Accelerating Solar Through Connecting Contractors

Established in 2013 in Detroit by Patrick McCabe, GreenLancer is dedicated to accelerating the adoption of solar energy and EV usage. The company’s software platform is designed to connect solar installers with design and engineering partners while guiding the permitting process, making it easier and faster for contractors to do their work. SBND interviewed McCabe about the current landscape for contractors in the industry. Q: What inspired the creation of GreenLancer? A: Following my graduation as a mechanical engineer, I moved to California and began working for a solar company. It became evident to me over time that there was a significant gap between contractors eager to install solar systems and the availability of engineering and design services to support them. Upon returning to Michigan, I founded GreenLancer with the vision of creating a platform where contractors could easily connect with engineers and designers, effectively bridging this gap. Today, GreenLancer is dedicated to advancing the adoption of clean energy and EV infrastructure, contributing to sustainability efforts not only in Southeast Michigan but nationwide. Q: Could you explain GreenLancer’s core function? A: GreenLancer operates as a marketplace that links contractors with engineering and design firms, streamlining processes to accelerate the installation of solar energy and EV charging stations. Since our inception in 2013, we’ve assisted over 7,500 contractors on more than 200,000 clean energy projects nationwide, totaling over $2.5 billion in solar energy and EV infrastructure investments. Q: Those are big numbers. Can you tell us more about how those numbers are achieved? A: We work as an online marketplace – akin to Amazon. The software connects contractors globally to design firms and engineers globally 24/7, so we can connect hundreds – even thousands – daily who then can move into the project phase. If you do the math, GreenLancer has been in existence for 11.5 years, so this equates to the support of approximately 48 projects per day being executed around the world. Q: What challenges do contractors typically face in the solar and EV sectors? A: The solar and EV charging industries pose unique challenges since they are so new. Many contractors lack the specialized knowledge and resources required for these installations, often necessitating costly engagements with engineering firms. Additionally, navigating the diverse and complex permitting processes across different states can be overwhelming. Issues related to utility interconnections further complicate PV installations, potentially causing delays and increased costs. These factors frequently deter contractors from entering the solar and EV markets altogether. Q: What impact does this have on the economy? A: Simplifying the complexities of permitting and engineering enables clean energy contractors to scale their operations, thus enhancing the economy. It also expands access to green technologies for both businesses and residents. Q: Your website mentions incorporating concepts from lean manufacturing in the automotive industry. Can you elaborate on this? A: As a Detroit-based company, we’ve adopted the automotive industry’s assembly line approach in a virtual capacity, optimizing our marketplace operations for efficiency and scalability. We also embrace concepts of continuous improvement methodologies and lean manufacturing used in the automotive industry to evolve alongside the needs of our users, enhancing our technology and service offerings over time. Q: How do drones factor into the solar industry? A: Drone use by solar companies has increased dramatically in recent years for residential, commercial, and utility-scale projects. Drones can save time, increase worker safety, and help pinpoint maintenance issues. In fact, many contractors are now using drones to gather data for solar site surveys, inspections, and marketing images. Several drone software companies specifically cater to the solar energy industry. Q: Solar farms are controversial in many places, including Michigan, mainly over questions of land use. What are sustainable practices for solar farm installation that can help mitigate the environmental and community impact? A: It’s helpful to consider the community and environmental impact of solar farms from the planning stage to ensure they provide the most benefit possible to the community. However, some practices are difficult or costly to implement at certain locations. It’s best to avoid constructing solar farms on undisturbed natural areas in ecologically sensitive areas. Therefore, using already cleared land usually has less impact on wildlife and is often more cost-effective. It’s helpful to keep some existing vegetation that doesn’t shade the array and to minimize soil disturbance during construction whenever possible. Some solar farm developers are experimenting with wildlife-friendly fencing around solar farms that allows wildlife to pass seasonally or is high enough to allow small animals to pass underneath. Another option, if space allows, is to create vegetative buffers along the fence line for wildlife habitat. Planting native wildflowers can reduce the need for mowing, promote biodiversity, and encourage pollinator populations. This can benefit nearby farmers because pollinators are essential for many crops. Some solar farms use sheep as an alternative to mowing to manage vegetation growth, reducing the need for mechanical mowing equipment. This approach typically involves partnering with local ranchers. Q: This is an expanding industry – is the size of the labor force keeping pace? What are the qualifications needed to get started? A: The solar power, energy storage, and EV charging industries need many skills to expand. The 2024 Electriciation Contractor Survey highlights some issues related to the labor force for solar, energy storage, and EV charging station contractors. The report found that 49% of contractors surveyed report a lack of experience and industry-specific knowledge as a challenge for hiring qualified professionals, particularly electricians and field technicians. Transitioning to clean energy is boosting the demand for licensed electricians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for electricians is expected to increase by 6%-9% from 2022 to 2026. In addition, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Certification helps launch a career in the solar industry. Various training programs are offered by trade schools, community colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations designed to advance the clean energy industry.   Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in

