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Tomorrow’s Michigan: Corporate Sustainability and Stewardship

Tom Walsh 

Protecting the state and region’s “Pure Michigan” brand as a great place to invest, work, and live is the responsibility of all corporate citizens. Many corporate executives have made global commitments to sustainability, from renewable energy and zero-waste-to-landfill initiatives to philanthropy and healthy communities. 

Patti Poppe, president and CEO of Consumers Energy and CMS Energy, and 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference Chair will moderate a 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference panel on corporate sustainability and stewardship, with panelists Christina L. Keller, president and CEO of Cascade Engineering Family of Companies; Jim Fitterling, CEO of Dow Chemical Co.; and Alicia Boler Davis, vice president of global customer fulfillment for Amazon.  

The Detroiter spoke to Poppe and some of the panelists about sustainability and stewardship in the corporate community.

Alicia Boler Davis – Vice President, Global Customer Fulfillment, Amazon

Jim Fitterling – CEO, Dow

Christina L. Keller – President and CEO, Cascade Engineering Family of Companies

Patti Poppe – President and CEO, Consumer’s Energy, CMS Energy; 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference Chair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How does protecting the environment make Michigan’s electric power and natural gas more plentiful and affordable and thus make economic growth more sustainable? 

PP: There was a time when we used to have to make a sucker’s choice between clean but expensive energy, or cheap and dirty. It’s just not true anymore. And we’ve proven it. When we retired our coal plants, we reduced operating costs and prices for electricity have gone down. We’re proving that cleaner energy can be more affordable energy and that makes Michigan then more competitive. 

Cascade Engineering specializes in plastic injection molding. How does making plastic products square with environmental sustainability? 

CK: Some people think plastics aren’t environmentally friendly because of single use, but we use heavy amounts of recycled content in our products. Plastic is never intended for a single-use life cycle because it’s going to be around forever. So, we put it into things that are intended to be around for a long period. We make a lot of rolling trash cart containers that are out there for 10-plus years. We bring those carts back at end of their 10-year-life and regrind them up and put them right back into our product. And we are zero-waste-to-landfill in all our Michigan facilities, saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars  

What can Dow and other Michigan businesses do to make the state a more attractive and sustainable place to invest, work and live?  

JF: In Michigan, Dow is collaborating alongside our customers, communities, and other stakeholders to find new and innovative end uses for recycled plastics, including uses as wide ranging as in asphalt roads, building materials, and recycling back to feedstocks. This not only provides longer lasting infrastructure but also provides a value-added end use for plastics. We are also working to increase STEM opportunities for school-aged children and investing in higher education, most recently in the Delta College Downtown Midland Center.  

How can business maximize the potential of people in its community and make its economy more sustainable? 

CK: A lot of us face talent shortages, and I think employers need to open their minds to some people who have been incarcerated, have paid their dues to society and are looking for a fresh start. We spend more in this state on incarceration than on higher education. We have more per capita incarceration than any other country and recidivism is very high. Government and nonprofits can support efforts with technical training, social workers, and other services. We’ve partnered with public and private organizations to change lives and save the state money.  

At Dow, you have talked about “creating a circular economy around plastics” to increase reuse and recycling. How can this also help the company’s bottom line and return to shareholders? 

JF: In a circular economy, resources are more effectively used so that they are around for future generations. Recovery and recycling of plastic generates economic opportunity, making plastic too valuable to be lost as waste. Dow is focusing on all stages of the plastic life cycle. 

How can companies maximize financial returns to shareholders while also makin commitments to social issues?  

PP:  I believe when a company can use its talent to solve a social issue related to its core business, you have the perfect intersection. People often ask how our investors feel about our commitment to climate change and carbon reduction. Our CMS Energy stock is held by more international investors than any other U.S. utility because of our commitment to the triple bottom line – people, planet, and profit. It’s attractive to investors to know that a company has a sustainable business model and that its performance is not a flash in the pan.  

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

Tom Walsh is a former Detroit Free Press business editor and columnist.