The Nature Conservancy of Michigan – Working at the Intersection of Economic Development, Nature, and Sustainability


The Nature Conservancy in Michigan recently released its 2022 Michigan Conservation Results Report that outlines the work it is doing to tackle conservation issues that range from climate change to biodiversity loss. With 32,000 members, a staff of 55+, 25 trustees, and many contributors, partnerships, and donators, 32,541 acres of land became protected last year, totaling 437,000 acres to date. We spoke to Associate State Director Patrick Doran about some of the key initiatives outlined in the report. Q: A recent acquisition of land in the Keweenaw Peninsula nearly doubled the peninsula’s protected lands, which provide habitat for many iconic species. How does this impact the state and Southeast Michigan? A: It’s a great question – how the work we are doing in Northern Michigan impacts the entire state and beyond – and I want to give some context around that. TNC is the world’s largest conservation organization with almost 6,000 employees around the world. When we have a project in place, we think not only about executing that project with boots on the ground but also think about how it impacts the entire system. We lift our heads and assess the impact on the region, the Great Lakes, the state, and the world. We think about how it will affect the economy, the air, the climate, people’s quality of life, and more. Securing the 30,000-plus acres in Keweenaw is amazing for us. I also want to note that there are several partners and entities involved in these efforts. TNC could never have done this alone. The opportunity to move land into conservation at this scope just does not exist in too many places in the US. The land has been under traditional timber ownership and management. We see TNC as a temporary holder – maybe three to five years – and eventually, we’d like to see the land secured by the state and local townships and municipalities and counties. We believe local ownership achieves the best conservation outcomes. So, we will ensure it’s protected, and that the forest is under a sustainability management plan, so that the conservation status improves from what it was, all the while making sure that it remains available for public use and recreation. This project truly sits at the intersection of economic development, nature, and sustainability, and there are several ways that it connects to other parts of the system. Relating this to the Southeast Michigan area, ecologically, in the spring Keweenaw is one of the most important migration areas in the Midwest. Millions of hawks, songbirds, and more move from South America, hit the Great Lakes to the Detroit corridor up to the U.P., and the majority fly up the Keweenaw Peninsula before making the daunting trip across Lake Superior. Southeast Michigan is an important stop in their migration process. So, there is this interesting species connection between the Lower Peninsula and the U.P. The connection also ties into the economy and also climate change. Those forests are places where we can store carbon through the growth and management of trees and also keep the industry intact. It’s a careful balance. Sequestering carbon will help meet climate change goals and this impacts the whole state. We have robust timber and water industries throughout the state and in Southeast Michigan, and that’s very important to our economy. Another connection this project represents is with businesses across the state. TNC is exploring the most effective ways to work with companies across the state in their quest to meet their sustainability goals. The forests can support these companies in this quest, and the companies are in turn investing in the forests. TNC also has a partnership with the Michigan Manufacturers Association. The goal is to help educate and assist small and medium-sized businesses with sustainability planning. We offer a suite of workshops for these manufacturers and companies. Two good examples are Steelcase and Consumers Energy – we began working with both companies last year. Q: According to the report, all 47,000 acres of TNC’s forest reserves in Michigan are now FSC®-C008922 certified. What does this mean? A: What FSC certification does is up the level of sustainability management and make sure all are adhering to best practices in terms of how many trees are cut, frequency of cutting, how streams and lakes are impacted, etc. This makes the whole system healthier. Again, timber is a huge part of the state’s economy, and it’s important to manage this industry in a way that is thoughtful and promotes the ability to sequester carbon. The focus is to achieve our ecological goals and at the same time keep land in the timber industry. We are also involved in working with the manufacturing industry in Southeast Michigan and across the state to ensure they are actively using more sustainably produced timber. When the supply chain demands this, it becomes a more virtuous cycle. Relating this to the construction industry, there is also a movement in place to use cross-laminated timber or mass timber, which offers more long-term carbon storage in comparison to using cement or other building materials. The DNR and Michigan State University are working on reinvesting this back into the building and construction process. Q; Regarding our parks and waterways, the report references Public Act 53 of 2022, saying that ultimately $2.3 billion of the historic state funding included in the act was designated for the improvement of Michigan’s water infrastructure, with an additional $450 million for state and local parks. What is TNC’s role in these improvements? A: TNC operates at a policy and system level to impact our parks and water across the state. Michigan sits in the middle of one of the world’s largest freshwater systems, so we have to protect that. We work to promote healthy infrastructure and programs that support investing in that. Regarding the importance of maintaining our parks and nature within urban areas, I was at a conference last year in Detroit and began asking businesses why they think investing

Consumers Energy’s PowerMIFleet Program Grows to 50+ Companies

MSU EV Fleet of cars and cargo vans.