New Leadership to Focus on Sustainability, Connectivity, Infrastructure 

Meagan Elliott began her tenure as president and CEO of the Belle Isle Conservancy on July 1, following a decade with the city of Detroit, culminating in serving as chief parks planner and deputy CFO overseeing development and grants.  Elliott spearheaded the Joe Louis Greenway Framework Plan and played a pivotal role as the city lead in a $350 million campaign for a unified greenway encompassing the Joe Louis Greenway and the Detroit Riverfront.   The Belle Isle Conservancy is dedicated to safeguarding the natural environment, preserving historic structures, and enhancing Belle Isle as a public park for the enjoyment of all, now and in the future. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 5.6 million people visited the park last year.  SBN Detroit interviewed Elliott about the conservancy’s approach to sustainability and what impacts her work will have on Southeast Michigan businesses and residents.   Q: What part will sustainability play in your new role?  A: Sustainability is fundamental to everything we do, and I want to lift and advance it in new ways. The Belle Isle Conservancy has done and continues to do a lot of work toward this. One example is the Keep Belle Isle Beautiful campaign focused on reducing plastic waste on the island and in waterways. That initiative has taken off and now goes far beyond the cleanups themselves, focusing on environmental stewardship and informing educational programming that helps to drive our future leaders.   Caring for our planet forms the foundation of all our endeavors and is a filter for how we approach all our work, whether it be in support of habitat restoration, capital projects on the island, or new types of programming moving forward. I’m eager to collaborate with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in this ​​effort.  Q: How does your background position you for this role?   A: It’s in a couple of important ways. My tenure as chief parks planner was particularly formative, involving comprehensive work across all city green spaces, from neighborhood parks to a 30-mile greenway.  When we consider Detroit’s park infrastructure, connectivity emerges as a fundamental concept. Historically, Belle Isle has been perceived as a separate entity and not easily accessible. Moreover, with one in four people in Detroit lacking access to a vehicle, they face challenges moving around the city, ​being able to access our amazing ​metro parks​ system, ​ or getting Up North. Belle Isle is a treasure that rivals all of these spaces, and here it is right in our front yard. Connecting to a system of green space via the riverfront and the Joe Louis Greenway is essential. ​     ​  Connectedness extends beyond physical spaces to encompass the desires of residents and businesses surrounding Belle Isle as well. The Belle Isle Conservancy plays a crucial role as a steward and advocate, driving initiatives that reflect community wants and needs.  Also, my background in sociology has prepared me to spend time listening ​to residents and how they want to utilize their island ​and to make sense of the patterns that emerge in engagement with a diversity of constituents. ​     ​  Finally, I’ve spent the last three years as deputy CFO brokering partnerships between private fund​ers​, philanthropi​c entities​, and public ​partners​ and making initiatives happen by creating coalitions of folks. I want to put that same energy ​and investment ​behind Belle Isle.  Q: You led the Joe Louis Greenway Framework Plan, and were the city lead in the $350 million campaign for a unified greenway for the Joe Louis Greenway and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. How will this impact your work going forward?  A: I have an example. On my first day as president and CEO of the Belle Isle Conservancy, I was speaking at a press conference during which $20.7 million was received from the federal government ​for the continuing construction of ​the Joe Louis Greenway. This was a grant that the team worked on while I was still working for the City of Detroit. But I was there as the co-chair of the Joe Louis Greenway Partnership and was able to highlight the connection from the Joe Louis Greenway to the Iron Belle Trail, which ultimately will connect Belle Isle to Ironwood at the tip of the Upper Peninsula through a network of greenways.  Many individuals have dedicated themselves to this work for a long time, and I’m committed to utilizing my platform and voice to continue to advance this work.  Belle Isle is the epicenter of both this amazing network of green spaces and the Great Lakes. I can’t imagine a better geography for foregrounding environmental stewardship than on this island.   Q: What impact do you think the Belle Isle Conservancy has on businesses in Southeast Michigan?  A: I see the economic impact of public space as vast. It directly relates to employee decisions on where they choose to live and work.   Belle Isle ranks as the second most visited park in the country after Niagara Falls. I believe our efforts here are directly linked to attracting new talent to businesses in Southeast Michigan and bolstering our economy.   Q: In what way will you work with area businesses?  A: The conservancy already does a lot of work with businesses on many fronts.  One of the most immediately valuable impacts businesses have on Belle Isle is our corporate stewardship days. Businesses bring their teams to help clean up the park and connect with each other.   We also have a significant number of partners in the corporate community who see the value of Belle Isle for the community and invest in projects to help support the park. ​     ​  We also have the opportunity to look at the vendors utilized on the island and how to create more inroads for Detroit-based businesses to play a role in the construction, management, concessionaire, and other vendor partnerships.   There are endless opportunities to work together.    Q: What challenges do you expect to encounter from a sustainability aspect?  A: The challenge is always prioritization and how to choose projects and

