Sustainable Business Forum Ties Business Environment

June 19, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — A movement has begun to stir local businesses to look at a triple bottom line. Gone are the days of worrying solely about money; now CEOs worry about impact on the environment, employees’ well-being and, of course, profitability.

That’s where The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum comes in. The group was formed in 1994 through a partnership between the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) and businesses in the area interested in continuously improving their environmental performance to meet development principles.

Bill Stough, vice president of BLDI Environmental & Safety Management, is leading the effort, which touts the implementation of sustainable development business practices in area businesses. “Currently there are no sustainable (environmentally friendly) businesses, but there are those that are working towards it,” Stough said, “and that is what the award is being given for.”

The award Stough speaks of is the annual Sustainable Business Award, which is given to a local business that has made significant strides in reaching its environmental goals. The award will be presented at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 8, during the group’s annual meeting at Bridgewater Place.

On Oct. 9, the Forum will host its annual Sustainable Business Forum Conference, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Grand Valley State University’s Loosemore Auditorium. The event features programs on sustainable business, an overview of companies in West Michigan that have embraced the process and a presentation on “Biomimicry” by Janine Benyus.

Benyus, an author and biologist, explains biomimicry as a “new science that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems.” One example would be studying a leaf in an effort to invent a better solar cell. She said the core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems with which scientists grapple today.

This trend has begun to spread into new businesses, sometimes even before the building is constructed, Stough said. One component is designing buildings that have a lower environmental impact than their predecessors and many companies are discovering that being environmentally friendly and economically viable are not mutually exclusive.

In fact, Stough said, businesses that have experimented with environmentally friendly practices have experienced reduced operating costs, reduced capital costs, free marketing and publicity, improved worker health and productivity and new business opportunities.

Stough said there are many barriers when looking to design a sustainable facility, however. More time is required for education, planning and design. Financing is often difficult because bankers are wary of new ideas. Builders lack information on efficient materials, systems and technologies and may be hesitant to try new methods.

When building a sustainable facility, Stough said, businesses must go through five phases: setting and land use; design and energy management; building material selection; construction site management; and operations and maintenance.

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