Human Resources, Nonprofits, and Sustainability

Local First takes program statewide

Good for Michigan will aim to help more businesses measure impact, commit to triple bottom line.

October 5, 2018
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Grand Rapids-based At Your Service Valet, which also has locations in Ann Arbor, Flint and Traverse City, was one of the first statewide businesses to take the QIA. Courtesy At Your Service Valet 

Local First is taking its year-old Good for Grand Rapids program statewide to help more businesses measure and improve their social, environmental and economic impact.

The Grand Rapids-based economic development nonprofit said last month that it is rolling out Good for Michigan as an umbrella program over Good for Grand Rapids, which launched in 2017. It will give companies statewide access to best practices, workshops, events and the Quick Impact Assessment, a free baseline sustainability assessment for businesses developed by Local First with the nonprofit B Lab.

The QIA has been adopted by organizations similar to Local First all over the nation as the first step in helping businesses becoming certified benefit corporations, or B Corps.

Since Local First created the QIA, hundreds of West Michigan companies have completed it, and the number of certified B Corps in the region has increased from seven to 17.

Elissa Sangalli Hillary, Local First president, said the organization always planned to expand Good for Grand Rapids statewide.

“As we’ve been growing the Good for Grand Rapids campaign, we received a lot of interest from companies along the lakeshore, in Ann Arbor and others up north who have become B Corp certified or who have used the Quick Impact Assessment and are interested in accessing additional resources,” Hillary said. “We decided to take the plunge and make it a statewide effort with the ability to serve those companies around the state.”

She said the Good for Grand Rapids program — supported by the city of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Wege Foundation through the Local First Educational Foundation — costs about $225,000 per year. The Michigan edition will have a separate budget, but the projected cost was not immediately available.

Local First on Oct. 2 said it hired Alice Jasper as its new sustainable business program manager, who will lead Good for Michigan programming.

The Grand Rapids version of the program will continue to run educational programming and honor top scorers in several categories on the QIA at the annual Good for Grand Rapids awards.

“Our hope is the other communities will be so inspired they will want to replicate that effort and have the same kind of programming in their places,” Hillary said.

Meanwhile, anyone from Michigan is welcome to attend the events and workshops offered in Grand Rapids and on the lakeshore.

Ariel Christy works in administration and sales for Grand Rapids-based At Your Service Valet, which also has locations in Ann Arbor, Flint and Traverse City, employing 70 people statewide.

She took the QIA on behalf of her organization in February and said although gaining B Corp status is something the business would like to attain “in a perfect world,” for now, it is using the assessment as a benchmark to improve its performance throughout the year. Then, when the new year rolls around, At Your Service Valet will take the assessment again and try to beat its previous score.

“Each year, we can pick topics and tackle them,” Christy said. “Instead of trying to become a certified B Corp all in one go, let’s pick a thing or two and work on it so we can evaluate our impact in our community and the communities around us.”

Ideas she listed for lessening the company’s carbon footprint include replacing paper valet tickets with an app service and making sure the office space it leases has environmentally friendly lighting and waste management.

From the “people” side of the triple bottom line — people, planet and profits — Christy said her company hopes having the designation boosts employees’ pride in their company and helps attract workers who care about the Good for Michigan/Good for Grand Rapids designation.

“If we have that endorsement as a potential employer or current employer, it helps them take pride in their workplace as a place trying to make a difference and do the right thing,” she said.

Christy said she believes her company was one of the first with a statewide presence to take Local First’s QIA. She said At Your Service Valet is taking what it has learned and grown with it, and she hopes other businesses take advantage of Good for Michigan, as well.

“There are a lot of businesses that would gain knowledge and experience from it,” she said. “It’s to benchmark and gain awareness of what you can fix. I think as it spreads, it’s just better for everyone in the end.”

Mary O’Neill, business manager at Atomic Object, said as a Local First board member for the past four years, she was part of the initial conversations about starting Good for Grand Rapids and Good for Michigan.

Hillary persuaded O’Neill to take the QIA for Atomic Object because of her “strong hunch” the tech firm with offices in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor would qualify as a B Corp.

“We took the Quick Impact Assessment and realized we were likely to do well on the full assessment,” O’Neill said. “When capacity was strong last summer to do so, I freed up my schedule to take the full assessment, and we were certified as a B Corp in December 2017.”

She said the primary benefit of becoming officially committed to the triple bottom line is the realization that the company’s impact extends well beyond its front door.

“Good for Grand Rapids has given us the language that we’re not just here to create profit for our shareholders; we’re here to create a ‘shared and durable prosperity’ for all our stakeholders,” O’Neill said, quoting B Lab.

“How can we do good for our employees, our clients and our neighbors in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor? Our presence across state, east to west, and how can we have a positive impact on our neighbors?”

She said she expects the expanded initiative to benefit all of Michigan.

“The more the word is out, (the goal with) this concept of being ‘good for’ or participating in the B Corp movement is just to expand and include as many companies as we can,” she said. “That just has to have the ripple effect of creating benefits for all those companies or those who purchase from them or sell to them.”

O’Neill said a “shared” economy doesn’t mean a lack of competition among businesses. It’s about how businesses use their profits.

“There’s no denying competition,” she said. “But I see profits as a very important fuel in our ability to do good, not just for our shareholders but for our broad set of stakeholders.”

Hillary said Good for Michigan is meant to be a holistic form of economic development.

“This campaign is really about engaging businesses in thinking through the full health of communities and the health of economies, employees and the environment in which we do business,” she said.

“We have seen businesses make significant changes that are improving the health of their business, the retention of their employees and (spurring) better decisions for our community and environment. We are really excited to share the opportunity for other places that care about their community in other parts of the state, to share in that impact.”

Businesses that want to learn more about Good for Michigan and to access resources can visit goodfor.org.

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