Tony Reames Returns to U-M to Lead SEAS Detroit Sustainability Clinic


For two-plus years, Dr. Tony G. Reames was a Biden-Harris Administration presidential appointee, working in energy justice. Most recently he served as the Principal Deputy Director for the Office of State and Community Energy Programs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Now, he returns to the University of Michigan – where had worked as a research fellow – becoming the Tishman Professor of Environmental Justice and serving as the new Director of the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) Detroit Sustainability Clinic. Through support from the Kresge Foundation, the clinic was founded in 2021 to build long-term capacity and partnership in Detroit, and to connect residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and city government to its resources. Reames sat down with SBN Detroit to discuss this new role, the work of the clinic, and how it involves and impacts businesses in Southeast Michigan. Q: What is the impetus behind the clinic? A: The Detroit Sustainability Clinic came into existence based on the recognition that the several faculty in the School for Environment and Sustainability had projects with community-based organizations, government, and business partners in the city that we were approaching in silos. Operating together as a clinic allows us to more cohesively engage with community partners and approach these projects in a more efficient and effective way. Our mission is to be a hub for advancing sustainability and climate action in an equitable and just way. We want to foster long-term relationships with community-based organizations, local governments, and businesses in Detroit to support their sustainability and climate efforts from ideation to implementation. Q: What differentiates the work the clinic does from that of other national or local initiatives in the space? A: We want to be both additive and complementary. Also, what is unique about what we provide is that we can bring the full resources of the university to support sustainability and climate action in communities, centered on equity and justice. We have the opportunity to not only use our research and data but to also boost capacity for community-driven efforts through our students and faculty. Q: How does sustainability feature in the work the clinic does? A: Sustainability for me is recognizing the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the current climate crisis and how we use the research, teaching, and other resources of the University in deep collaboration with our community partners to support a community’s long-term existence. It’s the triple bottom line. We bring these aspects together to help communities with solutions-driven planning and implementation Q: Given the focus on Detroit communities, how does the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda feature in the work the clinic is doing? A: I participated in planning efforts to develop the city’s Sustainability Action Agenda and Climate Strategy and the Detroit Climate Action Plan. These plans are the foundation for the areas of focus for the clinic. The Detroit Office of Sustainability is a clinic partner, and we have funding to work with the city to implement its climate strategy and Blight to Beauty Initiative. Supporting local sustainability and climate action is the core of what we do. As the clinic expands, I look forward to working with other local governments in Southeast Michigan to create and implement their sustainability and climate action plans. Q: How do you plan to involve and work with businesses in Detroit? A: I’ve been working with folks in Detroit for about ten years and the ingenuity in this city stands out. I’ve spent a good amount of time with entrepreneurs and start-ups that are working on new technology and other ways to help households operate more sustainably. I see the clinic acting as a conduit between businesses that have these technical solutions and communities that need these solutions. As a university, we also have this amazing opportunity to develop the next generation of the sustainability and climate workforce. Q: How do you think that impacts businesses in Southeast Michigan? A: I believe that exposing students to real-world challenges makes them better employees for the business and organizations they’ll go to work for. And I think that students who get involved with businesses and projects in Detroit are more likely to remain in Detroit and continue working here post-graduation. I’ve seen it happen. Once a student is exposed to the issues and opportunities here and has made a professional connection, they are more likely to join the workforce locally versus moving out of state. Q: What is the role of businesses in the community work you do? A: Both residents and businesses make up a community so it’s all interconnected. Businesses support residential neighborhoods and vice-versa, so our approach is place-based, taking into account how the community operates and interacts as a whole. Also, when we think about the growth in different sectors in Southeast Michigan such as landscape architects focused on natural solutions to flooding, engineers working on the next iteration of mobility that eliminates pollution, or those developing a future where all housing is affordable and net zero energy, there is an ecosystem that must connect our greatest challenges to resources and solutions. And that is happening here. Businesses that can tap into this ecosystem and be a part of it will be the most successful businesses going forward. Q: How do you think you can help develop and support this ecosystem in your new role? A: I recently spent 2.5 years at the U.S. Department of Energy focused on designing federal programs with equity and justice at the core, and that’s one of the reasons I’m excited to move forward in this role. We have an unprecedented opportunity to move the needle on this. Businesses now have to focus on equity in order to access much of the current federal and state funding, and they have to meaningfully engage with the community as well. This is an exciting time! We are all starting to speak the same language. I’m optimistic, because I believe the way businesses, communities, and government are now addressing sustainability and