Consumers Energy launched its PowerMIFleet program 19 months ago to augment its existing  PowerMIDrive. The latter program, launched in 2019, is targeted to smaller users and offers lower electric rates for off-peak charging for drivers and will provide rebates for residential, business, and public charging stations. More than 2,700 have been granted so far. PowerMIFleet was launched in mid-2021 to build on that program by connecting businesses, large institutions, local governments, and school bus fleets with planning resources, expert guidance, and financial incentives to easily and cost-effectively transition to electric vehicles. One of those large institutions, Michigan State University, is deep in the throes of transitioning 369 vehicles in its fleet of 1,200 internal-combustion vehicles to electric vehicles over the next decade and is working with Consumers Energy and the PowerMIFleet program to do so. SBN Detroit spoke with two individuals deeply involved in MSU’s process, beginning with Jeff Myrom, Consumers Energy director of electric transportation customer programs, and Adam Lawver, director of Campus Services Infrastructure Planning and Facilities at Michigan State University, to gain insights into the process and how it works for Michigan businesses. Q: Jeff, first tell us about the PowerMIFleet program. Myrom:  PowerMIFleet is a program designed to help business owners, municipalities, and educational institutions charge off-peak to reduce operating costs, eliminate emissions, and simplify vehicle maintenance by transitioning to electric vehicles. This is a program for those looking to electrify multiple vehicles and potentially a variety of vehicle classes. This, along with PowerMIDrive, is aimed at gaining insights and learnings and then sharing those learnings with different sectors so we can optimize success in the future, and it supports the statewide goal of having 2 million EVs on our state roads by 2030. Q: How long have these programs been in existence? Myrom: PowerMIDrive has been in place for a little over three years. We are getting ready to convert the residential portion of this pilot to a permanent program. PowerMIFleet launched in June of 2021 and has been so successful that it’s now fully subscribed. Q: What is involved in the PowerMIFleet Pilot Program? Myrom: Essentially there are three phases. In this first phase, we are working with fifty customers across a wide geographic base within different industries and sectors. We conduct full assessments regarding their fleets and then develop a five-year plan for conversion and infrastructure. This longer-term plan allows us to build for the future now versus having multiple infrastructure upgrades over time. In Phase Two we move forward with EV infrastructure development and the purchase cycle begins for the customer. Phase Three involves taking a look at the actual experience with electrification to see if the infrastructure is adequate and circling back on lessons learned. For PowerMIFleet, this will take place in 2024.  Q: Who are you working with through PowerMIFleet in addition to MSU? Myrom: We are currently working with over 50 customers, including several school districts. For example, Jackson Public Schools are looking to acquire 21 electric school buses. Homer Community School District is bringing on seven electric buses. We are working with Domino’s Pizza on their rollout of 800 GM Chevy Bolt electric vehicles now. We will publish our lessons learned from the vehicle electrification assessments starting in Q1 of 2023 and move from there. Q: What challenges do you face? Myrom: Vehicle availability and costs are a challenge. We recognize that until the supply chain is improved this will be the case. Another potential challenge for those with large fleets is adopting time-of-use rates. Usage across the state is highest between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. We are offering several different time-of-use options to minimize costs for businesses and help alleviate this challenge. A good example of this is the work we are doing with Michigan State University. The PowerMIFleet program is providing rebates to MSU toward their charger installation costs, and we’ve supported the grid upgrades needed, as they prepared to take delivery of forty new EVs in September. Michigan State University is clearly a leader in fleet electrification, and one of the first movers in the PowerMIFleet pilot. Partnering with a leading educational institution like Michigan State University is a real boost to our fleet pilot learnings.  Q: Adam, what should we know about your conversion to electrification with Consumers Energy and PowerMIFleet? Lawver: As part of our strategic plan goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from its 2010 baseline, we are converting 369 internal combustion engine vehicles to fully electric vehicles over the next decade. The conversion will decrease the university’s overall carbon footprint by 18,945 metric tons of carbon dioxide long-term – the equivalent of planting 312,584 trees. In September 2021, we connected with Consumers and its PowerMIFleet program. Together we assessed our 1,200 vehicles and built fleet electrification roadmap. Now, one year later we’ve received all 40 vehicles of the initial order and are in process of connecting charging stations. Q: What manufacturers are you working with to build your fleet? Lawver: We selected different types and manufacturers, according to what they’d be used for. Some vehicles are used to move people short distances, some are utility vehicles, some are used by staff to travel around the state for meetings, and so forth, so they all have different uses and needs. So far, we have purchased a combination of Ford E-Transit Vans, Ford F150 Lightening Electric Trucks, Ford Mustang Mach-E’s,Chevy Bolts, and Tesla Model 3s. Q: What can businesses learn from your current experience of electrification and working with PowerMIFleet? Lawver: I think small businesses with a few delivery vans up to entities with large fleets would benefit from completing a fleet analysis and considering electrification. I think you first need to look at the total cost of ownership of your vehicles. Each business owner needs to assess that and evaluate it over their fleet and see if there is a good alternative to convert to decrease their carbon footprint. Then, build a roadmap for

