WMSBF’s partnerships benefit entire region

September 12, 2014
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Grand Rapids businesses can celebrate another milestone with the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, now marking the 20th year of a partnership between area businesses and the environmental sustainability agency.

The Business Journal suggests, however, that the transfer of knowledge that has occurred was the seed for far more community achievements beyond those attributed to “environmental efforts.”

Just as the word “sustainability” has come to represent much more than its environmental definition, appreciation for the legacy of the WMSBF must be seen as far more broad.

A board of directors’ member since its founding, Bill Stough, president and CEO of Sustainable Research Group, noted that the goal of the organization was to find the areas where business and environmental organizations could agree and focus on those. He told the Business Journal, “The Business Forum, I think for the first time, said let’s look at proactive things — what can we start doing today that will prevent those bad things from happening tomorrow?”

That, too, was the successful model for the public-private partnerships made most famous by Grand Action, and roughly in the same time period. The city skyline, urban energy and the Medical Mile are the result.

The ability of Mayor George Heartwell to convey the importance of sustainability in all city services was certainly made more possible and better understood through the groundwork laid by WMSBF and its initial parent organization, West Michigan Environmental Action Agency. Public appreciation for the efforts was surely heightened in 2013 when the Grand River flooded its banks, and residents from throughout the region worked without being asked, from sandbagging through cleanup.

A better understanding of sustainability models and environmental science has been documented as part of the creativity of new manufacturing products and processes throughout the West Michigan business community.

In fact, Stough’s comment, “Let’s not fight about what we don’t agree on, but let’s work on the things we do agree on,” should be conveyed to the state and the U.S. legislative houses. His fellow board member, David Rinard, director of global environmental performance at Steelcase Inc., noted: “You grow your understanding and begin to develop appreciation for what it’s like to walk in the other guy’s shoes, and when you do that, you focus on solving problems rather than throwing rocks at each other.”

There is more to celebrate than the anniversary date; it’s that “partnership thing.”

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