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

Working to Sequester Carbon Within Urban Wood

According to Tiffany Giacobazzi, Ann Arbor urban forestry & natural resources planning coordinator the Ann Arbor Forestry Department, the city of Ann Arbor loses about 600 trees per year. This reduces its carbon storage capacity dramatically. Much of the loss sits within furniture-grade urban lumber, meaning the trees can be repurposed for furniture or other long-lived urban wood goods that aid in sequestering carbon, versus being used for mulch or firewood or being diverted to landfills. Ann Arbor has partnered with Urban Ashes to implement its Circular UrbanWood Triconomy™ (CUT Model™). This model is meant to ensure that logs are put to their highest and best use to sequester as much carbon as possible. SBN Detroit spoke with Paul Hickman, Urban Ashes founder, CEO, and principal designer, and Tiffany Giacobazzi, Ann Arbor urban forestry & natural resources planning coordinator, to find out more. Q: What is Urban Ashes, and how did this program with Ann Arbor come to be? Hickman: I will provide a little background here for context because Urban Ashes has gone through a bit of an evolution. Initially, it started with a major career change for me by taking a job in California with one of the first sustainable lumber companies in the world. I eventually moved back to Michigan and started the original Urban Wood Project with three others in the early 2000s in response to the infestation of the emerald ash borer to help utilize trees beyond mulch, which was the most common response for the disposal of ash trees then and now. That was the impetus, but it immediately expanded to include all fallen urban trees and into Urban Ashes. Urban Ashes grew to sell to over 250 retail partners across 43 states over ten years, repurposing hundreds of tons of lumber into picture frames, furniture, and other items. From the beginning, our focus was also to work with formerly incarcerated individuals as a labor force, and that remains a strong component of the Urban Ashes business model today. Over time, the lack of wraparound (support) services (for workers) took a heavy toll, and eventually, we shifted entirely, shut down our manufacturing, and decided we needed to focus on building the infrastructure to develop the supply chain more thoroughly and consistently and grow the markets for utilization as well as develop the critically needed wraparound services needed for our target labor pool. So, we partnered with NextCycle Michigan and went through their FLOWS track which led to an EGLE grant. Then came the vision for the Circular UrbanWood Triconomy™. We were fortunate enough to work with the University of Michigan graduate students for 18 months to validate the viability of the model, and beginning in 2021, we have piloted it with the city of Ann Arbor. Q: How and why did the city of Ann Arbor come to change the way it processes trees and work with Urban Ashes? Giacobazzi: As the city has shifted with its sustainability goals and A2Zero plan, we started to look at how we could divert more out of the waste stream.  We wanted to achieve the highest best use for materials that come out of the urban forest. So, we connected with Urban Ashes and partnered on this project. I have support all up and down the line from city administration which is really important. We are fundamentally changing the way we are dealing with urban wood and our urban forest so we must all be in support of this new process. Q: What does this program involve? Hickman: For years, all fallen urban trees in Ann Arbor (as is the case with most cities) were used for mulch or firewood. Accordingly, Ann Arbor loses approximately 1,111 metric tons of carbon every year and we were able to show them that by implementing the CUT Model™, we can capture upwards of 700 metric tons of that 1,111 and keep it in use and sequestered. The process involves cutting the trees down in a way that holds the most carbon and is best suited for the mills. The process also involves setting up the mills, facilities, contracts, and tracking methods, and then implementing everything. So, that is the work that Urban Ashes has been doing. Q: What do you, as the Urban Forestry and Natural Resources Planner, hope to achieve through Circular UrbanWood Triconomy™? Giacobazzi: I want to make sure the trees and lumber that have to come out in Ann Arbor go to the best use possible. I want it diverted from the waste stream and we are looking to lock up the carbon for as long as possible. We put such time and effort and thought into the development, care, and maintenance of our urban forest, it seems that the next natural best step is to complete the lifecycle of these trees and extend the usefulness of the trees once they die or have to come out. Q: In what ways has the lumber from Ann Arbor been repurposed? Hickman: Typically, the lumber goes to mills to be cut into slabs or dimensional lumber, kiln-dried, and processed, and then is sold as raw lumber to manufacturing or local woodworkers. The wood is then used for items such as furniture, frames, ceiling/wall cladding, flooring, household trim packages, decorative pieces, and more. Q: What other cities are you working with? Hickman: We are farthest along with Ann Arbor. But we are also working with Grand Rapids and are in talks with Detroit, Lansing, Traverse City, and several others outside of Michigan. In terms of businesses, we are working with a startup through Centrepolis called Lily Pad Labs out of Holland, Mich., to provide urban black locust for decking and tables for their autonomous electric boats. We are also working in conjunction with Centrepolis to help bring Daika Wood’s game-changing urban wood waste processes and products to Michigan. These are a few of the things we have happening at the moment. Q; In what ways do you think Urban

