The REAL Benefits of Product Sustainability

Recently, Pure Strategies issued a report entitled, Advancing – On the Path to Product Sustainability. This 2015 report determined the benefits of product sustainability efforts from phone interviews with 152 companies with sales greater than $250MM. The report also included feedback and comments from Walmart, Clorox, Johnson and Johnson, Hewlett Packard, North Face and others. As evidenced, the survey covered a broad base of industry sectors including clothing, healthcare, food, etc.

Nearly everyone contacted in the survey reported that their company was engaged with product sustainability goals and objectives! The results and benefits from product sustainability efforts and programs were then broken down into a number of categories with the reported progress achieved including ongoing directives:

Cost Savings:

  • Logistics and Supply Chain (49%)
  • Packaging (47%)
  • Manufacturing (38%)
  • Product Materials (26%)

Demand and Growth:

  • Increased Sales (46%)
  • Retailer Requirements (43%)
  • Consumer Demands (43%)

Risk Reduction:

  • Supply Chain (50%)
  • Future Regulatory (49%)


  • Brand Enhancement (33%)


  • Employee (57%)

The documented results and benefits from developing sustainable products are similar to and reinforce the reported benefits from other surveys and reports conducted in recent years.  One major new reported area of progress is employee engagement, highlighting that workers and employees feel empowered, and positively influenced, when engaged with product sustainability initiatives. To achieve these impressive results, the companies surveyed highlighted several areas within both corporate alignment and business integration as the key reasons for success. For corporate alignment the crucial outcomes included:

  • Obtaining leadership engagement and buy in: 93% of the best reporting companies had obtained top management support through needed resources, a positive culture, and accountability measures. The key success factor is to have management actively participating and helping to advance these initiatives across management departments.
  • Determining relevant and structured business goals: 81% of the companies surveyed had structured product sustainability goals in 2013, with 100% of all companies surveyed having product sustainability goals in 2015! The key success factor is to link product sustainability goals to creativity, revenue growth, and management of the overall product portfolio.

For business integration, the crucial outcomes included:

  • Embedding sustainability into core business processes and practices: Depending on the product development stage, companies reported between 50%-80% or a high level of product sustainability integration into core business practices and processes. 93% of companies reported that packaging design and development now was their top investment priority. The key success factor is to fully embed sustainability best practices into all aspects of the product life cycle, from concept to end of life, to ensure all customer and supply chain demands and expectations are successfully met. 
  • Developing key performance metrics for business and company tracking: 24% of the companies surveyed indicated that executive compensation was directly tied to sustainability performance. The key success factor is to track product sustainability sales and revenue growth as part of overall business relevant metrics.

Overall, what are the key takeaways for businesses? Those companies that prepared, progressed, and performed well on product sustainability efforts reported that they achieved twice as many benefits than those companies with less robust programs regarding cost savings and earnings! Furthermore, the company revenues and growth from sustainable products and services represented a six fold increase over the 2010-2013 timeframe. The REAL benefits of product sustainability are here to stay!

I wish you the best on your sustainability journey!

Norman Christopher is Director, Office of Sustainability Practices, Grand Valley State University and Author of Sustainability Demystified

Past Events, Uncategorized

March Review: Pashon Murray & Detroit Dirt

During West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum’s fourth annual conference at Cathedral Square Conference Center, keynote speaker Pashon Murray, founder of Detroit Dirt, gave insight on composting and the future of waste to energy.

Murray has an unrelenting drive for waste reduction, recycling, and reuse of materials. She is helping to change the carbon footprint of Detroit through revitalizing neighborhoods, finding solutions for everyday waste, and eliminating trips to the landfill. In 2010 Murray co-founded Detroit Dirt, a local composting and biomass collection company that specializes in providing compost and biomass solutions for the metro Detroit community. Detroit Dirt’s closed-loop model process was designed by Murray to help revitalize Detroit. In 2015 she founded International Dirt whose primary focus is to create programs, tools and consult on strategies that will integrate zero waste practices.

See her presentation slides here

FYI, Member News, Uncategorized

Steelcase Announces New Wind Power Investment

Steelcase Inc. announced a 12-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Apex Clean Energy for 25 megawatts of wind power. Since 2014, Steelcase has invested in renewable energy credits equivalent to 100% of its global electricity consumption. This latest investment will make up nearly half of Steelcase’s renewable energy purchases, directly support the construction of a new clean energy facility set to begin operations in 2016, and further diversify the company’s renewable energy portfolio.

“Our decision to partner with Apex and execute a long-term renewable energy agreement reflects our longstanding commitment to drive a clean energy landscape,” said Jim Keane, Steelcase president and CEO. “At a time when businesses and governments are working to align on climate strategies, we maintain a sense of urgency and optimism. We are focused on finding new ways to reduce our overall energy use and investing in innovative, economically beneficial projects like this one to take one step closer to a sustainable energy future.”

Under Steelcase’s long-term PPA with Apex’s Grant Plains Wind project, a 150-megawatt facility in Grant County, Oklahoma, Steelcase is committed to support production of approximately 100 million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable wind energy each year. This amount is equal to approximately 70% of Steelcase’s U.S. electricity usage, or roughly the electricity needed to power 9,100 homes per year.


ATR Attempting Guinness Record for E-Waste

Advanced Technology Recycling (ATR) will be attempting to break a new world record in celebration of Earth Day 2015.

“One Million Pound Challenge” will focus on keeping over one million pounds of electronics out of landfills. ATR will be partnering with businesses and municipalities to host Electronic Recycling Drives for residents to bring out their old electronics for recycling. The attempt will kick off on Saturday April 18 and run till Saturday April 25 at 6:00pm.  The One Million Pound Challenge will take place across ATR’s six facilities: Pontiac & Peoria IL, Grand Rapids, San Antonio, Birmingham, AL, and Buffalo.

