While Grand Rapids has been known for some time as being an example for its municipal-encouraged green practices in both city life and sponsored business initiatives, determining the actual environmental impact is a bit more complicated than recent press releases would suggest.
For example, while Grand Rapids currently has the most LEED certified buildings per capita of any city in the United States, LEED certification has come under fire for being more focused on generating jobs and revenue for LEED certification specialists and siphoning funds from the U.S. Government for projects that have little actual environmental impact. While it is undoubtedly good for businesses to explore and implement ways to save energy or generate through passive or green technology, the prevalence of actual green practices as well as the outcome for the bottom line is yet to be determined, certainly as far as the overall picture is concerned.
And then there are cases of outright green tech fraud such as LG Chem which received $150 million in Economic Recovery Act funds in order to manufacture lithium-ion batteries for use in the greening auto industry. When the Inspector General for the Energy Department investigated and discovered that instead of producing 60,000 batteries, employees of LG Chem were playing cards, watching movies, and volunteering in the community, there was significant outrage at this waste of taxpayer funds.
Of course there are significant successes as well, large and small. Metro Health has shone as a leader in composting and recycling programs and installed a nearly 50,000 square feet of green roof. Spectrum Health and the Grand Rapids Public Library have partnered with local organic farms to offer employees and residents opportunities to purchase reasonably priced and healthy vegetable options.
Grand Rapids has a strong philanthropic and mentoring culture within its business community, and it has helped to launch small businesses that can make a significant local impact. Young entrepreneurs in the area seem to be passionate about green living and have combined it with another passion: for beer. Seventeen area breweries have partnered with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to help fund brewers’ groves in area parks, and three breweries have joined a national clean water movement. The only certified organic brewery in the state is Grand Rapids Brewing Company.
Another strength is the partnership between the business community and high education in the area. Aquinas College recently received a $385,000 grant to develop an online clearing house of information and resources on green chemistry to better encourage design, development, and use of less toxic, environmentally friendly chemical use.
While strictly government sponsored ventures have not always had success locally, the cooperation of government bodies, the business and philanthropic communities, and local colleges and universities have generated a number of new ventures that look promising for both micro and macro-level green business.