Writer: Kim Kisner

The Reason for Detroit? Companies Engage in a Meaningful Way with Conservation and Are Forward-thinking When it Comes to Biodiversity

Published On July 27, 2022

On June 14 and 15, 2022 business leaders from all over the world convened at the Westin Book Cadillac to celebrate each other’s successes in conservation and biodiversity. 

Hosted by the Wildlife Habitat Council, this 33rd annual conference took place in Detroit for the first time. 

Says WHC President Margaret O’Gorman, “We chose Detroit because we work with many businesses in and around the city that are not only innovative from a business sense, but from a corporate social responsibility standpoint. These companies engage in a meaningful way with conservation and are forward-thinking when it comes to biodiversity. We celebrate that.” 

What is the Wildlife Habitat Council? 

The WHC’s mission is to promote and certify habitat conservation and management on corporate lands through partnerships and education through customized comprehensive services that help companies align conservation efforts with their business needs. 

It works with private-sector businesses of all sizes and landscapes of all types… from buildings like the Renaissance Center to the Marathon Refinery to a quarry or copper mine. Its goal is to integrate nature into business operations to benefit community engagement and biodiversity. 

When we are asked how businesses can get started, our answer is simply ‘do something.’ Our philosophy is that every act of conservation matters,” O’Gorman said. “We don’t need large tracts of land to make a positive impact. What we need is for companies to simply act for nature. That’s where the difference starts.

Says Neil Hawkins, president of the Erb Family Foundation, former chief sustainability officer of Dow, and friend of the WHC, “This organization does a fantastic job of coaching companies both big and small and also assisting in doing the work.” 

About the WHC Conservation Conference 

This ‘comeback’ event – having been on a pandemic hiatus the last two years – was designed to bring companies together to celebrate accomplishments in conservation, share ideas, and shape strategies that can make a positive difference for biodiversity and business around the world. 

Says O’Gorman, “There were two main goals of this event. The first was to simply highlight that there is a biodiversity crisis and that the private sector has a role to play in addressing it. The second was to provide recognition for corporate employees who are implementing high-quality projects on their land.”  

As such, General Motors received the 2022 WHC Corporation Conservation Leadership Award, which recognizes one company’s overall excellence in conservation and signifies its exemplary commitment to biodiversity, conservation education, and alignment with global conservation objectives. 

This year’s Employee Engagement Award was also given to General Motors. This award recognizes the exceptional contributions of a company’s employees to their habitat and conservation education activities. 

Several other prestigious awards were presented. You can see the full list here

A unique addition to this year’s conference was the Makers’ Pavilion, sponsored by the Erb Family Foundation and Sustainable Business Network Detroit, in which ten Detroit-area socially and environmentally focused artisans displayed and sold their work. 

“This points to WHC’s focus on not only conservation projects, but social sustainability, inclusion, and equity,” said Hawkins. 

What it Represents for Detroit 

Many Detroit businesses are active with and involved in conservancy projects with the WHC. Detroit and its neighboring regions are home to 32% of WHC members. 

The event – typically on the East Coast – being held in Detroit this year was significant. 

I see this as such a great opportunity for Detroit. Hosting the WHC and companies across the globe in acknowledgment of the smart and hard conservation work being done toward biodiversity opens doors and eyes for other businesses in our area to follow suit, Hawkins shared.

“Detroit city land has a long history of being taken over for industrial development and residential housing and conversely, decimating nature. Whatever we can bring back through corporate intervention is important.” 

WHC Work in Detroit

Detroit, like most major U.S. cities, faces modern problems such as poor air and water quality, unemployment, and degraded environmental conditions resulting from rapid urbanization.  

Detroit companies, dedicated community groups, and the WHC are working together to combat these issues and find solutions.  

The local work highlighted at the conference richly illustrates this. 

Lionel Bradford, president of Greening Detroit, highlighted its Meyers Nursery Stormwater Retention Pond, installed at Rouge Park and designed to catch 11 acres of runoff from the site, plus hold back water equivalent to two back-to-back 100-year storms. 

Another substantial project featured was the Stellantis Community Environmental Engagement Program. With its $1.6 billion construction of the Mack Assembly Plant just east of the city, Stellantis committed to a multi-layer environmental program with assistance and certification from the WHC to improve air quality, reduce stormwater, support wildlife, provide educational opportunities and collaborate with community organizations.  

As part of this program, over 1,000 trees were planted as a green buffer; 100 rain barrels were provided to residents to save water and reduce water runoff; curriculum and programming through the WHC were delivered to local schools, and significant environmental installations were developed at nearby Chandler Park. 

A collaborative program between Friends of the River Rouge and The Sierra Club called the Rain Gardens to the Rescue Program was presented, whereby 80 rain gardens were installed in homes to reduce stormwater runoff. This organically led to residents becoming much more involved – to the extent of some purchasing nearby lots to create additional rain gardens and community gathering spots.  

Said O’Gorman, “The number of corporations intersecting with biodiversity shows that the spirit of conservation is alive and well in 2022. We celebrate the work being done because when nature is healthy and our ecosystem is restored, everything flows from there.” 

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