Rockford Construction – Focusing on the Full Life Cycle of Spaces


From real estate development to construction and property management, Rockford Construction has been serving the commercial, multiunit, educational, industrial, healthcare, and retail markets throughout the Midwest for more than 30 years. How do they approach sustainability? Mike VanGessel, founder and CEO of Rockford Construction, shares that and more with SBN Detroit.    Q: Please tell us about the sustainability practice you have in place. A: Rockford’s current sustainability efforts reflect a “triple bottom line” that is focused on people, the planet, and profit. We consider ourselves to be good stewards of all three of these finite resources. This is certainly a broader view than many people take, but one that is important to our clients and our communities. And we’re not just a construction company. We also develop, own, and manage properties, so our focus extends across the full life cycle of space – not just the initial resources during construction, but the total cost of ownership and the impact our buildings make into the future. As a result, our efforts are quite broad. But each building type brings its own set of challenges and opportunities, allowing us to customize our approach and maximize value to our clients. Q: When did your focus on sustainability come about? A: Decades ago. Rockford was an early adopter of sustainable construction practices. We knew that buildings were a major driver of energy consumption at that time. As a company committed to delivering value to our clients, we recognized that achieving greater energy efficiency would also decrease long-term costs. As the sustainability movement evolved and our knowledge of healthy buildings has grown, our efforts have expanded to include things like water conservation, low VOC (volatile organic compounds)-emitting materials, locally sourced and rapidly renewable materials, and more. Our more-recent triple bottom line approach recognizes that “people” and “profit” are also finite resources, as we’ve seen in our current economy. The shortage of workers – not just in construction but in most industries – has driven a focus on a construction process and end-user facilities that are highly efficient, productive, and attractive to people. The reduction of waste in time and money allows those resources to be deployed elsewhere. Q: What are some examples? A: Over the years, Rockford has completed hundreds of projects that are LEED certified or designed to meet certification requirements. But our approach is applied to all our projects, exploring the building design, systems, and materials to determine the right solution based on client needs, first costs, and long-term operational expenses. The most successful projects result from early involvement and clear goal-setting. One of the best examples can be found in Circuit West, a cutting-edge energy district that encompasses a 13-block area in Grand Rapids. As Rockford was developing and constructing buildings in the area, we partnered with Consumers Energy in their effort to pilot next-generation energy technology. Together, we installed 1,800 solar panels and battery storage capable of producing 500 kilowatts every hour. Power lines were buried, and solar arrays were installed in conjunction with other construction work, greatly reducing installation costs. The result is more reliable, renewable energy for the neighborhood. While Circuit West was a large-scale effort, early involvement allows us to explore all possibilities, uncovering those that make the greatest impact on our clients’ triple bottom Line. Q: What are the drivers behind these practices? A: The driver of sustainability is simple. We are creating healthier, more energy-efficient, and cost-effective buildings for our clients and the people who will live, work, play, and heal inside of them. In the early days, sustainable design and materials were thought to drive additional costs to buildings, and owners had to be deeply committed. Today, a better understanding of good design, appropriate systems, and more readily available sustainable and renewable materials are all driving cost savings. Why a client chooses sustainable solutions – cost savings, environmental responsibility, or healthy spaces – isn’t important. What matters is that the result helps us conserve resources and positively impact our world. Q: Rockford services so many different industries and types of construction – how do your sustainability practices differ between projects? A: Each project is unique, and clients have different goals and expectations. That said, best practices can vary based on different project types. For example, some industrial buildings are high users of energy and, at times, water. Energy-efficient systems, water conservation, and grey water options can provide good solutions. In healthcare facilities, research shows that healing environments include natural light, views, good ventilation, low VOC products, and easily cleaned materials. By focusing on what makes each building unique, the low-hanging fruit of sustainability becomes clear. Often, the most sustainable building is the one that is renovated, either for its existing use or for a new one. This is particularly true in an urban setting, where many building exteriors were built to last for decades. By reusing the walls and structure, not only are tons of waste materials diverted from landfills, but owners can capture the value of materials already in place. Warehouses can be converted into apartment buildings, churches become office buildings and schools are reimagined into senior living. Over the years, Rockford has developed expertise in the adaptive reuse of space. Q: Do you have a team of people set up to implement your sustainability practices? A: In the past, the Rockford team included a director of sustainability. However, we wanted to turn what could be described as a “program” into a “practice.” Our construction team and our property and facility managers are all well-versed in sustainable practices. But we have a variety of team members, from accountants to graphic designers, who want to be a part of our company-wide efforts. That’s why we are launching a company-wide Sustainability Committee to continue to expand our impact both internally and externally. Q: Beyond vendors and material choices – what else do you look at? A: Locally sourced talent, vendors, and materials are part of a strategy that is appealing to our clients, who strive to support

How Does Consumers Energy Activate Around People, the Planet, and Prosperity?


