January Meeting: Peace Through Commerce…Can You Do Well by Doing Good? A Global Perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility

West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum will host a luncheon examining global corporate social responsibility and other topics on Monday, January 9 at Aquinas College.

This month’s featured speaker is Oliver Williams, Associate Professor of Management at the University of Notre Dame and Director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business in the Mendoza College of Business. He is a member of the three-person Board of Directors at the United Nations Global Compact Foundation. He will be joined on the agenda by Steelcase Environmental Engineer Betsy Hernandez, who will speak on the company’s environmental performance and waste reduction efforts.

This month’s meeting sponsored by Creative Dining Services and Steelcase.

Steelcase was awarded the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum Champion Award earlier this year as local organization with a legacy of sustainable business leadership that has helped define our region as a center of sustainability expertise and accomplishment. Since 2010, it has successfully reduced emissions by 75%, water use by 9% and waste output by 44%.


Williams will speak on the UN Global Compact, corporate social responsibility, and principles for responsible management education, as well as recent developments that are making religion more relevant in business ethics, such as Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change.

Over recent decades, escalating social and environmental concerns have prompted increasingly urgent calls for corporations to confirm their commitment to go beyond self-interest and to actively support solutions to our global challenges: climate change, ecological destruction, economic instability and the plight of the world’s poor.
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Member News

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.

Event Review, WMSBF News

Review: December Meeting on Sustainability in Packaging

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West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum’s December membership meeting was a joint meeting with the International Institute of Packaging at Kendall College of Art & Design. Meeting presented by Disher Design and Steelcase.

A panel of local packaging experts will discuss key challenges and opportunities for sustainability in packaging:

Dustin Heiler, Global Environmental Sustainability Specialist, Steelcase, Inc.
“It shouldn’t be two to three times more expensive, and it’s got to perform the same way or better. Better performance can justify more costs. Then with the environmental side, if you’re working with a new material, you have to consider what the price is today vs. what it will be in the future, if the material has not yet scaled, it will cost two to three more times to start.”

Thad Cummings, Founding Partner, My Green Michigan
“To be blunt everyone asks the cost question, that’s not the obstacle, we we actually save people money. The obstacles are politics and contracts.”

Tyler Prince, Packaging Engineering Manager, KTM Industries, Inc.
“There are things that are actually working and sustainable that people don’t know about. There is always a cost limitation with going green. But it’s getting there. Once everyone realizes that we need to go int this direction that is when it’s going to pick up steam.”

Cimberly Weir, Assistant Director, Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability, Michigan State University
“It’s a piece of a whole value chain, you’re not going to go to the store and put cheese or shampoo in your hand and walk out. You need a package. You should be looking at the entire package and how you can reduce the whole footprint from start to end use…

“The biggest opportunity is education, we understand sustainability and the implications it has if done correctly. Now the mom making decisions at the grocery store, how are you going to get her to purchase the more sustainable package? I think education of the every-day consumer, I think that is really where the power is.”

Pat Laurie, Packaging Engineering Manager, Bissell Homecare, Inc.
“Go back to the product. Trying to work with our product engineers, than we don’t have to use that much processin. Try to work together as teams. We’re all familiar with the mushroom foam that Steelcase has used, we’re using another material made out of waste straw from rice materials; tried using returnable packaging, just couldn’t make the economics work…

“My package goes with the consumer, my goal is to have that package stay with the consumer…imagine a little tote that stays with the consume? Packaging could be a sales tool. But the marketing department says I can’t do it: Costs too much…

“What Walmart asks for we give them. They go in cycles: every 10 years, when they’re hot on the environment everyone gets hot. Hopefully that’s coming around again soon.”

Cindy Doman, Senior Packaging Engineer, Herman Miller
“We spend most of our weeks trying to come up with new reusable packaging. It also improves ergonomics.  There are some economics that come into play; part of that is you have to get the material in.  If your supplier is far enough way, it’s harder to send that packaging back…

“I have to ditto about education. You have to start early, in the schools, have to challenge them. Pop and water bottles become coats, that kind of thing….

“We generally start out with what are we going to save dollar-wise. It’s ‘Who handles this?’ ‘How are we going to keep up with truck?’ ‘Can we reduce warehousing? Can it be recycled? Can it be easily separated and recycled?’ There is x amount in labor and transportation, it kind of all becomes one nice package.”


Member News, WMSBF News

Sustainability in Packaging at December Meeting

Leading-cosmetics-players-team-up-to-create-roundtable-on-sustainable-packaging_strict_xxlWest Michigan Sustainable Business Forum’s December membership meeting is a joint meeting with the International Institute of Packaging on Monday, December 14 at Kendall College of Art & Design from 12 to 2 pm.

