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Sustainability Conference Expects Sell-out
With its theme, The Future of Commerce: Sustainable Solutions for Business, the two-day event will look to capitalize on the state's growing interest in green building and sustainable solutions. In addition to examining the new economy's triple-bottom line of financial, ecological and social stakeholders, companies will learn innovative supply chain processes and how to align the principles of business with ways to protect the environment.
Keynote speakers include preservationist and Wall Street banker Theodore Roosevelt IV, Cascade Engineering founder and CEO Fred Keller, Interface Inc. founder and Chairman Ray Anderson, and Green Business Network founder Joel Makower.
"I think I'll make the business case for sustainability," Anderson said from his Interface headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. "I'll frame that with a couple of trends — one, the demise of the biosphere, the major culprit of that being our industrial systems, and then the trend in the other direction, this rising sense of ethics that has extended into environmental ethics.
"At the nexus of those two trends is a business case for sustainability."
Ten years ago,
"We've been going up this path for 10 years; it's a very tall mountain,"
"We're finding a receptive market. Our customers put us on the path to begin with by asking what our company was doing for the environment. We didn't have answers, so we set out to find some answers or create some."
"That's the floor," he said. "It's about going way beyond compliance and we're winning the goodwill of the marketplace in doing so; and we're reducing costs, not increasing costs, and our products are better than they have ever been."
With its focus on commercial furniture and the built environment, Anderson believes Grand Rapids is in a strong position to profit from the sustainable business movement and in particular the green building market spearheaded by the U.S. Green Building Council.
WMSBF President and Interface Fabrics Divisional Vice President Mark LaCroix believes the region's sustainable business opportunities aren't limited to green building.
"I really think that in
The perception of sustainable business has always conjured up thoughts of regulations and added cost, LaCroix noted, but the companies leading the movement have used sustainability to drive costs out of their business. Lean manufacturing is a perfect example: Many of its core tenets overlap those of sustainable business.
LaCroix said the forum has built solutions-focused programming for the conference.
"We want people to walk out of the conference with practical ideas that they can apply to their business the next day," he said. "It isn't about encouraging people to make bad business decisions; it's about making good business decisions that just happen to be good for the community and the environment."
Cascade Engineering has pioneered the triple-bottom line in
"There are some misperceptions about what sustainable business is about," Keller said. "People often associate sustainable with survivable and the idea that if you're doing sustainable business and building social capital, you are taking away from your economic capital.
"But this is not something way off on the left side of the political spectrum. It's just good business."
He will speak about diminishing natural resources, cradle-to-cradle technology,
"We're expecting a sellout crowd for the conference," said Tom Leonard, executive director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. "I'm hoping we can use a successful conference and the sellout crowd to help position the whole state of