Small Businesses Become Resilience Hubs in Eastside Detroit Communities

Elevate is a 24-year-old 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on creating equitable and sustainable communities. Their areas of focus span energy efficiency, water, workforce development, and creating healthy and efficient homes and buildings in communities. Part of the work it is doing in Detroit is helping to develop resilience hubs in response to flooding and ongoing climate-related injustice issues. This is part of the Resilient Eastside Initiative (REI), a culmination of residents and organizations including the Eastside Community Network (ECN), The City of Detroit Office of Sustainability, and the Eastside Climate Action Coalition. Tim Skrotzki, associate director of partnerships at Elevate, and Terri O’Neal, project manager of community programs, talked with SBN Detroit about this work and the role businesses are playing. Q: What is the impetus behind Elevate? A: Elevate is a Chicago-based nonprofit formed in 2000 as an energy cooperative focused on energy efficiency and reducing the drag on the grid. We have projects that touch almost all states. Over the past twenty-four years, our work has expanded to include water, solar, electrification, environmental health, and workforce development. Q: How is Elevate supporting resilient and sustainable communities throughout Detroit and Southeast Michigan? A: One important initiative is the development of Resilience Hubs on Detroit’s East Side. Resilience hubs are vital community centers offering education, support, and resources while fostering community connections. These hubs – many of which are small businesses in the neighborhoods – serve as trusted spaces in touch with residents’ needs. They help facilitate coordination of resources and services across various stakeholders before, during, and after climate-related emergencies. These are being led by the Eastside Community Network and the Resilient Eastside Initiative (REI), a network of 12 resilience hubs on Detroit’s east side, which officially launched in August 2023 in partnership with The City of Detroit Office of Sustainability with funding from the Kresge Foundation. One of these spaces is The Commons, a café, laundromat, and community space that operates in MACC Development’s storefront space on Mack Avenue. This is a safe space for the community that offers charging stations, resources, and more for neighbors during power outages or emergencies. They are also training and upskilling local residents as a form of workforce development. Neighborhood Grocery is another hub, offering healthy food access, refrigerators, and charging stations to neighbors during power outages. This is a framework a lot of businesses can adopt to provide more resources for their communities. It’s an opportunity for businesses to think about where they fit into the community and how they can help the neighborhood remain resilient and sustainable. Further, part of the funding we received from Kresge is being used for training black contractors in solar and EV infrastructure. Called the Detroit Clean Energy Contractor Accelerator Program, the program helps create growth paths and lift up black and brown contractors to help them build their businesses. We believe that if we develop contractors in clean energy in Detroit they will then hire and train more Detroiters to work with them. Q: What best practices can you share from the sustainability work you do in terms of the business and community impact? A: There are federal incentives for businesses and buildings to become more energy efficient. It’s so easy to track what energy you are using and lower it. There are huge opportunities here that people are leaving on the table. Also, any business looking to grow and be sustainable has to be ingrained in the community. Providing resources that help the neighborhood become more resilient should be on every small business owner’s mind. Q What are trends you are seeing when it comes to the sustainability that impacts businesses? A: We are all dealing with new issues we have not dealt with before. Flooding, power outages from 100-year storms, and more. Making a building more resilient is extremely beneficial to business owners, so they don’t have to reduce hours or close during a flood or power outage. There are new impacts that climate change is driving, and if you are not thinking about how to make your business more resilient you may be losing money. Also, businesses should be and are becoming more involved in community organizations, meetings, and community engagement. It’s thinking about how they can better meet the needs of the community. Perhaps be a place where people can come during power outages and offer resources to support. And finally, all businesses should have a climate emergency plan on the operations side of things for their staff, and if applicable, their community.   Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.

The Greening of Detroit: Working to Create Healthy Urban Communities Through Trees, Education, and Jobs


Established in 1989, The Greening of Detroit is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire sustainable growth of a healthy urban community through trees, green spaces, healthy living, education, and job opportunities. To date, it has planted 147,000 trees and trained more than 1,000 people through its five-year-old workforce development program. Putting trees in the ground is job one for the organization, but it also is involved in stormwater management and providing landscaping services to residents and businesses in the communities they serve. President Lionel Bradford has been with the nonprofit since 2010 and is proud of its 35-year history. SBN Detroit interviewed Bradford about the organization’s programs, impact, and future. Q: What was the impetus to begin The Greening of Detroit? A: For years Detroit was known as the Paris of the Midwest, partly because of the tree canopy cover the city used to have. Between 1950 and 1980 Detroit lost over a half million trees due to Dutch Elm Disease, urbanization, and neglect due to financial struggles. In 1989, The Greening of Detroit was founded to reforest the city of Detroit. Since its inception, 147,000 trees have been planted throughout the city. We also started a youth employment program as a way to educate and take care of these trees. Our Green Corps Summer Youth program at its height employed 200 high school students. That number decreased due to COVID-19, but it’s coming back up. In a nutshell, our organization has two main pillars: workforce development and green infrastructure. Q: What are you currently working on in terms of tree planting? A: We are in the third year of a five-year strategic plan where we are looking to plant 20,000 trees throughout Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, and train 300 individuals who have barriers to employment. This plan fits into a larger initiative we are involved in called the Detroit Tree Equity Partnership. This is a collaboration with American Forest, DTE Energy, and the City of Detroit in which we are planning to plant 75,000 trees over the next five years. There is a buzz in the city right now in terms of trees. We’ve done a lot of engagement and outreach. Recently we conducted a 500-tree giveaway, and there were still cars lined up after we gave away the last tree. It’s great to see this. Q: What is your involvement with the Walter Meyers Nursery? A: Walter Meyers is a tree nursery on 72 acres in Rouge Park that for years went untouched. In 2004, The Greening of Detroit – with the city’s permission – took over managing that property to serve as a training ground for our adult workforce development. We have used it as an outdoor classroom setting. In 2017, we put together a master plan to turn it back into a working nursery operation. As an organization, we are looking for ways to generate revenue for our training programs and to plant our trees. We want to control our destiny and cut down the carbon footprint involved in having trees shipped in. We have planted over 4,000 trees in the nursery and harvested our first 200 trees last year. The goal is to get to a point where we are selling 5,000 trees annually to municipalities, the City of Detroit, and the community. Q: What sustainable impact do you think this brings? A: In addition to creating green infrastructure in the city, community engagement is at the heart of what we do. Our job is to get trees in the ground, but we do not want to impose our will. We want to be invited into communities. Not only do we want residents to have a say, but we also want them to be a part of the work. This is a model that speaks volumes in terms of sustainability, and it’s held up across the state and the country. Q: How does The Greening of Detroit impact businesses? A: We engage and work with business owners in the communities we are involved in. Many of them bring us in to green their properties. The more green space we can add for businesses, the more it helps aesthetics and foot traffic. Green space and economic development go hand in hand. Also, from an economic standpoint, our education program puts people into jobs doing work around the city, which enhances the economic viability of Detroit as well. Q: In what other ways does the organization create green infrastructure in the city? A: Stormwater management. We have installed three major bioretention ponds around the city that hold up to a million gallons of water. These are in Rouge Park, Chandler Park, and Eliza Howell Parks. We also work with residents and businesses to replace impervious surfaces with green infrastructure through our Land + Water WORKS Coalition. Q: You have an adult workforce program from which over 1,000 Detroiters have graduated in the past five years. How does this work? A: This is a six-week program called the Detroit Conservation Corps. Sixty percent of those who have graduated were previously incarcerated. We are passionate about helping that population get credentials and secure jobs that pay decent wages. We work with a network of businesses looking to employ, most from the tree care and landscaping industries. These companies work in tandem with our advisory committee to help us build our curriculum and help with job placement. We have hired a small percentage of our trainees ourselves. Q: What is the future of The Greening of Detroit? A: Community engagement will always be a focus. We also are rebuilding our environmental education. These programs fell by the wayside before and during COVID-19, but we are working to get into schools, facilitate field trips, and educate our youth. We truly believe that getting the Meyers Nursery operations up and running is key for us moving forward. It will be important for us to generate our revenue. I’m proud we’ve been able to sustain the organization for 35