ATR will be using the Guinness World Records to officiate the attempt to break the world record.  The current record for “most consumer electronics recycled in one week at multiple locations is 474,227 kg (1045,491 lb 10.505 oz) and was achieved by TechCollect / ANZRP Ltd (Australia) at five locations in Australia, on 6 May 2013” states Amanda Mochan from the Guinness World Record (GWR) team in New York. On April 25 at 6:00 pm there will be a ruling from an official Guinness World Records judge located at the company’s corporate headquarters in Pontiac, IL.

“Consumer Electronics or e-Waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world and technology hungry countries like the US are among the largest contributors” said Brodie Ehresman, National Business Development Manager for ATR.  Earth Day is very important, because it offers the chance for all people from different walks of life to help keep the Earth Beautiful.

For more information on how you can participate or bring electronics to an event please contact us at clientsales@atrecycle.com (616)452-7779.


Governor Snyder Unveils Energy Plan, Calls for 30-40% Renewable Energy + Efficiency by 2025


This blog post is courtesy of WMSBF member Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council.

Governor Snyder on Friday unveiled his long-awaited energy plan, calling for energy efficiency plus renewable energy to meet up to 40% or more of the state’s energy needs by 2015. The Energy Message follows a flurry of state energy policy activity, including House Energy Policy Chair Aric Nesbitt’s introduction of an eight-bill energy plan that would eliminate the state’s successful Energy Optimization program while moving to a new integrated resource planning process, a bill from Representative Ray Franz that would repeal the Renewable Energy Standard that has spurred $3 billion in economic activity since 2008, the release of a discussion framework by Senate Energy and Technology Chair Mike Nofs that would replace the current efficiency and renewable standards with a new Clean Energy Standard, and a proposal from legislative Democrats to extend and expand both the renewable energy standard and energy optimization standard.



Call for Board Member Candidates

The time to elect new directors for our board is upon us. Candidates should be willing and able to lend their vision and leadership to enhancing the direction of the forum over the next two years. A summary of the responsibilities of board membership here and any further detail will be available upon request.  There are four open spots.

Once nominations are received and reviewed by the nominating committee, a slate of candidates will be presented for a vote of the full membership in April. The results will be announced the following month with newly elected directors beginning their terms in June.

WMSBF has grown significantly in the last year, not only with membership but in the scope and diversification of projects and partnerships. The continued leadership of its members and willingness to challenge one another drives the success of our strategic plan and allows growth to continue.

You can apply by completing the Board Application Form here.  Deadline for applications April 2.


Energy Efficient Buildings in 2015

Check out this blog post from WMSBF member The Energy Alliance Group of Michigan.

Four factors are now perfectly aligned to create significant energy-saving opportunities for commercial and industrial property owners in 2015. They are (1) The sheer number of buildings built prior to 1999 that, on average, consume 67% more energy than those of newer construction.(2) Removal of the greatest barrier to energy efficiency projects – the initial upfront capital and development costs. (3) The meteoric rise of long-term funding available for energy efficiency projects. (4) The decreasing cost of a growing number of technology choices that foster energy savings.

Keep reading here


Organicycle Offering Neighborhood Yard Waste Program

Grand Rapids’ local provider of curbside composting service, Organicycle, has teamed up with local neighborhoods and businesses to provide reduced-cost yard waste services for Grand Rapids residents. The 2014 Neighborhood Lawn & Leaf Program serves as both a benefit for area neighborhoods as well as a cost-savings for residents.

The bags — made of compostable material — are more durable than traditional paper yard waste bags, and at 33 gallons, are bigger and less expensive than those used in any other program offered in the city. Organicycle’s bags are sold in packs of 10 for $20 and include free pick-up to Grand Rapids residents.

Five percent of bag sales go back to participating neighborhoods including Eastown Community Association (ECA), Alger Heights Neighborhood Association (AHNA) and Ridgemoor Neighborhood (RN). Bag sales are driven through partnering businesses including Alger Hardware & Featz Hot Dogs (inside Breton Village Mall).

Program participants must live in the City of Grand Rapids and only requires the purchase of Organicycle bags and online registration (www.organicycle.org/yardwaste).

“This is a wonderful community program that collectively benefits Grand Rapids residents, their neighborhood
and a local business,” explains Justin Swan, Director of Sales & Development for Organicycle. “When Organicycle met with a few neighborhood organizations this Spring, we each saw an opportunity to provide a valuable service at a cost savings to residents while raising funds for the neighborhood association.”

Organicycle anticipates a healthy increase of participants compared to the Spring program, and is prepared for a
much larger participation compared to last Fall’s pilot program.

“Our 2013 pilot included nearly 100 new residential stops on our curbside composting route, and generated
several hundred dollars for local neighborhoods,” said Swan. “This year, our goal is raise over a thousand dollars
for the neighborhoods, draw awareness to our award-winning curbside composting program, and drive traffic to
local small businesses that are eager to give back to their community.”

The 2014 Neighborhood Lawn & Leaf Program will run through December 5, with weekly collection, in Grand
Rapids only. Organicycle bags can be purchased at Alger Hardware, Eastown Community Association and Featz
Hot Dogs in Breton Village Mall.

In September, Organicycle was awarded “Sustainable Business of the Year” by West Michigan Sustainable
Business Forum, and has twice been named to the “Best & Brightest Sustainable Businesses” list (2013, 2014).


Hall of Fame Nominees: Deb Steketee

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.”


Hall of Fame Nominees: Renae Hesselink


hesselink photo 9-2012 (2)

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.”