A panel of local packaging experts will discuss key challenges and opportunities for sustainability in packaging:

  • Travis Gibbs, Packaging Engineer, Disher Design (Moderator)
  • Pat Laurie, Packaging Engineering Manager, Bissell Homecare, Inc.
  • Dustin Heiler, Global Environmental Sustainability Specialist, Steelcase, Inc.
  • Cindy Doman, Senior Packaging Engineer, Herman Miller
  • Cimberly Weir, Assistant Director, Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability, Michigan State University
  • Thad Cummings, Founding Partner, My Green Michigan

Meeting presented by Disher Design and Steelcase.

Register and learn more here.



April Membership Meeting Looks at Corporate Water Stewardship, Community Solar

D.-Phenicie-Head-ShotWest Michigan Sustainable Business Forum will present a luncheon on corporate water stewardship and community solar at its Monday, April 13 membership meeting at Grand Rapids Public Library.  This month’s meeting sponsored by Consumers Energy, Steelcase, and Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds.

Through a series of field tests, a Council of Great Lakes Industries project team has demonstrated that water stewardship tools can be valuable to industries interested in such initiatives, but that companies vary dramatically on whether and how they see a business case for focusing on water stewardship in the Great Lakes.  CGLI Technical and Projects Director Dale Phenicie will discuss findings and ongoing efforts to develop a business case for corporate water stewardship in the Great Lakes.

Also on the agenda is Nancy Popa, Manager of Renewable Resources & Distributed Generation for Consumers Energy, which will talk about the company’s new Solar Parks community solar program.

CGLI is a tax-exempt organization representing the common interests of U.S. and Canadian industries in the manufacturing, utilities, transportation, communications, financial services and trade sectors that have significant assets in the Great Lakes basin. It works to ensure that industry is a substantive partner in the public policy development process in the Great Lakes region.

Phenicie has served and represented industrial organizations on environmental matters throughout his working career. He served on a U.S. EPA task force that developed the Great Lakes Initiative amendments to the Clean Water Act, the International Joint Commission’s Virtual Elimination Task Force that developed persistent bioaccumulating toxic policy guidance for the Great Lakes, has organized and chaired several industry-oriented committees and working groups on Great Lakes matters, coordinated industry participation in the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, and has been a member of the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) Steering Committee since 1994.

Lunch is $15 for WMSBF members online, $20 for non-members.

Learn more and RSVP here.

Member News, WMSBF News

WMSBF Members Highlighted in Grand Rapids State of City Address


George Heartwell at 2015 State of the City Address. (mlive photo) Pictured with representatives from WMSBF member Consumers Energy.

Mayor George Heartwell highlighted three WMSBF members in his State of the City Address this morning as he introduced his new climate change initiative.  Excerpt shown below.

“Many businesses are taking this seriously. The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum consists of over 100 members all of whom are committed to operating sustainably in their economic sector. This means, among other things, reducing GHG emissions. Let me give you three quick examples:

  • Steelcase has worked hard to reduce its global GHG emissions by 60%  since 2001. In early 2014 Steelcase announced it would purchase renewable energy credits equal to 100% of its global electric use.
  • Spectrum Health prevented 5.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide  from entering the atmosphere in a one-year period through lighting upgrades and energy conservation at its Butterworth and Blodgett campuses.
  • Barfly Ventures which operates Hopcat and Grand Rapids Brewing Company is making major energy conservation investments for reducing GHG emissions and will divert 90% of its waste stream from the landfill.”

Heartwell also introduced the Grand Rapids 2030 District Planning Project.  The municipal Office of Energy and Sustainability is partnering with the Institute for Energy Innovation, the West Michigan Chapter of the US Green Building Council, WMSBF and a broad range of private sector leaders to create the Grand Rapids 2030 Energy District Challenge, a high performance building efficiency district.

Learn more about 2030 Districts here.

Member News

Herman Miller, Steelcase, Recognized at 2014 EPA Green Power Leaders

WMSBF members Herman MIller and Steelcase are among 19 Green Power Partners and four suppliers across the country honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with its annual Green Power Leadership Awards, recognizing achievements in advancing the nation’s renewable energy market and reducing greenhouse gas emissions fueling climate change.

“By using more than 7.6 billion kilowatt-hours of green power annually, these communities, businesses, and organizations are leading the way in cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the impacts ofclimate change, and protecting public health,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “These partners demonstrate that green power is not only a smart business investment, but it’s affordable, accessible and it reduces emissions while growing the renewable energy market and spurring innovation.”