As Recycling Grows, So Does the Need for New Strategies, Technology

In 1995, after graduating from the College for Creative Studies with a degree in industrial and product design and an eye toward bettering the environment, Keith Zendler founded Environmental Services of North America Inc. in Detroit. Nearly thirty years later, the company retooled and relaunched to focus on waste management and upgraded its technology to help it expand and improve its services and expand its network of partners domestically and globally. We interviewed founder and owner Keith Zendler to learn more. Q: Tell us about RecycleMax. A: RecycleMax is a tech-based reboot of a company I founded in 1995. At that time, we had a plant in Detroit and a fleet of 14 trucks and we were focused mainly on paper and similar recyclables. We now provide the environmentally sound management of virtually all solid and liquid waste materials. I have always been interested in sustainability from a community standpoint – in building stronger and more sustainable communities through technology. So, I sold the original recycling company in 2008 and started a civic tech company focused on designing an online community network for people and organizations to better work together. Through this company, I launched a multisided SaaS platform with the intent of improving stakeholder communication, collaboration, and engagement to help leaders solve political, health, social, environmental, and economic issues. Eventually, I realized I could apply this technology to the recycling industry and provide businesses with robust and customized waste management programs that help them meet their sustainability goals and reduce their carbon footprint. So, RecycleMax was relaunched as a tech-based company in 2020. We use the same technology we offer clients internally for our operations. The crux of the platform is its ability to facilitate a community network and real-time communication. We have used it to build a global network of recyclers and haulers that we can leverage for clients. Q: How is the industry different now, than in the 1990s?  A: There was a time when we had to push companies to recycle, and they would only do so if we could show that it either saved them money or at the very least did not incur additional expenses. That is no longer the driver. Companies are doing it now no matter what. That is a surprising shift. We work heavily in the auto industry, and I’ve been amazed at how progressive these companies are and how seriously the industry is taking environmental measures. Adding to that, until recently, most of our recyclables were shipped overseas, and we relied on China to handle them. A lot of waste was ending up in the ocean. China shut that off and it certainly caused a disruption, but ultimately it made the industry stronger. There are more and more companies being established in the U.S. to handle these materials. The industry has made a tremendous amount of progress, and it’s exciting. Q: Who are some of your customers in Detroit and Southeast Michigan? A: Union Tank Car Company, Detroit Manufacturing Systems, Fishbeck, and Piston Automotive to name a few. Q: In your experience, what are the challenges companies face with recycling? A: Education and incentivization. Employees often need to be trained in why and how to recycle and handle their waste materials. It’s also vitally important for individuals to understand the difference they are making. Providing that data offers motivation to continue the momentum toward success. Q: What are the biggest challenges you see that businesses have with waste management? A: Participation is probably the biggest challenge. Companies need all employees on board. Training and education are critical to a successful recycling program. There is still a lot of work to do in getting people to take recycling seriously. Plastic is another big challenge for the industry. There are types of plastics that are not commonly recycled due to the unique resins involved. It can become difficult for companies to manage this. Trucking and logistics are a challenge as well. Transportation costs can be the biggest component when it comes to recycling. Q: What are the biggest opportunities? A: I think there is a massive global opportunity in recycling. And by applying technology, the potential to streamline efficiencies is huge. I never thought I’d be in recycling for over thirty years, but It’s a wonderful industry. It feels good to be able to help businesses meet their recycling and waste management goals and do their part to better the environment.   Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.

