The Cleanup Club: Working to Mitigate Plastic Pollution in the Great Lakes

HANNAH TIZEDES IS THE FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CLEANUP CLUB Before founding The Cleanup Club, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting our communities and Great Lakes from plastic pollution through cleanups and creativity, I amassed a collection of over 100,000 pieces of plastic debris from the Great Lakes shorelines during solo cleanups. I used the colorful found objects to create thought-provoking art pieces and installations to inspire conversations about how we can all play a role in protecting the places we love.  Creativity has continued to play a key role in The Cleanup Club’s mission to protect our communities and Great Lakes from plastic pollution while having fun. We aim to serve as an approachable source to help educate and spark dialogue with people online and in person about the urgent need for action to protect our freshwater resources.  In 2016, a study from the Rochester Institute of Technology revealed that nearly 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enter our Great Lakes every year, with major cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and Toronto being primary sources. By 2024, plastic production has continued to increase globally, and so has the urgent need to protect our waterways from harmful impacts. This is particularly crucial as these bodies of water provide drinking water to over 40 million people across the US and Canada.  Recent studies have shown that topics such as climate change and plastic pollution often leave people feeling frightened and negative. With the rise of terms like “eco-anxiety” and studies emphasizing the growing harms of plastic pollution, The Cleanup Club aims to push forward crucial work for a more sustainable future and cleaner waters. At the same time, we strive to create an uplifting community that empowers individuals, communities, and businesses to take action together through joyful and collaborative experiences.  We understand that working together is essential when it comes to finding upstream solutions and mitigating plastic pollution in our region. This is why The Cleanup Club values collaborating with aligned local businesses and global brands. We aim to educate and expand the conversation about Great Lakes plastic pollution through community cleanups, educational programming, and interactive creative projects around Michigan, focusing on Southeast Michigan.  When partnering with The Cleanup Club, local businesses enjoy the benefit of a passionate group of volunteers cleaning up their neighborhoods while driving awareness and business to their unique offerings. Past partners, contributors, and sponsors include Walking Lightly and 86 Plastic (local zero waste stores in Metro Detroit), Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters, HiBAR, Detroit Shipping Co, Belle Isle Conservancy, Royal Oak Sustainability, and more.  Community events are not only fun ways to get outside and take part in collective action but also serve as a way to collect data on top-polluting items and top-polluted areas for advocacy and research efforts that further promote upstream solutions.  While we acknowledge that cleanups are not the ultimate solution, we strongly believe they play an accessible and active role in education and advancing our collaborative efforts for a brighter, more sustainable future for people and the planet.  Learn more at and follow on Instagram at   Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.