Green power is electricity that is generated from renewable sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, and low-impact hydroelectric sources. Green power does not produce fossil fuel-based greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. The award winners below are being recognized for their efforts in expanding the domestic renewable energy market. From using enough green power to meet more than 100 percent of electricity needs to installing solar arrays on-site or entering long-term power purchase agreements, these organizations are demonstrating that green power is both accessible and affordable.

The award-winning partners were chosen for their exemplary use of green power from more than 1,300 partner organizations that comprise EPA’s Green Power Partnership. Utilities, renewable energy project developers, and other green power suppliers are eligible to apply for the Green Power Supplier award.

Both Herman Miller and Steelcase were honored in the Green Power Purchasing category.


Member News, WMSBF News

Organicycle Named West Michigan Sustainable Business of the Year

West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum named Organicycle its first Sustainable Business of the Year as part of its 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Triple Bottom Line Bast on September 11 at the Bissell Tree House at John Ball Zoo.

Through a blind vote, the WMSBF board of directors chose five finalists from 27 nominees for the first annual competition, with the winner chosen by a vote of the forum membership.  Other nominees included Amway, Cascade Engineering, Herman Miller and Steelcase.

“This recognition is overwhelming,” said Justin Swan, sales and development manager for Organicycle. “When I learned we were nominated, my jaw hit the floor. When a small business is validated by gaining new customers it’s a good feeling, but to be honored by our peers is truly overwhelming and special.”

Swan reflected on the company’s success, which included overcoming many obstacles.

“Dan Tietema (Organicycle president) and I set out to challenge a community of businesses and residents to re-calibrate their throw-away habits,” he explained. “We knew it would be tough, and the cards were stacked against us.

“I think our peers recognize the tremendous uphill climb we have been faced with — not just in starting a small business in today’s economy, but having to carve out a new industry that requires behavior change before buy-in.”

Swan paid homage to the other nominees saying they’ve paved the way for Organicycle to be successful today.

“This award doesn’t exist without the awareness and support these companies have generated over the last 20 years,” he said.

Member News

Looking Back: David Rinard on West Michigan Community and Sustainability

Throughout the 20th century, building collaboration between business and the sustainability movement has been a challenge. Governmental regulations and activism were often seen as a threat to manufacturers’ bottom line, and early environmentalists conflicted with the corporate world. However, in West Michigan, a common connection between the community and business leaders has been a unique characteristic that has allowed the sustainable business movement to thrive, according to David Rinard, Director of Global Environmental Performance at Steelcase.

“There is this trade—craftsman mentality in our area,” he said. “People built their companies here, they live here, and they have their families here. They were connected to the land and committed to giving back to their communities. Even as companies have transitioned from family-owned to publicly traded, that ethic and culture still lives on.”

“People are proud to live here in West Michigan,” he continued.

Rinard has seen the environmentalist and sustainability cultures grow hand-in-hand with the business community in the area—an important factor in the success of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. “Many of us from the business side were equally involved in environmental organizations at that time,” he said. “Part of it was that most of us grew up in the environmental movement. Silent Spring and Love Canal were there—we got into this profession because those stories stirred something in us.”

For Rinard, however, the road to a career in sustainable business began with the goal of becoming an orthodontist. After majoring in microbiology and public health at Michigan State, Rinard realized that his less-than-perfect artistic capabilities would be a stumbling block in his orthodontics career. Rinard moved back in with his parents, searching for employment to hold him over for the time, and eventually found a job as a process chemist with a company that did chrome plating on plastics. “Part of my responsibilities was to deal with all of the waste water and waste generation issues for the company,” he said. This early exposure to environmental management issues led Rinard to a position in Steelcase’s environmental department two years later—a career that has spanned 35 years.

At Steelcase, Rinard stepped into a business culture with strong environmental roots. The families that founded the company had a strong sense of values and beliefs on how their company would conduct itself in the community. They quietly and without fanfare incorporated that mentality into the work culture of the company. Even in those early years when no one was talking about environmentalism, there was still a strong sense of responsibility for employees, the community and the environment. Rinard noted that this support for sustainability helped to guide the business forum’s work in its early days. “As we talked about getting together as businesses in the environmental communities, some of it was the sheer persistence from the business community. There was an attitude of coming together: Let me help you understand understand my challenges, I will work to understand your challenges, and together let’s try to come up with solutions.”