Perspective on Eliminating Food Waste

DANIELLE TODD, IS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF MAKE FOOD NOT WASTE Landfilled food is one of the primary sources of climate change due to two main reasons. First, food decomposing in landfills emits methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Second, landfilled food represents a waste of land, water, and transportation resources that cannot be reclaimed. Given the substantial volume of food we send to landfills, methane emissions are skyrocketing and our resources are depleting at an alarming rate. Annually, Michiganders discard more than 2 billion pounds of food, resulting in approximately one-third of our landfills being composed of food waste. This excessive waste leads to the negative impacts of extreme weather such as flooding and power outages. It deteriorates air quality, threatens our food supply, and endangers vital plants and animals. Consequently, the State of Michigan, along with the U.S. government and the United Nations, has set a target to halve food waste by 2030. However, with 2 billion pounds of food still being landfilled annually, achieving this goal within six years presents a major challenge. Despite the fact that the problem is so great, eliminating food waste from our landfills is not all that difficult compared to other climate-related changes we need to make. Yes, it’s something we all must do, but it’s also something we all can do. According to the United Nations, more than half of the food waste comes from our homes. That means all of us can make a huge difference in this issue by changing how we handle food in our kitchens. For a fun way to get started, join our 7 Day Food Waste Challenge. You’ll learn the basics and begin to set up some habits that will drive down the amount of food you throw away. Of course, food waste happens outside of homes too. And if we’re going to reach the State’s goal in less than six years, we need a concerted plan. That’s why Make Food Not Waste has launched The 2030 Project, focusing on Southeast Michigan, the region with the highest population density. Concentrating efforts in this area is strategic, given that a larger population corresponds to greater amounts of waste. The project’s objective is to divert all food waste from landfills in the top 15 cities in the region. By collaborating with 17 local and national partners, Make Food Not Waste is crafting a detailed plan incorporating best practices in food waste reduction from across the country. The project’s approach underscores two critical principles: first, there is no singular solution to food waste. Second, we can only stop food waste by working together. While skeptics may argue that completely eliminating food waste from landfills is unattainable, we feel otherwise. It does not require the invention of groundbreaking technology or a defiance of natural laws. Rather, we simply need to stop throwing our food in the garbage. While establishing infrastructure, logistical frameworks, and educational programs pose challenges, they are not insurmountable. The alternative—continuing to waste our resources and make our planet hotter – is not something we can live with. Learn more at   Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.

The Impacts of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on a Community

The Gordie Howe International Bridge – currently under construction – is a 167-acre suspension bridge spanning .53 miles, which is the longest main span of any cable-stayed bridge in North America. The impacts of the construction and future operations of the bridge in the Delray area in Southwest Detroit are formidable. Finding ways to assist businesses and residents and keep the community healthy and sustainable while a once-in-a-lifetime infrastructure project like this occurs has been the focus of several community groups. SBN Detroit spoke with Simone Sagovac, project director at the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, and Laura Chavez-Wazeerud-Din, president and CEO of the Southwest Detroit Business Association, who are leading initiatives in the community to ensure the interests of businesses and residents are protected. The Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) is a coalition of businesses and community interests committed to facilitating a stable and economically healthy Southwest Detroit. The Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition is a community-initiated organization of residents and stakeholders in the direct impact area of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, whose mission is to seek protection for the quality of life and health of those facing impacts. Q: What impacts are the construction of and existence of the Gordie Howe International Bridge having on the Delray area? Sagovac: It has reshaped the entire neighborhood. One-third of the Delray community has been replaced by this development; 250 families were relocated, and more have chosen to move. Over 50 businesses are gone, and others are trying to figure out how to remain prosperous. Many small businesses are owned by people who live in Southwest Detroit. For the hundreds of residents still living in Delray, community amenities are no longer there, and more truck impacts are coming. Chavez-Wazeerud-Din: The transformation of the Delray community is undeniable, and while we understand that progress often brings change, our focus remains on addressing challenges faced by local businesses.  The ongoing street closures pose challenges for customers trying to reach the area, while construction-related dust and debris impede pedestrian traffic. As a result, some businesses have opted to relocate downriver. Q: What is your organization doing to address these issues and mitigate the risks for residents and businesses? Sagovac: We helped initiate a Home Swap program with the city where residents can swap their homes for a land-bank house. About 100 families have chosen to do this. These houses are fully renovated, including new roofs, furnaces, HVAC, interiors, and more. This is a great program, but there are only so many land bank homes available to meet the needs, and some residents want to stay. For those who moved, it’s tough to replace a community you once were a part of. The I-75 Environmental Mitigation Program offered home mitigations such as improved HVAC systems, insulation, and new windows to address noise and air quality impacts from increased truck traffic. The Delray Home Repair Program provided these same options for new roofs and furnaces. We are also working with the state and the University of Michigan on air monitoring and tracking emissions. We’re working with other Southwest Detroit organizations and SDBA on truck traffic solutions – dealing with trucks that are currently being rerouted into neighborhoods and creating significant challenges for residents and the business corridor. Chavez-Wazeerud-Din: The SDBA supports nearly 900 local businesses by offering access to meaningful programs and resources. One resource is our Façade Improvement program, which has been instrumental in helping businesses maintain their relevance and appeal. We’ve extended this program to businesses located on Springwells Street and West Vernor Highway, among other areas. We also are actively engaged with the bridge authority, advocating for a portion of the recent $2.3 million grant funds to be allocated directly to businesses in Southwest Detroit. In addition, we are developing an Experience Southwest Detroit Campaign, recognizing that the increased traffic resulting from the bridge will impact the area. Our goal is to encourage people to stop for meals and retail purchases, allowing them to truly experience the character of Delray and Southwest Detroit, rather than simply passing through. Q: What is being done in terms of buffering and preserving the neighborhoods? Sagovac: We are still seeking additional buffering along I-75 and truck routes and are working with the city and state on this. This is covered in the Delray Neighborhood Framework Plan. Chavez-Wazeerud-Din: We’re collaborating closely with the city and planning department to enhance the safety of the corridor, prioritizing its walkability once more. West Vernor Highway has unfortunately become a main thoroughfare for semi-trucks, posing serious safety concerns for businesses and residents alike. As a result, we’re actively addressing truck routing issues, and we’re optimistic that the Joe Louis Greenway will alleviate some of the traffic on West Vernor Highway. We are involved in the Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal project to support businesses and the economy in Southwest Detroit by improving freight transportation opportunities. Q: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities? Sagovac: Living with extreme daily truck traffic impacts the community’s health and quality of life deeply. It also damages and devalues property. We are working with the city and many others to bring all forms of solutions, including better truck routing, new infrastructure and zoning, and other policies that will create a quality of life that any family should expect. We also need the support of trucking businesses to ensure their policies and their drivers respect all the traffic safeguards to protect our shared community. Chavez-Wazeerud-Din: Southwest Detroit embodies resilience, characterized by its gritty spirit and the determination of its do-it-yourselfers, a legacy spanning over a century. Business owners and residents (who are often the same) have been impacted and marginalized for a long time. Despite these challenges lies an opportunity: There are funds and resources available to build a more sustainable community. This community, with its rich history and vibrant culture, is not just worth saving – it’s worth nurturing and celebrating for generations to come.   Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.

