Sustainable Business Forum Growing

August 29, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Fourteen years ago, many business executives would probably have drawn a total blank at the word "sustainability."

Now, with energy costs and the threat of damage to the worldwide environment part of daily newscasts, just about everybody, in or outside of business, knows the meaning of sustainability and its critical role in commerce, government, education — in fact, just about everything that helps shape the future.

Fourteen years after its founding as a program of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum is still growing and its roots are spreading throughout West Michigan.

"In the last year or so, our growth has been tremendous," said Marylu Dykstra, president of the board of WMSBF since May. She makes her living as the principal of Sirius Resources LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in strategic planning, marketing and process methodologies, and training design.

Sustainable Event
Set For Kalamazoo

KALAMAZOO — The 12th annual Sustainable Business Conference of Michigan is slated for Nov. 13 at the Western Michigan University Fetzer Center. It will feature Andrew Winston, co-author of "Green to Gold," a popular book about sustainable business practices.

The event will also feature speakers Jerome Ringo of Apollo Appliance and Tom Easterday of Subaru, along with other industry leaders and innovators involved in business practices that demonstrate environmental stewardship, economic vitality and social responsibility. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been invited to participate.

The registration fee is $100 for Sustainable Business Forum members, $125 for nonmembers and $25 for students. See


Dykstra estimates that the WMSBF has added somewhere between 15 to 25 new members in the past year, for a total of about 100 organizations.

"Our membership is mixed," she said. "We have a variety of companies but also academic and government representation, as well as nonprofit organizations — although we are really defined by bringing sustainability into the business world."

The group has close ties with government, academia and nonprofits because "what they do is important to us, and so we learn from them. It just helps make our organization stronger through the diverse knowledge that each organization brings."

This includes organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Grand Rapids Community College — both of which have involved a team from the WMSBF in a hands-on project to renovate a Habitat house in Grand Rapids this fall.

Gayle DeBruyn, a WMSBF member and a partner at Lake Affect Design Studio in Grand Rapids, is co-chair of the business forum's new design committee. The group recently met with representatives of GRCC's M-TEC, which is now offering construction trades training to GRCC students. This fall, an M-TEC class will get hands-on experience renovating a four-bedroom home at 756 Hogan St. SW. The house belongs to Habitat for Humanity and will be turned over to a low-income family when the work is completed at the end of the fall semester.

DeBruyn said the WMSBF group has worked with Habitat for Humanity in the past. "We're looking to help with best practices in remodeling projects" that the GRCC M-TEC students get involved in, she said.

By "best practices," she means those that support sustainability — which will add up to an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, safe and healthful home for its occupants.

Within the membership of the WMSBF are "many folks involved in all aspects of the construction process, as well as products that have applications to construction and remodeling," said DeBruyn.

DeBruyn, who also serves on the board of directors of the WMSBF, said the project at 756 Hogan will be "a significant renovation to upgrade the home for all requirements that will meet LEED for home certification. We're not sure how high (in the LEED rating) we're going to get on that yet; it's still in the analysis stage. But it seems achievable to get to a Gold."

She noted that there are some challenging constraints on how much can be spent on a Habitat house because the homes have to be affordable. But the house will get new siding, new windows and Energy Star-rated appliances.

The WMSBF design committee is just one of several new committees established recently, according to Dykstra. That came out of a new strategic plan that is intended to keep the WMSBF growing in size while increasing its sustainability impact throughout West Michigan.

The committees are putting WMSBF members to work on projects and special studies regarding sustainability in the areas of energy, design, social responsibility, green transportation and other sustainable business practices.

WMSBF is planning for the future by focusing on four key priorities: build, lead, educate and initiate, said Dykstra.

"The building part is building up the number of individuals and organizations in West Michigan that are committed to the triple bottom line."

The triple bottom line is the growing emphasis on every company's or organization's awareness of its environmental and social responsibilities, in addition to its financial performance. The triple bottom line is "a different way of measuring your success," said Dykstra. Bottom line profitability alone is no longer enough in the global economy, where corporate results in one place can have a profound impact on the quality of life in other parts of the world.

"The leading (priority) is: We want to lead by example. We have a lot of resources, but we also believe in working collaboratively with other groups," she said.

"Some businesses or organizations may be very far ahead in their sustainability efforts, while others are just beginning. So it's almost like mentoring. By being able to network together, different organizations can learn from one another."

Sustainability in design can pertain to "everything from a product to a building" — which is why the Habitat for Humanity project was a natural focus for the new design committee.

The social responsibility committee has worked with a group of Aquinas College students who researched and created what they call a "social responsibility primer," which the committee hopes will provide some key information for WMSBF members.

There are at least four other Sustainable Business Forums in Michigan: one each in the southeast and southwest corners of the state, one in central Michigan and one in the Traverse City region.

"West Michigan is probably the largest and most active group," said Dykstra — but then she quickly added that the Southwest Michigan Sustainable Business Forum is growing, too.

"They're doing a fabulous job," she said.

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