Moving Toward a More Just and Sustainable Future in Southeast Michigan

Sara Soderstrom is an associate professor in Organizational Studies and Program in the Environment and the Erb Undergraduate Fellows faculty director at the University of Michigan.  Sustainability has evolved significantly over the years. At the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Sustainability in Business, this evolution includes working toward market transformation: business transforming the market to make it more sustainable. We can’t be thinking only: ‘How do we do less bad? How do we pollute less? How do we use fewer resources?’ We need to actually think about ‘How do we do more good?’ That fundamentally pivots the way that you think about business—it’s much more of a proactive than reactive conversation. It also centers justice in a way that early business sustainability didn’t. This shift changes the local vs. global dynamic to consider the local as part of the global system, and it sharpens the focus on small and midsize businesses. It also considers supply chains and key stakeholders more broadly. A study that I conducted with Kathryn Heinze, associate professor in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Michigan, shows some of the ways these shifts are happening. The study focused on the nonprofit FoodLab, which was operating in Detroit at the time. FoodLab aimed to promote healthy, environmentally sustainable, and accessible food systems and to grow a good food economy by working with its members: local food entrepreneurs. One thing that we realized as we were working with local entrepreneurs was a focus on being embedded in place—what is Detroit? What is the commitment to the city? What is the future for the city we envision? And how do we place ourselves in that future as entrepreneurs? With this network of businesses, there was a strong motivation not just for the financial viability of the business, but for doing good through business. But at the same time, these entrepreneurs have resource constraints, so there are tradeoffs. How do you balance things like a living wage with ensuring composting or locally sourced materials? FoodLab helped ease some of these constraints by serving as a connector that lowered the barriers to entry around sustainability. This way, each entrepreneur didn’t need to have all the answers or all the resources—they could get the information they needed about sourcing, financing, or best practices through the network. FoodLab functioned as part incubator, part social movement organization, connecting folks with these shared interests to collectively learn, but also as the space that could aggregate these resources and make them accessible to people, so that they could more effectively move forward towards sustainability and justice goals. FoodLab asserted that they couldn’t have a just and sustainable food economy if there wasn’t engagement, ownership, and voice from diverse entrepreneurs that reflect the City of Detroit. So they had a lot of intentionality around diversity and engagement, both in who was participating as entrepreneurs in the network, but also in what they were prioritizing as their goals as an organization. It was centering equity and justice in almost every conversation and decision they were having. The ways that FoodLab built its organizational practices and structured conversations made sure that everyone involved felt like they were heard, even in contentious conversations, which built trust and helped them move collectively towards this more just and sustainable imagined future. The Erb Institute – a partnership of the Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan -. works to create a sustainable world through the power of business. Somewhat like FoodLab, we also serve as an enabling network. The students are the key actors, We are the convener, and then the network continues with alumni who are now 10 to 20 years out but still lean into us and each other for support as they work toward solutions to sustainability and justice challenges. Two of our key programs are: Impact Projects, through which students design projects, often working directly with businesses or partnering with businesses and community partners on organization-led projects. The projects give businesses access to students who have time, expertise, and passion around sustainability and justice efforts, who can help them focus on an issue—such as supply chain, procurement, or skills redevelopment. Erb on the Road, which brings both graduate and undergraduate students to businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations across Michigan. The program allows students to engage with a variety of different types of businesses and nonprofits that are focused on local sustainability challenges and figure out solutions for them. For undergrads specifically, what has been powerful is hearing them reflect on learning what is happening locally—which makes what we talked about in the textbook real—but their experiences are helping them recognize that business and sustainability is an available career path. People are committed to sustainability in myriad ways, and you don’t need to wait until you are chief sustainability officer to do sustainability. The Erb Institute is focused on preparing future leaders – and also service to the state of Michigan. We want students to recognize that being part of the University of Michigan isn’t just the Ann Arbor campus – it’s also the state and world. So we work to help focus that commitment to: What does it really mean to be the leaders and the best? Supporting and engaging locally in Detroit and across Michigan is part of that.     Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice’s Vision for Sustainability

LAPRISHA BERRY DANIELS IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF DETROITERS WORKING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND A LEADERSHIP COMMITTEE MEMBER FOR SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS NETWORK DETROIT DWEJ’s vision for sustainability is rooted in the three pillars of sustainability: health and happiness of community members, a healthy local environment free from hazards and harm, and economic vitality. As an organization that focuses on environmental justice and strives to have the voice of the community-centered as decisions are being made that impact their health (physical, mental, spiritual, and economic), we assert that community members can envision and create healthy communities that meet their immediate and distal needs. A healthy community is one in which all systems work together to support the health and well-being of all its members. Local businesses are part of the community’s ecosystem and thus play a unique role in supporting the health and well-being of the community. Ideally, the relationship between community members and local business is mutually beneficial as they prioritize health and co-create a healthy community. Local businesses and community members can work together to identify threats to community well-being and create strategies to address challenges. In Detroit, and beyond, climate change threatens our ability to achieve and maintain physical, mental, spiritual, and economic health. As we experience more extreme weather locally, such as extreme heat and annual “100-year floods”, we recognize that our built environment may not be able to weather the storm (pun intended). Unfortunately, our existing residential housing stock and current construction practices are too often ill-suited for current and future climate conditions. The mismatch between what is available and what is needed creates threats to the health of people and planet. DWEJ developed a contractor accelerator program that focuses on contractors increasing their awareness about ways to improve the built environment to mitigate risks related to climate change while centering sustainability. DWEJ’s contractor accelerator program, Building Health, serves as an incubator to support peer-to-peer learning among Detroit-based, Detroit-serving contractors of color. Building Health increases contractors’ awareness and implementation of “environmentally responsible and resource-efficient” practices that have: Bottom-line business benefits Individual and community health benefits Decrease environmental degradation. Building Health increases contractors’ understanding of the impact they can have on health. For example, participating contractors are presented with strategies for upgrading and greening residential housing in ways that include the use of various building methods and materials that can make homes more energy efficient. These improvements decrease greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health and comfort of the home, and improve the economic health of the occupants by reducing the cost of utility use. Participants receive financial and technical assistance to implement practices as part of the program as well. Additionally, contractors learn how to best communicate the benefits of sustainable repair and rehab practices to clients. The role of local contractors is just one example of the opportunity our community has to transform our ecosystem and economy for the better. There is a unique and distinct role that local business plays in supporting people and planet. Sustainability is an iterative process where we must work collectively toward the goal of having healthy and vibrant places in which to live, learn, work, play, and pray. — Check out Laprisha Berry Daniels’s recent #TEDTalks: Lessons from the Past on Adapting to Climate Change Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.