Unlimited Recycling – 25 Years and Still Evolving


In 1999, Maria Marin tapped into her passion for “doing the right thing for Mother Earth” and started Unlimited Recycling Inc. Today, the company offers total recycling and waste management to companies and individuals nationally with the goal of going global. SBN Detroit sat down with Marin to hear about how her recycling services – and clients – have evolved over the years. Q: Tell me about Unlimited Recycling A: Unlimited Recycling is a comprehensive total waste management company offering one-stop-shop services for any type of waste stream. Our services include transportation of any waste or recycling material, equipment rental, including dumpsters of any size, compactors, balers, and any type of container to properly store and transport material.  In addition, we offer reporting, training, and education. To date, we’ve handled millions of pounds of waste. Q: What prompted you to start the company in 1999? A: I worked for the Department of Natural Resources, and we received many calls on illegal dumping in waterways and even backyards. When I became pregnant with my first son – who is now the VP of the business – I was told not to eat the fish out of the Great Lakes due to mercury levels. I was so disturbed by that and felt I needed to do something about this problem. I also had the desire to be independent and have my own business. The opportunity presented itself when I lost a job and was looking for next steps. I decided it was time and that I could start my company and shape it any way I liked. The opportunities were limitless, so I named it Unlimited Recycling. We started with universal waste such as fluorescent lamps, batteries, electronic equipment, etc. Eventually, customers started asking about other waste streams, including industrial waste and gradually adding more services. Q: How did your business evolve? A: In 2008, I had the opportunity for an Army contract – they wanted solid waste management for recycling and trash. This would require trucks and dumpsters in an industry I did not know anything about. It took three months for me to learn the business, and the contract was awarded two months later. I purchased my first roll-off truck and 13 dumpsters.  Our fleet and equipment have grown tremendously since then. Facilities and companies want one vendor to oversee all their recycling and waste management needs, so we have taken this on by managing these companies’ vendors, contracts, billing, dispatching, and purchasing. We went national about three years ago. Q: How have things changed over the years with the recent government mandates and focus on greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability overall? A: It has been very refreshing to see that the State of Michigan and the governor are on board. Last year, Michigan set new policies to increase the state’s 19% recycling rate to 29% by 2029 and organic waste to 45% material recovery by the year 2050. I believe these goals could be achieved much sooner. To do this, we need to spread awareness within our personal and professional communities. We are working with companies such as Walbridge, managing LEED disposal management for the Gordie Howe International Bridge U.S. Port of Entry, Selfridge Air National Guard Base waste and recycling for the last 22 years, and total waste management for Android Industries, Magna, and many other automotive suppliers. When I started the business, people thought I was crazy. Now I don’t have to sell the why. We have people calling us every day. It’s still a challenge, but every day awareness increases more for the need to recycle. Q: You mentioned you also train companies in recycling. What does that look like? A: Yes. Many people still don’t know how to properly recycle and also find it daunting.  I go into businesses and implement their recycling program according to their needs. Often, we start with single-stream recycling for offices and train them on acceptable items and materials, containers needed, etc. Many people do not realize that if you put one waste material that doesn’t belong in a recycling bin, it will contaminate the load. Also, there is a misconception that recycling is expensive. We’ll do a cost analysis for companies and show them that being sustainable is not only the right thing to do, it can also be economical. We’ve saved companies thousands of dollars from diverting cardboard alone. Q: Have the needs of your clients changed a lot through the years? A: Yes. Many started with one service and now we are handling all of it. I’ve seen many companies grow in their efforts over the years. They are becoming more environmentally aware, and their corporate offices are setting higher standards for sustainability, so we get requests all the time from current customers asking if we can recycle new additional waste streams for them or find a solution for a waste stream that isn’t commonly known to be recyclable. I think our services and creative solutions help us retain our customers and find new ones through recommendations regularly. I think that credit goes to our amazing team that responds quickly to customer requests and needs.  Q: You offer dumpster rental, universal waste recycling, industrial waste recycling, food waste composting, and LEED waste management. What services do companies and institutions use the most? A: All of the above every day! We are getting more and more requests lately for LEED. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Q: What does your future look like? A: Our goal is to increase our total waste management services to help companies reach their sustainability and zero-waste landfill goals. We started here in Detroit and are now nationwide; however, it has always been in the plan to go global. I want to go back to my roots, to South and Central America, to teach Latin communities how to recycle, providing them with education and resources. I was recently invited to travel to Africa to assist the country with its plan to implement

