On June 16, SBN Detroit comes alive with its inaugural event, Detroit’s Moment: Accelerating the Sustainable Business Revolution, which will feature University of Michigan Professor Andy Hoffman and Detroit business leaders Bob Holycross, Carla Walker-Miller and Amy Peterson discussing the challenge, and opportunity, of Detroit rising again to global leadership.
A Legacy of Innovation
Diego Rivera’s iconic murals stand tall in the Detroit Institute of Arts, reminding the world of both the benefits and the costs of being the “Motor City.” Decades ago, Detroit was recognized as a global hub for fine arts and technological innovation, and the city’s economic prowess was unrivaled across the US. After a period of decline, the city is once again experiencing a wave of economic reinvestment and social revitalization. Business and community leaders are setting their sights on leadership again–but leadership that starts with social inclusion and environmental justice as the building blocks of economic success.
“Detroit has some of the most challenging environmental-justice and public health issues in the country, some of which are linked to the private sector, some of which are driven by historical contamination like lead, and some of which are made worse by transport and shipping…but all are solvable with dialogue and collaboration between business, civil society, and government.” — Neil Hawkins, president of the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. “
This is the essence of social and environmental “sustainability,” and this is Detroit’s moment to lead!
At the same time, Detroit continues to struggle with social, racial and economic inequities. Detroit residents, the majority of whom are Black, have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19 and the ensuing economic fallout. As the darkest days of the pandemic settled across Michigan last year, there was a special concern in Detroit that the crisis would wipe out hard-won gains of recent years. Meanwhile, certain areas of the city are notorious for their poor air quality.
“Detroit has some of the most challenging environmental-justice and public health issues in the country, some of which are linked to the private sector, some of which are driven by historical contamination like lead, and some of which are made worse by transport and shipping,” observes Neil Hawkins, president of the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. “But all are solvable with dialogue and collaboration between business, civil society, and government.”
An Aspiration to Sustainability
Because of the very challenges Detroit faces, the renaissance that is already underway, and the unique human and technological resources the city can draw on, Detroit is uniquely positioned to lead on triple-bottom-line sustainability. Ford Motor and GM have declared their electric future, and other industries are shifting toward renewable energy. “Detroit is ground zero for sustainable mobility and for social justice and racial equity,” Hawkins comments. There is a sense of urgency, but also a sense of optimism.
Situated amid North America’s Great Lakes (which account for one-fifth of the world’s supply of surface freshwater), the Detroit area’s abundant water resources make for a unique competitive advantage. Key industries in Detroit, including auto, energy and nearby agriculture, are naturally positioned to lead this transition toward more sustainable business, especially as global water scarcity increases.
Detroit already has a long tradition of social and environmental activism, with a vibrant ecosystem of grassroots organizations, neighborhood groups and faith-based organizations that bring a unique place-based perspective to the traditional sustainability debate. Likewise, universities and research institutes in the region are second to none, and poised to contribute all the thought leadership, open-sourced innovation and youthful energy that only universities can!
SBN Detroit: Connecting Communities
Companies big and small, grassroots and activist groups, world-class universities—the key actors are all here. What’s missing, then, for Detroit to shine again on the world stage? We believe that the missing link is a “network of networks” that helps connect these communities around Detroit’s moment for sustainability leadership.
Opening small- and medium-size businesses’ access to transnationals can foster talent, innovation and economies of scale. Bringing community organizations into corporate sustainability conversations can provide a voice they have historically lacked, and bring more authentic, place-based input to business decision-making.
In short, this is the mission of the newly formed Sustainable Business Network of Detroit. SBN Detroit is meant to be this network that will connect communities and encourage collaboration to accelerate Detroit’s progress toward sustainability. It aims to amplify and elevate community organizations’ and small companies’ existing work by leveraging the power of Detroit’s business community.
Join us for the June 16 launch event, which one day may well be remembered as the turning point for business, sustainability and justice in Detroit!
The Sustainable Business Network of Detroit launch event is being convened by SBN Detroit’s founding organizations: The Erb Family Foundation, the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan, the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, TechTown Detroit, Wayne State University, and Inforum.