An environmentalist and proud of it

March 5, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Lisa Locke isn't an ordained minister but she's the fervent type of environmentalist who can deliver a thought-provoking sermon on the topic — and has literally done so.

Locke, the administrator and sole staff of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, has delivered several of what she calls "sermons" at both Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Muskegon.

"I did an entire 'sermon' on water," she said, "and another with an environmental theme."

Recently, when she opened a new e-mail account, she impulsively put down her e-mail name as im2bwater.

Most of the human body is water, and that, plus a handful of elements, is what each of us are destined to be again someday, albeit in a freer form.

Locke is a thinker, a writer and a doer. She and her brother went trekking in the wilds of the Himalayas for days on end, climbing to an altitude of 17,000 feet. That was just four years ago, when she was in her early 50s.

"What an incredible experience," recalled Locke. "So far removed from the daily tug of family, friends, work and the distractions of daily living. Once the 'monkey mind' is quieted, a certain cleansing takes place. And with it comes a heightened sense of awe, humility and renewed devotion to something larger than yourself."

Later this year or next, she'll be visiting her daughter in Ecuador, where she is works as a member of the Peace Corps.

Locke is dedicated to helping businesses in West Michigan learn how to be sustainable and socially responsible in ways that can only help their "triple bottom line," defined as diligent attention to a balanced focus on social, environmental and economic issues. A company that adheres to the triple bottom line principle should strive to make a positive impact on the society it is part of and the environment it touches and to be financially successful.

Locke is the product of a father who was a socially conscientious businessman and a mother who was the president of the League of Women Voters. She was born in Detroit, but her parents, Bud and Jerry Locke, moved to the Grand Rapids area when she was a young child.

Her father and two partners started an office copier business in Grand Rapids when that technology was brand new. He also was one of the first environmentalists in the area and was concerned with social justice issues, as well, said Locke — to the point that he was president of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He started a paper recycling project in Ada in the 1970s and became so well-known for his desire to protect the environment that the Bud Locke Arboretum in Ada Township Park is named for him.

Lisa Locke
Lisa Locke LLC
Title: Principal
Age: 57
Birthplace: Detroit
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Two children, two stepchildren and four grandchildren.
Business Community Organizations: West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum; board of Grand Rapids Urban League; North Country Trail Association; Grand Rapids Community Sustainability Partnership leadership team; Progressive Women's Alliance.
Biggest Career Break: Being advised to volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

Locke said her parents "provided roots and wings and inspiration. They lived their convictions and challenged me to do the same."

Locke studied psychology at Michigan State University in the early 1970s, and later took life enrichment courses at Aquinas College, although she did not receive a degree.

Her first real job was as a social worker in the oncology unit of Butterworth Hospital in the late 1970s. Later, she worked as a file clerk/typist in accounts receivable at Interstate Motor Freight, then went back to work at Butterworth where she was a secretary/receptionist and administrative secretary in the respiratory care department.

From the late 1980s to the late 1990s, she was employed as an administrator at Fountain Street Church.

Locke always enjoyed writing and decided to put serious effort into that from 1997 through 2001, which included working as a freelance writer for the religion section of The Grand Rapids Press.

She also did volunteer work as a community activist, helping coordinate and advance local efforts to legalize physician aid to individuals who are dying. That work involved participating in group presentations, writing material in support of physician aid for the dying, making media appearances and participating in public forums on the issue.

Locke said she was struggling to make a freelance writing career pay the bills and wasn't sure what to do. Finally, she decided to volunteer her services to see where that would lead her, but wasn't sure where to go to volunteer. Locke decided to talk to her long-time friend, John R. Hunting, who is on the board of the Dyer-Ives Foundation.

Hunting recommended she volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, which she did. Within days, the WMEAC director informed Locke that she would soon be leaving the organization and suggested there might be a permanent opening there for Locke.

"A few months later, I was employed" at WMEAC as administrative coordinator, said Locke. After three years, WMEAC created the new position of associate director, which Locke held from 2004 through 2007. Part of her duties were to support the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, which had been housed at WMEAC since its establishment in 1994.

In 2007, Locke joined Sustainable Research Group in Grand Rapids as a project manager and coordinator for the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.

In 2009, the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum established itself as a separate nonprofit organization independent of WMEAC.

Locke was evolving, too, and soon established her own small business as an independent contractor: Lisa Locke LLC — Weaving Natural Connections.

In August 2010, the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum announced that Locke had been contracted to serve as administrator for the organization.

"Lisa is deeply respected throughout the sustainability community and brings a rich history of past work with the Forum," said Forum President Gayle DeBruyn, at the time. "Her passion and enthusiasm for the work of the Forum are contagious and will certainly bring a renewed energy to our work."

The Forum is a network of businesses, institutions and individuals dedicated to promoting business practices that demonstrate environmental stewardship, economic vitality and social responsibility through education and collaboration.

"I'm so impressed and inspired by this group of people who are sincerely committed to what they're doing and having a great impact. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie among them," Locke said.

She is the only paid staff for the WMSBF, and although it is not a full-time job, you could say Locke always takes her work home with her: She works from her home, and since the Forum has no real estate of its own, it is, for all practically purposes, based at Locke's home.

"I like this working out of my house," she said.

Locke still writes, too; recently, she was involved in producing a sustainability brochure for American Seating.

When Locke was with the Sustainable Research Group, she was heavily involved in work on social responsibility policies and projects for business. That included work on the new BIFMA standards for social responsibility within the office furniture industry. Those standards refer to employee health and safety management; labor and human rights; policy on social responsibility; inclusiveness; community outreach and involvement; social responsibility reporting; and supply chain management.

The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum will hold an interesting meeting in March involving Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and the head of the city's Office of Energy & Sustainability. The city received a Block Grant in 2009 to help a greenhouse gas reduction project.

The WMSBF has five active committees. The Energy Committee is working on a comprehensive energy assessment guide for business, including small companies, which should be released this spring. The Sustainable Design Committee is trying to get area college students involved in sustainability projects, which they will document and videotape. The Membership & Marketing Committee is working on creation of a speakers bureau representing the Forum.

Locke said she has a passion for the potential of the written word to "educate and inspire." She most enjoys writing about "very practical business ways to help business be more sustainable, to incorporate things that are actually going to help their bottom line," she said.

"If I can put all those things together — the social justice, the natural world and the writing — then I'll be a happy camper," she said.

There are daunting environmental challenges facing the human race, said Locke, and they "affect every aspect of our lives. We have to believe we can make a difference. We can't delude ourselves into thinking small steps are going to get us there.

"So I wrestle with, how do we gain a longer-term perspective? How do we motivate ourselves to make that extra effort, or take that extra risk?

"My children and my grandchildren are the lights of my life. I start there. How do I inspire them to explore and delight in the natural world around them? The more we delight in it, the deeper our understanding of its mysteries, the more committed we'll be to protecting it."

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