Sustainability Efforts Across Michigan Businesses Highlight Diversity and Inclusion

April 1, 2021

Written by: Skyla Jewell-Hammie


When you think of the word “sustainability,” what comes to mind? Sure, recycling and refraining from polluting the air are great ways to advocate for sustainability, but where does that leave the many BIPOC (Black,  Indigenous & People of Color) communities who are left out of the conversation?  Clearing one month to commemorate Black and Brown communities is a reason to celebrate, but community outreach doesn’t stop after 28 days. 

Historically, the environmental movement has allocated its resources to fit majority-white communities. This further creates blind spots for inclusivity and racial equity, making it difficult for BIPOC individuals to have a say in environmental efforts, especially about their health. 

People First Economy operates programs they believe will create an economy that will  “put people first,” and support businesses in having more positive impacts on their community and the environment. The Local First program is specific to West Michigan businesses that are privately owned and headquartered in the West Michigan Region, helping uplift and organize the local economy there. 

Good For Michigan Program Director Alice Jasper is a multi-racial Black woman who advocates for sustainability consulting and outdoor recreation. Through her work with Good For Michigan, Jasper oversees development; utilizing global metrics of sustainability and providing companies with resources to improve and implement their goals. 

 Good For Michigan is a state-wide subprogram of People First Economy. Their message is to approach sustainability as a constellation of people, planet, profit, and looking at environmentalism as intersectional.

Furthermore, approaching sustainability this way helps us understand the implications of separating people and the planet; the environmental impacts of a business will not just affect our natural resources, but people as well. 

For example, B Corps is a third-party certification that looks at how companies impact their employees, the community, the environment, the products or services it offers, and honing in on transparency and accountability within their company operations. 

Once a company has taken a lengthy assessment that thoroughly digs into each of those categories mentioned, then they are audited by the non-profit B Lab that runs the certification process. Some examples of national B Corps are Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Seventh Generation Cleaning Supplies.

Jasper’s program convenes all of the B Corp Certified businesses in the state of Michigan, which is about 25, utilizing those same metrics for B Corp Certification for companies that aren’t as far along in their sustainability journey. Still, utilizing those globally recognized practices helps businesses learn and normalize those sustainable practices.

“Good For Michigan has a lot of pieces in an assessment that helps companies navigate diversity in supply chains, impact on their workforce, capturing demographic info in ways that can be more impactful on their community,” Jasper said. “The purpose of B Corp is to help outline outputs with outcomes, ensuring those actions have the outcomes they were designed to have.”

Through her work with BIPOC business owners, she understood her passion for removing systemic barriers placed upon Black and Brown businesses/communities. 

“The problem is that there are many barriers to get their businesses going where environmentalism is a secondary thing,” Jasper concluded. “I want to remove the financial and technical assistance barriers to make that less of a hurdle to overcome. I believe that consumers are looking to support more sustainable businesses.”

 Jasper’s work in breaking down barriers of BIPOC business owners for accessible capital forwarded breaking down extra burdens on the business-owner front. This approach inspired her to reach out to the community about natural resources. 

Because of her work in impacting the community, Jasper decided to venture off into her side hustle. 

Focusing on building relationships for BIPOC folks to nature and the outdoors, Jasper did a pilot episode for PBS called “Color Out Here,” which shows POC (people of color) at different levels of experience with the outdoors. 

“I’ve noticed a real disconnect of environmental work being mostly white,” said Jasper. “It’s not enough only being asked to be at the table for mitigating injustice but not building a longtime desire to help the environment. It’s all about building joyful solidarity of connecting people of color to longtime stewardship.”

Through connecting people of color to the outdoors and environmental sustainability, Jasper wanted to break away from the elitist aspect of outdoor activities. Through her perspective of noticing the disconnect, Jasper worked to carry her work with “Color Out Here” over into her day job with Good For Michigan, People First Economy. 

The problem with the prosperity of many Black and Brown businesses is that their success is limited by financial and technical assistance barriers. The substantial part: environmentalism is a secondary thing because there are so many barriers before sustainability.

“Instructing small businesses that they should recycle, mitigate their carbon footprint, and conserve energy is a whole extra barrier to uphold,” Jasper said. “We are hoping to partner with other organizations to reallocate resources that these larger corporations have to support these small business communities to guide how those resources can better support social and environmental sustainability practices.”

For example, a lot of disparities lie in systemic barriers of accessing capital to get small businesses going, specifically for BIPOC and women-owned businesses. By removing the barriers, businesses can implement sustainable practices that largely become a privilege for white business owners. 

“I think that consumers are looking to support businesses that are more sustainable,” Jasper said. “The first step to ensuring [environmental] prosperity for everybody is working with those business owners who need help in financial sustainability, over time, as it allows them to. They first have to operate like a successful and prosperous business [before anything else].”

Investing in sustainability practices always should include racial and economic equity. Removing the barriers allows BIPOC and women-owned businesses to have the capital upfront to invest in things like energy conservation if they desire. Without the institutional barriers, opportunities for BIPOC communities will widen and prosper.

There is a real disconnect of environmental work being predominantly white, especially when it comes to outreach towards the community. Systemic and institutional racism have strained the opportunity to build relationships between the environment and people. To be able to build awareness like Alice Jasper is implementing in her organization only inspires more organizations to restore sustainability outreach within BIPOC communities. 

To learn more about the desire for stewardship among business owners and the journey to a regenerative economy, head to Good For Michigan’s website to measure your impact on the environmental movement.

Photo Credit: Photo by ev on Unsplash