Sustainability Business Network Detroit, One Year In


Sustainable Business Network Detroit was formed a year ago out of a study conducted by Erb Family Foundation and is helmed by Terry Barclay, chair, SBN Detroit, and CEO Inforum; Neil Hawkins, president of Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation; and Cindy Goodaker, VP, signature programs and communications, Inforum, along with a distinguished list of organizing members steeped in the sustainability community of Southeast Michigan. The group’s goal is to create a sustainable business ecosystem by convening a network serving as a hub for idea-sharing, programming, content, mentoring, and more – to accelerate the systemic adoption of sustainable business practices in Southeast Michigan. The primary belief is that business is a positive force for change and can and should be used as a force for good. For the past twelve months, the network has worked toward three core pillars; advancing and amplifying sustainable business practices in a centralized hub; creating urgency to activate; and articulating a sustainable way forward for the region. Here, Neil Hawkins shares his viewpoint and insights on the progress the network has made this year and the vision for the future. What is the impetus behind SBN Detroit? How did the idea arise and how was it developed? I’ve been involved with sustainability as it relates to businesses for some time and worked for Dow as their chief sustainability officer. Subsequently, Fred and Barbara Erb established the Erb Institute for Sustainable Global Enterprise more than 25 years ago at the University of Michigan. No program like this had existed in the world up until then, and it was very forward-thinking and visionary – the idea that business had a positive role to play in environmental sustainability. I came to the Erb Family Foundation as the president four years ago and at that time, we commissioned a study done by Sarah McCall – now working as SBN Detroit administrator – of what needed to be done to accelerate progress in sustainability within the region. That research was the impetus behind starting a network that would accelerate sustainability through business collaboration and progress – SBN Detroit. How do SBN Detroit’s three pillars work together to achieve its mission of mobilizing businesses and organizations to make Southeast Michigan a global leader in sustainability? Fundamentally the pillars are in place to help break down the barriers – silos. There are too many silos that exist in the region, and they prevent progress. These are silos between companies and across different-sized companies, and between companies and non-profits etc. All of those together are a barrier to making faster progress. These three areas of focus – urgency, centralization, and looking forward – are helping to tear down these silos and promote collaboration. The second statement was a fragment as written. I think it’s supposed to say: These three areas of focus – urgency, centralization, and looking forward – are helping to tear down these silos and promote collaboration. (I’m not sure my edits made that clear) A year in, what impact do you think SBN Detroit has made and is making? What is its greatest success so far? I think SBN Detroit has helped to completely change the level of dialogue within the region about sustainable business practices. I see it as a ‘before SBN Detroit and after SBN Detroit.’ We are seeing new collaboration and a lot more discussion about how we can work together to move forward, and we are seeing it on a completely different level. What specifically do you attribute this to? I think our biggest success in the last twelve months is the March 2022 event we had featuring Dr. Katharine Hayhoe on improving the dialogue about climate change. It was a remarkable event, and the timing was such that it was many people’s first foray into a public space since COVID had begun. The narrative of the event coupled with the interaction among people with like minds and like interests sparked renewed energy toward our collective goals. I also attribute our success to our steering team. I thank them for laying out a strategy and faithfully bringing people together. If the steering team works well together – and it has – we have a good shot at having continued success. What is the importance of collaboration when it comes to sustainability in this region? It is only going to be through collaboration that our region and ecosystem reach their full potential. SBN Detroit is focused on accelerating collaboration by creating opportunities for dialogue and action. We’ve accomplished this, and I see the fruits of it already. Excellent groundwork has been laid. What are your thoughts on SBN Detroit as a network? I think SBN Detroit represents many networks and is not a single network. This is still playing out a bit, and it’s a good thing.  As long as we can keep companies and nonprofits and different universities and institutions involved and collaborating and working together that’s a great thing. What do you see as the primary obstacles to network formation, and how can they be overcome? The key obstacle is competition – competition between businesses, between businesses and nonprofits, between nonprofits and universities, between universities and other universities, and so on.  The key thing we all have to focus on is that this is not a zero-sum game. By collaborating we make the pie bigger for everyone. There is growth here to be had and a lot of investment to come. We can all share in that growth if we are working together. This will position metro Detroit well. What do you see as the corporate-level impact of SBN Detroit? Having come from corporate, what I see through SBN Detroit is a renewed sense of group action and focus on the region, the Great Lakes, and the planet. Pre-COVID some silos existed, and then you throw in a pandemic that forces people to not even go into their workplace, and it is significantly exacerbated. We have started to create a sense of urgency and