The unique connections between West Michigan’s business and environmental communities made founding the Business Forum easier than it could have been, according to Rinard. “The ability for peers from different companies, even competitors to get together and work to support a shared value is something I believe is unique to West Michigan.” he said. “It is because we are not just colleagues and peers but also friends that gave us that shared sense of purpose. Founding the Forum took a lot of legwork—there was apprehension on some people’s parts, so it took persistence and determination, but it wasn’t the terribly difficult sell that many people might think.”

In some cases, however, there was conflict. Tom Leonard, Executive Director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council at the time, was accused of selling out in his collaboration with businesses by other environmental groups. “People said he let the fox in the henhouse,” said Rinard, “but he stood his ground and proved those naysayers wrong. Now we’re a strong, robust group, and the model for the forum has been replicated in other communities. ”

“One of the biggest success stories about the Forum is that it still exists, and it is still relevant today,” said Rinard. “It has stayed stable as an organization, and it still matters. The fact that it has spun off organizations in other communities shows how the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum serves as a model for cooperation—and that’s a huge deal.”

Member News

Looking Back: Tom Newhouse on Design for the Environment and Collaboration

Tom Newhouse

When Tom Newhouse of Thomas J. Newhouse -Design began his career in industrial design in the 1970’s, sustainable features were not easy to market to customers. While industrial design leaders such as Herman Miller and Steelcase had been operating their businesses with a sense of environmental and social stewardship from their beginnings, their practices were not the norm. “It was a battle for a while to design—to even mention to a client—that something was going to be greener,” he said. “’It’s going to cost more,’ they’d say, ‘And nobody cares!’ Mention it to the marketing department, and they’d balk.”

Since that time, however, Newhouse has seen the idea of “Designing for the Environment” grow hand in hand with the sustainable business movement—and the work of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. “It started to be—and this is pure triple bottom line thinking—potentially profitable to be greener,” said Newhouse.

At the time WMSBF was founded in the early 1990s, Newhouse had already dedicated not only his design practice, but his lifestyle to reducing his impact on the environment: his home and studio, designed and built in 1978 by Tom and his wife Jill, was conceived to be as energy efficient and low-impact as possible; much like the objects he was designing. The idea of business collaboration, especially in the field of ecological design and sustainability, pulled in Newhouse. “Sustainability cannot be accomplished alone, the whole society has to pull together to make it happen,” said Newhouse. “The Business Forum is the same sort of idea, but with the opportunity to network within West Michigan about sustainability. That local-mindedness—that’s what intrigued me.”

“The main idea was to learn from each other,” continued Newhouse.

Soon after the first initial meetings of the Forum, several members consolidated their efforts as the WMSBF Design Work Group, later becoming the Design Committee. With a focus on continuing and developing the idea of sustainable product development in West Michigan, they worked to design a guide that could provide a tangible tool for product manufacturers and designers to be more sustainable.

The result of this brainstorming and collaboration was the West Michigan Sustainable Businesses Forum’s “Designing Products with Sustainable Attributes” guide. First released in 1999, following up the Concise Self Assessment Guide to Sustainable Commerce, this guidebook provided an environmental impact matrix [EIM] through which a product could be comprehensively graded on its design from a life cycle thinking focus, taking factors such as raw materials specification and energy use, hazardous materials generated from manufacture, recycling possibilities for the product at the end of life, and even worker safety into consideration. The end result of such study would be a quantitative score that product designers and companies could use to benchmark the impact of their products.

While today, many software systems can assist with doing life cycle assessments and developing such analyses, the WMSBF Environmental Impact Matrix was an important development at the time for quantifying environmental data about products and companies. Over time, “Designing Products with Sustainable Attributes” has been utilized by many businesses and shared through numerous organizations, including the Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability and the University of Illinois.

“In some ways, these tools were rudimentary, but not for the time they weren’t—we were that early in adopting these concepts,” said Newhouse, who served on the committee when the Matrix was developed. “Our little old West Michigan forum was turning out stuff as good or better than what anybody else had going on.”

According to Newhouse, the spirit of collaboration around sustainability that allowed such collaboration to happen is an inherent, important quality that’s unique to WMSBF that allows it to produce results. “I’ll never forget a Nike guy spoke at one of our annual conferences,” said Newhouse. “He was just completely blown away about the collaborative relationship between direct competitors to a sustainable West Michigan. Similar industry leaders, like Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford at the time—they weren’t talking to each other It was anathema in those early days to talk to anyone you were in direct competition with, to talk to somebody at GM when you were at Ford. You just couldn’t do that.”

“Sustainability is a whole systems thinking issue, and we have to apply these changes as a market segment,” he continued. “We’ve been able to do that with the furniture industry in West Michigan, and the recycling industry. Those things happen because all of us are doing these things together.”