For Deb Steketee, Sustainable Business professor at Aquinas College, businesses are central to creating change in our society. “They are the ones who are harvesting the resources,” she said. “They are the ones that can truly make the difference.” As one of the driving forces behind Aquinas College’s Sustainable Business Program, Steketee has incorporated this idea into teaching a new generation of sustainability professionals that is influencing business in West Michigan and beyond.
Steketee’s experience in promoting environmental concerns in West Michigan reaches back to her work with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and then the Center for Environmental Study at GRCC, where she served as vice president. While working with the Center for Environmental Study, Steketee began to see increased collaboration between business and environmentalists —a theme that would continue in her work in decades to come. “That really set me thinking about who has the power to effect change in our society. It really is business. They are the ones who are harvesting the resources, they are the ones who can really make a difference through their influence in United States culture.”
At Aquinas College since 2005 as a professor and director of the Center for Sustainability, Steketee has helped Aquinas College to spearhead sustainability programming both on and off campus. Through her work, she further developed the community relationships with the Sustainable Business degree program at Aquinas in an effort to provide new opportunities for students and strengthen the shared learning experience of Aquinas’ sustainability mission. She credits generous support from many early donors, including the Steelcase Foundation and Wege Foundation, as well as the unique mindset of Aquinas College administrators and West Michigan residents for the success of the program.
“At Aquinas, the idea is that business does not stand alone isThe notion that business is an entity that serves society has been really important to our program,” she said. “The concept of the sustainability professional was just emerging at that time so in many ways, we were able to catch that wave and move forward with it.” The Sustainable Business Program was the first of its type and scope at the undergraduate level, and has drawn students from across the United States to West Michigan.
As Director for the Center of Sustainability at Aquinas College, Steketee also oversaw the development of the school’s internal sustainability efforts, as well. Aquinas’ recent accomplishments include the deployment of a zero-waste program campus-wide and LEED-certified buildings on campus, including the Grace Hauenstein library.
For Steketee, the West Michigan community’s ability to work together to find solutions is one of the reasons that organizations like the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum and the Center for Sustainability have seen success in recent years. “That ability to have a collective impact is something that this community does very well—there’s a collaborative spirit and a learning mentality,” she said. “The vision that we have had in our community and the vision that many individuals have exemplified really provide us with an optimistic future.”