Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > Champions of Sustainability

Champions of Sustainability

October 2, 2019
Dawson Bell

The catchphrase — “Think globally, act locally” — has long been associated with on-the-ground environmental activism. But today it is just as likely to define a way of doing business and a means of maximizing profitability through resource conservation while contributing to the well-being of the communities in which business gets done. Hundreds of firms operating in Detroit and Michigan, from global giant Toyota Motor Corp. — ranked 16th internationally in Newsweek’s 2017 “Green Rankings” — to smaller businesses like Detroit Grease, which recycles food waste at an industrial scale, are part of the corporate sustainability movement.  

Here’s a quick look at what five Michigan-based leaders in sustainability are doing to protect the planet.  

Devita Davison

Executive Director,

FoodLab Detroit

FoodLab Detroit is dedicated to the triple bottom line. We talk about these things every day…It’s not prescriptive; members don’t sign contracts. But we hope they are inspired.” 

FoodLab Detroit is an association of local food-related businesses. Its 180 members are metro Detroit food entrepreneurs committed to conducting business in ways that contribute to healthy, sustainable, and prosperous communities. Davison says FoodLab was founded in 2012 as a means of coping with the city’s collapsing economy and infrastructure. But as economic conditions improved, she says it has since become more of a “solutions lab” providing support and assistance to members. 


Matt Evans 

Vice President,

Rockford Construction

[Environmental sustainability has] been a part of our culture from the beginning…It’s a priority for us, and it always will be.”  

Environmental sustainability isn’t just a checklist item for commercial building giant Rockford Construction. Rockford incorporates a philosophy of reusing, recycling, and limiting waste throughout the lifecycle of its projects, Evans says, from planning and design through demolition, construction, and use. The goal is to reclaim as much material as possible at the outset and develop facilities, like the 640 Temple project in Detroit, that are environmentally friendly and energy efficient. 


Connie Lilley 

Executive Director,

Detroit 2030

Reducing emissions and waste also reduces costs while building a healthier environment for those who use the building, and for the city and region.” 

Detroit 2030 is on a tight timetable — it’s right there in the title of the organization. It aims to achieve 50% reduction in energy use and water consumption across a broad swath of commercial Detroit real estate by the year 2030. The Detroit affiliate is one of nearly two dozen 2030 Districts across North America, providing consultation, training, and expertise to building owners in urban centers. More than 19 million sq. ft. of space has committed to Detroit 2030 since it launched in 2017, Lilley says, including behemoths like Bedrock and Little Caesars Arena. 


Joe Mceachern 


Detroit Grease

Our goal was to figure out a way to make a living with minimal environmental impact. It’s a tough business, but it’s definitely working out for us.”  

Detroit Grease co-founders Joe McEachern and Gabe Jones took a roundabout path to a sustainable business model. Creative arts students in college and traveling musicians thereafter, they toured in a box truck converted to use biodiesel fuel. The latter led to a garage startup servicing and supplying biodiesel party buses. And in 2012 they created Detroit Grease, which collects bulk food waste from restaurants and grocery stores in metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, and surrounding areas for conversion into biodiesel fuel and energy. 


Praveena Ramaswami 

Community Relations and Corporate Communications,

Toyota North America

We feel we can really move the needle…especially in the places where we live. Toyota believes corporations have a responsibility to make an impact.”  

Toyota is the world’s largest automaker. But it is also a big player internationally and in southeast Michigan, like its North American R&D headquarters in Ann Arbor, in local initiatives to protect the planet. As part of the company’s 2050 global environmental challenge, Toyota participates in and sponsors a myriad of green initiatives, from Huron River cleanup projects to waste reduction at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Ramaswami says the festival project resulted in a 75% reduction in landfill waste in just its second year of operation