Manufacturing workers

How MI Employers Are Focusing on Sustainability and Stewardship

Leaders at four companies based in or with significant presence in Michigan recently shared their company’s efforts to focus on corporate sustainability and stewardship.

Moderator Patti Poppe, president and CEO, Consumers Energy and CMS Energy, led the discussion at this week’s Mackinac Policy Conference. Poppe is the chair of this year’s event. She was joined by Alicia Boler Davis, vice president, Global Customer Fulfillment at Amazon; Jim Fitterling, CEO at Dow; and Christina Keller, president and CEO, Cascade Engineering Family of Companies.

Poppe and Keller both spoke of their commitment to the “triple bottom line”, a measure that looks not only at a company’s profitability, but also at how it’s developing its people and protecting the planet. Panelists agreed that sustainability and stewardship can’t be one-time initiatives, but rather must be embedded into corporate strategy.

Protecting the Planet

For their part, Fitterling said Dow is a big manufacturer of plastics and the company feels a responsibility to ensure they are reused when possible. Because many are hard to recycle, Dow has been working with Hefty to develop the Hefty EnergyBag, a solution that would allow people to easily send their hard-to-recycle plastics to a facility that would be able to handle it. In order for the fix to work, Fitterling said a throwaway mentality has to be overcome with the aim of creating a circular economy. Instead of throwing away and clogging up landfills, the goal should be to create new products out of the old.

At Amazon, Boler Davis said the company is working toward a goal that 50% of shipped packages would have a net zero carbon environmental impact by the year 2030. The company is also working to make their sustainability data easily accessible to other companies looking to follow their lead.

Developing People

At Cascade Engineering, a returning worker program gives those who have spent time in jail a second chance and is opening up an important talent pipeline for the West Michigan manufacturer. Keller explained that felons often have little to no opportunities when they leave prison, which often means they go right back to jail. Offering opportunity builds loyalty and draws people to manufacturing careers, which aren’t always looked at favorably by young people graduating from high school.

Making sure employees feel valued and included is key at Dow, Fitterling said. Diversity and inclusion efforts help diverse hires feel like they belong, he explained.

“Diversity is being invited to the party,” he said. “Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

“Belonging is when they play your song,” Boler Davis added.

The Importance of Policy

Poppe concluded the panel talk by asking how policymakers could support the work being done by employers. All agreed that more focus needs to be placed on the importance of STEM education to develop employees ready for careers in manufacturing and other sectors.

“It’s needed as early as possible,” Bolder Davis said.

Fitterling said infrastructure to support a circular economy when it comes to recycling is needed and Keller expressed a desire to see Michigan follow the lead of other states in creating a legally recognized designation for certified B Corporations, which invest profits back into communities, employees and the environment.

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Photo credit: kupicoo

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