28 April 2010

2010 Michigan Green Leaders

The Detroit Free Press

16 who are leading the state toward Earth-friendly future

In a world with lots of talk about going green, the Detroit Free Press today honors our inaugural group of Michigan Green Leaders who deliver more efficient vehicles, healthier food, cleaner waterways, greenway paths — and new jobs for a struggling economy.

The 16 leaders will accept their awards on Earth Day Thursday at a sold-out breakfast on Belle Isle. Their contributions are as low-tech as planting trees and recycling trash into art supplies, and as complex as making campuses, industrial sites and a resort into environmental models.

These Green Leaders, selected by a panel of independent judges, range from huge corporations to tiny nonprofits and individuals. They work on land and water, in city and suburb and rural districts. They are united by their passion and persistence in making Michigan a cleaner, greener place to live.

As one of the judges, Rick Plewa, senior vice president for sustainability for Comerica, said, “I was simply amazed at how many people are working on green issues and have been for a long time. It filled me with optimism for Michigan’s future.”

If, in the future, you drive a cleaner car, and enjoy more shade trees and bicycle paths, and swim or fish in a cleaner Detroit River, in many ways you can thank the first-ever class of Free Press Green Leaders.

These real-world impacts on the lives of everyday Michiganders will pay off not only in cleaner air and water, but in new jobs and tax base for the Michigan economy.

The Free Press will honor these 16 individuals, community groups and businesses in the first-ever Michigan Green Leaders awards program at a breakfast on Belle Isle on Thursday -- the 40th annual Earth Day.

By any measure, the sort of green products and strategies fostered by these Green Leaders will play an important part in Michigan's future resurgence.

"I think one can predict that at some point green jobs will definitely become much more important in Michigan," says Timothy Bartik, senior economist with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo.

Charles Ballard, an economist with Michigan State University, agrees.

"A mosaic with many pieces is likely to be what we will get. I think alternative energy and green-economy stuff is likely to be one important part of that," he says.

What is the green economy? In Michigan, it ranges across several fields: Agriculture and natural resource conservation; clean transportation and fuels; increased energy efficiency; pollution prevention or environmental cleanup, and renewable energy production.

The Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth estimates that as of 2009, the state boasted 109,067 private-sector green jobs. Clean transportation and fuels was the largest green economy area in Michigan, composing just over 40% of green jobs and reflecting Michigan's automotive heritage.

Indeed, if Michigan's hopes are fulfilled for leading the nation in developing alternative fuel, hybrid and electric vehicles, that sector could grow significantly.

The state labor economists see a huge potential for growth throughout the green economy. Today, green jobs represent just 3% of Michigan's overall private sector employment of 3.2 million. But from 2005 to 2008, a sample of 358 green-related firms added more than 2,500 jobs to Michigan's economy, an employment expansion rate of 7.7%, compared with a 5.4% average loss in the total Michigan labor market.

And green jobs tend to pay well, too. The state reported that 13 of the top 15 sectors of green employment have weekly wages above the overall private sector weekly average in Michigan.

"Michigan's move to a clean energy, green economy will create all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people. These are the jobs that will reshape our economy and accelerate our recovery," Gov. Jennifer Granholm said last year.

The Free Press Green Leaders practice environmentalism in many different forms and in many places. But they all demand of themselves that they make a difference in real lives, delivering cleaner products as well as cleaner air and water.

Certainly the best known of the Green Leaders is Bill Ford, who has promoted environmentalism inside and outside of Ford Motor long before current concerns over climate change made alternative fuel vehicles a must for all carmakers.

In the 1990s, Ford mused recently, "100% of our effort was to only be compliant with the law." Today, Ford says the company's culture has completely changed as he had long been urging.

"We are going to be the fuel economy leader in every segment that we participate in," Ford says.

Other individual winners show that same lifelong commitment to real-world impacts. Consider John Hartig of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who has worked for many years to restore Detroit River habitats. In no small measure, both wildlife and people are returning to the Detroit River because of efforts like Hartig's to restore the river's ecology.

Or there's the Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services. She improves lives along with the environment, for example, by leading a vocational training effort through which homeless men have collected 40,000 abandoned tires in Detroit and turned them into mud mats that are sold.

Lots of organizations talk about green buildings, but Lawrence Technological University, spurred by a need to reduce its storm water runoff, has become a leader in sustainable design of campus buildings. LTU has integrated these efforts into its architecture and engineering curriculum, furthering the common goal of pushing a greening approach deeper into everyday life.

The winners, all of which are featured in subsequent pages of this section, make a real-world impact on the small scale, too.

Arts & Scraps, based in Detroit, recycles 28 tons of industrial materials per year for use as learning and creative materials. That improves the landscape in the city and helps the next generation of future green leaders.

Nonprofits lead the way in many communities.

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has promoted a healthier urban lifestyle with its support for greenways as a non-motorized transportation system, featuring bicycle lanes and walking paths. As judge Robin Boyle, chair of Wayne State University's department of urban studies and planning, says, "They were there before others."

That could sum up the reasons these individuals, groups and companies are honored as first-ever Green Leaders. They were there before others.

The 2010 Michigan Green Leaders:

    * Arts & Scraps
    * Bill Ford
    * Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
    * Crystal Mountain Resort
    * Green Garage
    * Greening of Detroit
    * Herman Miller
    * John Hartig
    * Lawrence Tech
    * Mind Body & Spirits
    * Orin Gelderloos
    * Shaun Nethercott
    * The Rev. Faith Fowler
    * Thomas Haas
    * WARM
    * Wildlife Habitat Council

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