Sustainable practices require sustained federal protections

April 25, 2011
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The myriad of activities associated with Earth Day last week encompassed everything from riverbank cleanups to spotlights on LEED certifications for a variety of building projects. Less than a decade ago, it was still a term relegated to the imagery of a tree hugger. Even last week, one seminar title was “Sustainability: Trend or Fad?” which speaks to those who cling to old ways in a new economy era. It is important to note here that many of the “founding fathers” of the national LEED specifications as well as the forerunners to sustainability efforts are here in West Michigan.

This and the “Next Generation” have been profoundly affected by the book “Silent Spring” by Rachael Carlson, although the fruits of such long labor of environmental education now are more easily seen. It may be interesting to note here, too, that what one generation eschews as “liberal” another sees as fundamental to economic well-being, and certainly the principles of sustainability have direct impact. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell’s now-decade-old mission to create Green Grand Rapids has provided a model for other mayors across the country, and created many new initiatives and events.

Business Journal reporting in this issue also makes a point that even during a recession, such investments have continued. Notable achievements were marked by the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine for its LEED Gold certification, announced last week. Van Andel Institute also learned its phase two building program was granted LEED Platinum certification, and the Detroit Free Press named Nichols Paper and Supply in Muskegon to its 2011 Michigan Green Leader Awards list as a mid-size business winner.

Herman Miller founder D.J. DePree saw company sustainability efforts as “being a good corporate neighbor” in 1953. Last year, the furniture company set a milestone: 100 percent of electrical energy used in all its facilities worldwide is generated from renewable sources.

Steelcase also has adopted sustainability as a way of life, and the founder’s scion, Peter Wege, is an international example, especially of philanthropic funding for sustainable projects. It was Wege who gave the world its first LEED certified museum: the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Long-term examples also have been provided by Amway, and almost all of the region’s business leaders. The reach to sustainable practices encompasses both buildings and everyday products.

When Carson’s book was published in 1962, rivers, quite memorably, caught on fire. Although a meticulous scientist, Carlson was declared a “hysterical woman” and her long and credentialed career was derided by corporations producing DDT. President John F. Kennedy directed his Science Advisory Committee to investigate, which vindicated Carlson and led to regulations in the chemical industry.

The long and arduous road the people of this country have traveled to assure that spring is not silent cannot be allowed to become buried by the current attempts that assail the Environmental Protection Agency and policies hard-learned. The ignorant cannot be abided.

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