Well this was supposed to be my Christmas post but I got a little sidetracked (thanks Spearia).
West Michigan is known nationwide for being a very charitable region. In fact according to the Grand Rapids Convention & Visitors Bureau, West Michigan ranks as the second most generous place in the nation for charitable giving. (anyone have a better link for this study?)
Based on this information and inspired by this extremely cool article from National Geographic “Big Ideas: Little Packages“, I thought I had the makings of an interesting post. The Big Ideas: Little Packages story features products designed to be affordable and to solve solutions in developing countries. Some of the products highlighted are a infant warmer, paper asthma spacer, rolling water container, and solar powered laptops.
Reading about all these great products that solve very serious problems in developing countries, started to remind me of how West Michigan companies are doing their part to provide solutions as well. Of course with West Michigan’s background in charitable giving it should come as no suprise that our areas innovations extend far beyond just donating dollars. Here is a list of some companies/organizations that I have come across:
- Personal Energy Transportation Carts – Some retired seniors from the Holland area began a non-profit venture creating PET carts for children in developing countries, who have lost limbs from landmines. Often times children who have lost limbs have difficulty traveling, because of rough terrain (roads are quite lacking) and these carts enable children to more easily traverse the terrain in their homeland.
- K-Light Solar Lantern – A local West Michigan company PiSAT Solar produces solar lanterns. The company focuses on the “triple bottom line”–economic viability, environmental accountability and social responsibility. To live up to their vision PiSAT Solar along with the Koinonia Foundation started a program of donating one K-Light Solar Lantern (to people in need in developing countries) for every lantern purchased. The Koinonia Foundation provides assistance under a number of their programs, one of which is the Beacon Program, which encourage economic growth and poverty reduction by helping unemployed mothers begin sustainable businesses.
- Boxed Water is Better – This Grand Rapids based company sells water in cardboard containers, which is more environmentally friendly (renewable resource, can be shipped flat, and can be recycled). Additionally, Boxed Water is Better also is quite charitable (but they haven’t donated anything yet, since they have yet to turn a profit), since they will donate 10% of their profit to world water relief foundations, and they will also give an additional 10% to reforestation foundations as well.
- Life Straw – The Life Straw is a portable water filter that can be used at the water source to provide clean drinking water (when drinking water through the straw). Although the company Vestergaard Frandsen is based in Switzerland, they have leveraged a West Michigan company to create a video for them. Creo Productions created a video for Life Straw (bottom , left corner of page). It’s an interesting story in that Aaron Carriere (co-founder of Cre0) got sick in Ecuador, and wanted to do something about the global unclean water problem and reached out to Vestergaard Frandsen, with an offer to help create a video for Life Straw.
- SCR Michigan – Native Ghanaian and owner of SCR Michigan, a Kalamazoo computer repair shop, Stephen Opoku has also begun to donate computers to his native Ghana through the Global Host Project, which is building a center to train Ghanaians on computers. Stephen is looking for any computer donations, so that he could fix them and send them back to his native country. Read more about this story here.
- ELEMENTAL – So this is a late addition to the bunch, but the ELEMENTAL Project is an online magazine devoted to covering the “good news”. Four guys founded this company in Grand Rapids as a avenue to “showcase positive stories, and promote cause based businesses, charities, and individuals who are actively helping others. By publishing these unheard stories we’re hoping to inspire involvement and bridge the gap between people with resources and those in need.” They have some cool stories on their about positive things, which is much better than what you usually get in your local paper.
It is great to find people combining West Michigan strengths in charitable giving and in innovation. Very inspiring, and I just wish there were more examples from our area, because all of the products highlighted by the National Geographic article are amazing in their relatively simple design, and how they solve such a huge problem. So what did I miss?
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend an event over at one Haworth Center in Holland, MI. Of course this was at Haworth, and all I have to say is Wow. What an amazing building and workspace, granted I only saw a small section of the building, but I was still impressed. Haworth pulled out all the stops for this building, hell the pond in front even had swans, not Canadian geese but swans! Anyways for more information on the building visit this website. The website gives you a virtual tour of the building while highlighting the sustainable design features, organic workspaces and workplace insights which is quite fascinating. Again if you ever have the opportunity to visit One Haworth Center, I highly recommend that you do.