University of Michigan President Santa Ono Expands on Sustainability Agenda at SBND event

University of Michigan President Santa Ono has put sustainability and fighting climate change among his top priorities since he assumed the position in October. In addition to several programs and initiatives that are being expanded or developed, the university is now serving as the lead institution for the University Climate Change Coalition which convenes 23 leading North American universities to work toward climate action on campuses, in communities, and at a global scale. Ono spoke about his sustainability agenda for UofM at an April 5 luncheon attended by more than 250 stakeholders and business and organization leaders. The event was sponsored by the Erb Institute and hosted by the Sustainable Business Network Detroit and Inforum. Tom Lyon, faculty director at the Erb Institute, kicked off the event by saying, “As we build toward expertise on sustainability the challenge is to think globally and act locally together, and the state, the universities, businesses, and all sectors have to be involved.” John M. Erb, Erb Family Foundation chair, echoed that sentiment commenting, “We are all important stakeholders in balancing the needs of the people, planet, and economy and working toward a more sustainable future.” Working together and the need to connect the dots toward saving the planet were primary themes. Each of us is indispensable in responding to and resolving the biggest challenge our society has ever faced and solving this emergency transcends borders, Ono said. We need to come together in the form of a nexus to benefit us and all who follow us on this planet. Ono said the university benefits from strength in numbers with 800+ sustainability faculty members, 100+ student organizations, and 8,000 Planet Blue Ambassadors. He gave a special nod to students, saying, “Their passion has wowed me, and I have found that many times it’s the students who (first) identify and develop solutions.” Some of UofM’s sustainability priorities include moving to 100% renewable purchased power by 2025, building on-campus solar installations with a capacity of 25 megawatts across the Dearborn, Flint, and Ann Arbor campuses – including Michigan Medicine and athletics – and achieving LEED Platinum status for all buildings. Ono talked about the university’s historic ties with the city of Detroit and its responsibility toward it. “The university was established in 1817 at Cadillac Square in Detroit, and Mayor Duggan took me there saying that we have a great responsibility to the city, and he’s right.” On March 6, the university announced new commitments for the $250 million University of Michigan Center for Innovation, previously known as the Detroit Center for Innovation. The project is a collaboration with Stephen Ross, chairman and majority owner of Related Companies, and the Ilitch family. Ono noted that the center will accommodate academic and community programs to include three distinct types of activity—graduate education, talent-based community development, and community engagement—all in the service of economic development and job growth for Detroit. In the spirit of collaboration, Ono also pointed out that there were people attending the event from other Michigan universities and applauded this, saying, “We have our competition on the fields and courts, but getting closer to other Michigan educational institutions is very important to UofM. We need MSU to make advances in agritech, and Wayne State University is a critical component to making advances in the city. We all need to work together and we are starting to do more of that now.” Following his speech, Telva McGruder, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for General Motors Co. and member of the advisory board for the UofM School for Environment and Sustainability, moderated a Q&A. Below are some of the key questions and takeaways. McGruder: What is your top priority as president of the University of Michigan? Ono: Addressing climate change. I’ve been very vocal that this is my number one priority. Michigan has to be a leader here. And that is the wish of the collective voices of the university as well. Students are actually pushing me, and I appreciate that so much. I have told them to hold my feet to the fire. McGruder: Regarding the notion of connecting the dots, how do you as a university leader – and how do leaders in other organizations – bring expertise together for progress? Ono: I think the different pieces of the puzzle that exist illustrate opportunity. One part of the secret sauce at UofM is that each director has the autonomy to dream and be bold. Now, we need to collaborate and form connections around these ideas. The faculty and leadership and students have wowed me with their collaborative spirit. McGruder: How can companies and organizations around the state connect with the efforts of the university? Ono: We are working on making a “front door” more clear.  We are going to invest and Identify someone to knit it together and act as the gatekeeper to reduce the barrier to communication inside and outside the university. McGruder: Progress sometimes means people changing ways of doing things and letting go so that we can move forward. What are your thoughts as we move forward toward carbon neutrality on some of the things we have to encourage communities to let go of? Ono: It goes both ways. Trust is a critical point. Leaders have to earn trust. We as a university have to go into communities knowing that we have as much to learn from them as they do from us. We as a university have made mistakes along the way, and so have other institutions and companies. Addressing that truthfully is a prerequisite to going into communities and working together. McGruder: When it comes to funding, how do we help decision-makers and leaders within all sectors understand the need to spend on sustainability efforts? Ono: Addressing the climate crisis is not a bottom-line budget issue it’s a social responsibility.  And what is the point of a strong financial standpoint if there’s no planet to exist on? A recording of the complete program can be found here:   Be sure