A Look at EGLE’s Materials Waste Management Division


The Materials Management Division (MMD) of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) oversees solid and hazardous waste programs, radioactive materials activities, a radon awareness program, recycling, and energy programs. We interviewed the director of the division, Elizabeth Browne, to get some insights. Q: How do you think energy efficiency, recycling, and pollution prevention are interconnected when it comes to fostering sustainability in Southeast Michigan? A: I have always felt you can’t have any without the others, and they are all key to having a sustainable system. Maybe it’s my biologist background. Recycling facilitates energy efficiency since it translates to diverting items from landfills. If you have a good system, you are reusing and recycling materials nearby, you save energy by not transporting material across state lines. When we look at energy efficiency, it works the same way. If we decrease the effort and resources put into heating, cooling, water usage, and transportation systems by becoming more efficient, we have more resources to allocate elsewhere. And isn’t that the very heart and definition of sustainability? Q: How do environmental justice and underrepresented communities factor into these efforts in Southeast Michigan? A: They factor in highly. There are federal funding requirements to help regulate this. The federal Justice 40 program deems that 40% of grant funds be used in underrepresented communities. Even before that, this was a focus for us. If you look at any of our requests for proposals, we pay special attention to projects coming from underrepresented communities – places where the community’s ability to be more sustainable has been stressed. We are always trying to level the playing field.  Q: You work with state and federal partners, entrepreneurs, companies, organizations, and communities to reduce Michigan’s reliance on nonrenewable energy. Can you tell us more about this work? A: We work with federal partners in seeking every grant opportunity that we feel we have a nexus with. We work with companies and organizations through the Retired Engineers, Scientists, Technicians, Administrators, Researchers, and Teachers (RESTART) program. This is a group of retired professionals who work with entities to identify where they have energy issues or where renewable energy options may be a benefit. We do energy audits for houses of worship, schools, and municipal buildings. In many cases, these buildings are older and not efficient, so we offer ideas on how to improve efficiency and look at renewable options. This helps them save financial resources that they can then allocate elsewhere. We have received grant money through the Charge Up Michigan Program to install fast chargers in communities. Within this program, the cost of charger installation is divided amongst the location owner, the utility provider, and EGLE. This allows us to install more chargers, and it helps the utilities get closer to their energy efficiency goals and benefits the property owner or business. We have worked with communities to replace diesel- and gas-powered vehicles with electric ones, including Willow Run Airport and the City of Detroit. In Detroit, we replaced diesel-powered garbage trucks with EVs. We work heavily with NextCycle and the Centropolis Accelerator program at Lawrence Technological University.  These are both programs to support businesses in their early stages.  NextCycle is geared toward recycling activities, and the Centropolis Accelerator focuses on clean technology and the circular economy. Q: What are your biggest challenges in materials management? A: The thing that keeps me up at night is navigating grant programs. There is this huge influx of federal money, but there are a lot of checks and balances, and trying to manage the funding appropriately is a challenge. There is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait involved. We have a phenomenal team, and I don’t want to break their backs as they work to move the money out to recipients. Q: What are your highest priorities? A: Moving as much of the funding to those who need it and doing it in a way that is equitable and fair and hits the highest needs. Sometimes we make decisions that aren’t flashy, but the impact they have on that community is significant. A small community getting a few solar panels to help power their community building so the kids have someplace to go after school is a good example. We try to disburse the money in a way that supports as many communities and people as possible. Q: What does the future look like? A: I think it keeps getting brighter. The Michigan Legislature recently passed an eight-bill package that updates solid waste laws and will ensure we have sufficient landfill capacity. We just held our Virtual Michigan Materials Management Conference and had almost 600 people from 11 states represented. Getting EV chargers out across the state and seeing more and more interest in communities in terms of electrification is good progress. There is so much potential for economic growth in the energy and recycling fields. It’s astronomical. This excites me. Every day, I see people and companies that are looking for support and direction on becoming more sustainable. More and more companies understand the need to be sustainable because the public is demanding it, and it’s also for their own good. I encourage everyone to reach out to us. People interested in any EGLE grant programs can go to\EGLE and search for “grants and financing.” For more information about all things Materials Management Division, our web pages can be found at   Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.