I have been sitting on this story for awhile (it came out in May 2009) about a Kent County landfill being tapped for its methane gases and converting them to electricity to power area homes. This reminded me of a local company taking advantage of a landfill’s gases. Zeeland Farm Services uses methane gas from nearby Autumn Hills (what a beautiful name, good job marketing) landfill to power its operations. Zeeland Farm Services is synonymous with soybeans – anything soybean, just look at their website , they even make a great cooking oil called Zoye (this is one product which I actually have tried, though I am unsure how to pronounce it – ZOIL, Zoee, Zo-YE).
In 2005 ZFS, North American National Resources (owns the compression station), and Waste Management (owns the landfill) worked together to build a “landfill gas pipeline/compression station project that carries methane gas from the Autumn Hills Landfill to the ZFS soybean processing plant over six miles to the Northwest”. Looks like some money exchanged hands since ZFS quoted that payback for the project is in the 6-10 year range. This arrangement most likely is cheaper than having to pay for electricity, not to mention they are getting plenty of good public relations (here and here) with the whole green and sustainability movement going on. Previous to this pipeline being built, the methane was just burned off and wasted, and now looking at some of the environmental impact statistics that ZFS produced what an impressive change. Couple that with the fact that some of ZFS fleet of trucks runs on biodiesels you have an local area company doing some pretty progressive environmental initiatives. Well done.
I wonder how many landfill have these sorts of agreements with companies and if this will be a continuing trend going further. To me it would seem like a no brainer to partner up with local companies and work out an agreement, which makes both of you look good in the public eye and which would earn money (or save money after payback) for a previously wasted asset. Maybe there just are not enough businesses nearby landfills, in my opinion it would stink to be close to one.
In early July, Spartan Foods (Family Fare, D&W, etc) launched their version of the Buy Local movement – Michigan’s Best campaign to promote 2,400 Michigan made or grown products that they sell in their stores. Walking through their stores they have put Michigan’s Best tags next to the price cards by the products(see image). So they definitely made it easy for passive or active buy local consumers to purchase these goods in the store. It is commendable for Spartan to be doing this because the buy local movement has been growing and more people have started to adapt to this mentality to support their community in this difficult economic time. Generally associated with the Buy Local movement are small retailers (one location) or local farmers, and farmers markets. Some people are starting to avoid the supermarkets (at least for produce) and shop at farmers markets, or grow their own. The Michigan’s Best campaign takes that buy local movement and moves it into a supermarket environment, which usually the last thing that comes to mind when you think local. This allows people with noble intentions (buying local, supporting local businesses) to support this cause quite easily just by visiting the store. For a list of products under this campaign check out this PDF. But the campaign does have its gray area. For example go down the soda aisle and you will see Michigan’s Best signs everywhere, for the obvious Faygo, then going to the gray areas like Dr. Pepper/7-Up products, Coca Cola, and Pepsi products. I am guessing that national brands are bottled here in Michigan, so it is somewhat produced in the state, but I would have to question whether or not the revenues from those products would stay in the state. Now the next major question is whether or not all the Spartan branded products are part of the Michigan’s Best campaign, because although only 20% of Spartan branded products are made in Michigan, but buying any of their products benefit Spartan Foods (I guess this is another homework assignment).
Now let’s take a look at how they are rolling out this program – They have a devoted section on their website, which gives an introduction to the benefits of buying local. Next they have a list of companies and farms (with video links on the farmers talking about their products – nice human element touch) which are made in Michigan, and finally they have their shopping list (which does not seem to be very helpful but it is a starting point, and it is better than telling people to just look for Michigan’s Best logo.) Additionally, it is stated that they will have product demonstrations done by the manufacturers on the locally made products. Lastly, in their weekly circular in the Sunday paper, they identify the items on sale that week which are made in Michigan.
Now what else could they do? Jump out of the box with me and think about this: Have Spartan set up a stand at the local area farmers markets (Fulton Street, Holland, amongst others). They would be selling produce while having a chance to highlight what farms are supplying the food, and their store and the Michigan’s Best campaign would be exposed to a crowd, who are likely embracing the buying local movement and therefore may have begun to not shop as much at supermarket stores, and may begin to view Spartan Stores as an ally. They can even offer a sneak peek as to what fresh produce will be on sale next week at their stores. By rotating which market they would participate on a weekly basis, they can increase their exposure and get the message out that “Hey we sell local food too, check us out!” Of course this idea may all be for naught because the market organizers may not allow a grocer to set up a booth, in that case just set it up in the parking lot.