the environmental conscience of Steelcase. As an employee and as a member of our board of directors, Peter never wavered from that commitment to protect the planet.”

The Wege Foundation, established in 1967, has a significant focus on environmental issues, but also focuses on education, arts and culture, healthcare and human services.

At the age of 78, Wege published Economicology: the eleventh commandment, which examined corporate environmental responsibility and how economic growth should not come at the expense of the environment. In 2010, he produced its sequel.

Earlier this year, Steelcase announced renewable energy investment equivalent to 100% of its global electricity usage.
Five of Wege’s children serve as trustees on the Wege Foundation board.

Wege is also succeeded by his 11 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. 

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