West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum launching sustainable food initiative

New committee will be tasked with assisting member organizations on sourcing locally produced food for their facilities and events.

The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF) was created in 1994 as a project of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), in order to promote business practices that demonstrate environmental stewardship, economic vitality and social responsibility. The group is now an independent organization with 501(c)3 nonprofit status, and has over 100 member companies and organizations all committed to fostering more sustainable business practices in West Michigan. Membership includes some of the area’s largest businesses (Amway, Steelcase, Wolverine Worldwide), local colleges/universities (Grand Valley State University, Aquinas College, Davenport University), hospitals (Metro Health and Spectrum Health) and many other business and organizations.

The WMSBF has been working with their members to create and foster a stronger business commitment to sustainability. They organize monthly meetings and speakers that highlight sustainable practices across the nation and create online toolkits and resources to help members track and implement sustainable actions at their businesses. While much of their past work has been focused on energy management, sustainable development and social responsibility, a new initiative is being developed to examine sustainable local food systems.

The forum has noticed a strong interest amongst its members for sustainable food system education and resources. Specifically, best practices for local sourcing, on-site gardens/farms and employee health and wellness programs. Several of the forum members have large facilities that serve thousands of meals a day to employees, patients, students and visitors; they recognize the importance of sourcing that food locally and are looking for more ways to incorporate locally-sourced products into their menus. The sustainable food systems initiative will be led by a committee which is being chaired by Theresa Hogerheide, WMSBF board member, green building consultant and local food systems expert, and Garrett Ziegler Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems educator. The Forum began by hosting a round table discussion of key members to develop a plan for the new initiative and inform the committee members who will be leading it.

Initial efforts will be focused on procurement, on-campus gardening/agriculture, and employee health/wellness, in collaboration with the efforts of MSU Extension’s Community Food Systems program, Fulton Street Farmers Market, Downtown Market Kitchen Incubator and other community partners. In the near future, these efforts will expand to the promotion of water and energy efficiency in food processing and preparation, and other emerging opportunities as determined by WMSBF stakeholders. For instance, the Forum may be able to provide education on the new LEED pilot credit for on-site food production.

The commitment of WMSBF as a longstanding West Michigan sustainability leader demonstrates the importance of local food systems to the larger business community. This effort will help some of the area’s well-known corporations realize their goals of a stronger and healthier food system for their employees and communities. For more information on the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum contact the director Dan Schoonmaker at dschoonmaker@wmsbf.org.

To find out about more ways to involve your business or organization in sustainable local food systems work visit the MSU Extension Expert search page and select the topic “Community Food Systems” from the drop-down menu.

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