How does Consumers Energy, which provides natural gas and electricity to 6.7 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents, with 8,000+ staff members, approach sustainability? SBN Detroit spoke to Brandon Hofmeister, Senior Vice President of Governmental, Regulatory and Public Affairs for CMS Energy and Consumers Energy, about how the company executes its sustainability goals and about some of its current projects. Q: When did you begin sustainability efforts at Consumers Energy?  A: From a very broad sense, the company has been focused on sustainability since it was founded. Our current intentional focus to prioritize sustainability specifically within our corporate strategy has been around for about a decade. Q: What is the organizational structure around executing your sustainability goals? A: Our corporate strategy is centered around a triple bottom line of people, planet, and prosperity with measurable goals that cascade down throughout the whole business and that are embedded in everything we do. We don’t necessarily source it to one department or team. We do have an Environment and Sustainability Council that includes top leaders and executives and officers who meet regularly to monitor progress toward key sustainability goals. We also have a Chief Diversity Officer and a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and this overlaps and encompasses our sustainability objectives. It’s very cross-functional – everyone owns it and it’s embedded within all roles and levels of the company. Q; Please give some examples of initiatives and priorities in place around people, planet and prosperity. A: Regarding the planet, I would say our biggest initiative is transforming our electricity generation mix. We will retire our remaining coal plants in 2025 and move completely to clean energy, reducing carbon emissions by 60% from 2005 levels. This is a very aggressive goal but as a company, we are excited about it. From a people perspective, we are focused on dramatically improving electric reliability by hardening systems to stand up to more intense storm activity and leveraging best practices in technology and management to reduce outages. We are also deeply focused on the affordability of our services.  We’re doing a lot of work to create payment and assistance and energy efficiency programs. We are also dedicated to finding ways to take cost out of our processes and the cost we pass on to our customers, so they get the best value for the services provided. This is equally important for our business customers. We must make sure electricity is cost-effective so businesses can continue to thrive and create jobs here in Michigan. Regarding prosperity, part of the triple bottom line is keeping our own business healthy and profitable for our staff and also our investors. We are expected to deliver consistent and low-risk financial results and that affects our community and the economy overall. Q: Consumers Energy employs more than 8,000 people. How do you share the vision and facilitate action? A: How we approach the goals in itself is important and I think has been impactful. We set breakthrough goals and unleash the team to find new and innovative solutions. It is challenging to set goals that we don’t yet know how to achieve, but this can also be very inspiring, as long as you give the “why” behind the goal. Our team inherently works for our friends and neighbors, and we want to deliver for them. So, whether it’s decreasing carbon emissions or increasing electric reliability, we set goals, give the why, and then let the power of the people take it forward. The outcomes are often quite remarkable and solutions we never thought possible are unveiled. Q: What do you think is one of the most impactful sustainability practices you’ve put into place to date? A: Our clean energy program is a good example. We set an ambitious goal to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2040. Within the framework of conventional wisdom, this originally appeared to be impossible. But the goal has opened up new ways of thinking. Retiring the coal plants was originally slated for 2040, but that’s been moved up to 2025 as I mentioned. We have a north star to reach and are working on this carbon goal every day. Q: What do you point to as an impactful project you are putting into place in the next three to five years? A: Electrification of vehicles is a big game changer for our industry. The company has a breakthrough goal to have a million EVs in service by 2030. This is great for the planet and great for our customers’ pocketbooks. The more electricity we all use, the more electric bills decrease. There are set costs for infrastructure, and if more people are using that infrastructure the cost per unit of electricity goes down. So, it’s a win-win. Q: How do you integrate the community and keep them informed? A: This is a huge part of our work. We spend a lot of time communicating what we are working on and why, but it’s a two-way street. We also want to understand the people and community we serve, so we conduct formal and informal stakeholder outreach. We do materiality assessments internally and externally. We engage customers and educate them on how they can save energy by considering an electric vehicle or participating in renewable energy programs. Most people don’t think about their utility service unless the power out goes out, but it’s important to continually communicate our broader mission.  We spend time engaging in a variety of channels with customers to have two-way communication. Q: What advice would you give to SE Michigan businesses when it comes to laying out sustainability goals and achieving them? A: Start with what’s important to the business. Understand the impact the business is having and focus on a goal. Also engage stakeholders. Set ambitious goals and always communicate the why. It’s easier to bring people in when they are engaged versus being told. And finally, don’t have too many goals. Prioritize, set a few very ambitious and solid goals,