Renae Hesselink, LEED AP and vice president of Sustainability at Nichols Paper and Supply, has been involved in sustainability efforts for the past 18 years, since the beginning of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. “[Nichols was] encouraged to join the forum through our relationships with customers, mostly in the office furniture industry,” she said. “They had reached out to us and wanted to bring their supply chain along that journey, so we jumped on board right away.”
Since then, Hesselink, a West Michigan native, has become engaged in many sustainability efforts in the region, ranging from her day-to-day work in her role at Nichols, to her involvement on the board of the U.S. Green Building Council West Michigan chapter. Hesselink has also presented on progress in sustainability and green buildings at many venues, including Grand Valley State University and Cornerstone University. Currently, Hesselink serves as chair of the Green School Committee for US GBC WM—an initiative that aims to promote a healthier, more functional environments for kids.
“The program focuses on developing healthier environments indoors, as well as creating schools as better places for communities to gather,” she said. “Right now, many of our schools shut down at the end of the school day and sit idle until the next morning.”
As part of the Green School program, Hesselink recently helped to set up the Green School Fellow program with the Grand Rapids Public Schools—a 3 year position which will not only assist with promoting green practices in the school district, but also help assist with developing curricula for students as well.
Currently, Hesselink is also working with the US GBC to promote the Battle of the Buildings program through her chapter—a year-long energy tracking and conservation competition among the region’s LEED-certified buildings. “There are 67 buildings in the competition this year,” she said. “The EPA has a similar program, and the first year that they ran it they had nowhere near that many participants, so we are pretty excited.”
For Hesselink, work in the sustainability field and progress in social and environmental conservation is about constant change and adaptation, as well as openness about business and manufacturing practices. Although she has seen positive changes in sustainable practices and an increased demand for green cleaning products in her industry, there is still work to be done.
“ I have seen in our industry as well as the green building movement and food movement, the unwillingness still to be transparent about labeling, ingredients, and processes. I believe this will be required more over the years especially as purchasers and end users become even more educated and intelligent. We have seen that happen a lot already and will continue. End users will become more demanding of this.”
Standards for products and processes will continue to evolve,” she continued. “We still don’t see many standards for products on the retail shelf. There are safety standards, but not environmental.
“It’s a journey—we’re not all there yet,” she said. “We need to continue down that path.”