Helping Detroiters Create New Businesses for a More Equitable World


Jerry Davis, Gilbert & Ruth Whitaker Professor of Management and faculty director of Business+Impact at the Michigan Ross School of Business, believes that with more available government funding than in the past, more entrepreneurs and businesses in Detroit are in a position to build equitable community wealth. Davis, who received his Ph.D. from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and taught at Northwestern and Columbia before moving to the University of Michigan, has published six books and dozens of articles in academic and business publications. His latest book is Taming Corporate Power in the 21st Century (Cambridge University Press, 2022). His focus is reshaping and developing businesses to be drivers of social and environmental change. SBN Detroit spoke to Davis about his perspectives, the new graduate-level class, and what it ultimately means to Detroit businesses. Q: Tell us about your concept of reshaping businesses into drivers of change. A: I think there are two ways we can orient businesses toward a more equitable sustainable future. First, we can take an existing business and reform it from the inside. This is often done by intrapreneurs. Second, we can create new enterprises that are built right from the start. My overall concept is that businesses can address bigger challenges than just shareholder value through reform or fresh starts. There are so many new building blocks available to businesses today that we can leverage to not only make money but also to begin to address the racial wealth gap, generational inequality, and the green energy transition. Q: What do you mean by building blocks? A: Technology has fundamentally changed the building blocks for creating an enterprise in the last fifteen years. There are dozens of new ways to raise capital that didn’t exist ten to fifteen years ago. There are new ways to find distribution channels, new ways to work with suppliers and labor, new legal formats, and the list goes on. Q: How do the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals inform your work? A: Since the inception of the Sustainability Development Goals in 2015, I’ve used them as a GPS of sorts for orienting what businesses can do to contribute to social benefit. I’ve integrated this into my teaching and writing and research. Drilling down …If you had to pick one threat we are facing on a global basis that businesses can work better to address – and that creates business opportunities –  it’s the green energy transition. This is the thing in our generation that we need to accomplish starting today. And it’s impossible to address it with government action only. There is a central role for businesses to play in bringing about this transition. And with the Inflation Reduction Act and Justice40 in place, there is no better opportunity to build green enterprises than right now. Q: What are some of the opportunities provided by the Inflation Reduction Act? A: As I said, the need for the green energy transition has never been greater. It is imperative for our species. At the same time, we have the Biden-Harris administration launching the IRA, which creates huge incentives to electrify and transition to green energy. There is an astounding amount of money being allocated to homeowners and renters and drivers to help make this transition. You can simply go online and see the offerings – switching from a gas furnace to a heat pump offers free cash. There are huge tax benefits to electric vehicle owners. And low-income brackets receive even more benefits. I highly recommend the “Rewiring America” website. From a business perspective, this is an opportunity like never before. Businesses that provide services around transitioning to green energy stand to prosper greatly through this funding. These opportunities represent a chance to build generational wealth. Q: Can you explain more about how the act supports generational-wealth building? A: Detroit has been hit hard in several ways … the mortgage crisis, residential flight, municipal bankruptcy, and the list goes on. These have robbed people of opportunities to create prosperity for themselves and their families. So, this funding represents an especially well-placed opportunity for cities like Detroit. According to the White House, the Justice40 initiative means that “40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.” That includes “climate change, clean energy, and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and the development of critical clean water and wastewater infrastructure.” When you combine the IRA and Justice40, it opens the spigot for cash allocated toward environmental initiatives. So again, the opportunity to start a new business and build community wealth has never been greater than it is right now. This is the impetus behind a new graduate class starting this week called “Impact Studio: Designing the Equitable Enterprise” that I am teaching with my co-instructor Cat Johnson. Q: Tell us more about the class and how you see it impacting both the students and local businesses. A: The class focuses on how to use the new building blocks of business to create enterprises in Detroit that will facilitate the green energy transition. Students will interview dozens of Detroit businesses and members of the community to better understand the needs and pain points around energy. They will then map out the opportunities. For example, let’s say a building contractor is looking to use heat pumps but can’t find someone with the skill to install them, or can’t find a vendor for them. This represents an opportunity. Maybe a college can create training programs for installation. Or find incentives to make heat pumps more widely available. They will then go on to create what I call template business models – plausible, economically sustainable models that are replicable – and a set of how-to guides. The how-to guides will translate into plain English the ways in which entrepreneurs and communities can build on the IRA and the new building blocks of