Local First hosts inaugural sustainability conference


    Nonprofit Local First is putting what it does best into a conference. On Wednesday, the organization will hold its first sustainability conference: Designing Sustainable Communities Through Business.

    “It’s really a day focused on helping the businesses connect and share best practices in regard to sustainability,” Elissa Hillary, Local First executive director, told Business Journal reporter Jake Himmelspach.

    The conference came about because of the interests of its members.

    “We decided to host the conference because we polled our businesses about a year ago to find out what they were interested in and what they were learning. We turned all of those topics into the conference sessions,” said Hillary.

    “The other reason we’re holding the conference is because we’ve received a lot of interest from communities other than Grand Rapids that have businesses that are interested in connecting with our local businesses to find out about their best practices and also to learn how to start a Local First in their community.”

    The keynote speaker will be Craig Thorne, global vice president of marketing for Patagonia, a footwear brand in the Outdoor Group division of Wolverine World Wide Inc.

    “He’s talking specifically about how Patagonia has achieved success by staying true to its core values,” said Hillary.

    Local business owners will lead sessions on such topics as how restaurants and grocers can purchase local food and how succession planning can keep a business locally owned. The event also will include panel sessions on the triple-bottom line of economic, social and environmental well-being.

    “For us, it’s helping our locally owned businesses look at people, planet and profit, and realizing that our local businesses are really stewards of our community. While part of their role is making money and keeping jobs here, a lot of those businesses are donating to our nonprofits, or helping start nonprofits they see a need for,” said Hillary. “We’re trying to bring the businesses that are making those positive impacts together to talk about how they are doing that.”

    The event begins with registration at 7:30 a.m. at Aquinas College’s Wege Ballroom. The cost is $85 for Local First members, $95 for nonmembers, and includes breakfast, lunch and a closing reception. For registration and information: (616) 808-3788, info@localfirst.com, or www.localfirst.com/calendar/123


    Rick DeVos tempted the world to make GR its canvas with the unveiling of a worldwide art competition last week. ArtPrize offers hefty awards, with first prize receiving $250,000, $100,000 for second, $50,000 for third, and each finalist receiving $7,000.

    ArtPrize will display all mediums of art in any willing venue. This includes shops, restaurants, offices, parks, bridges and, as DeVos suggested, even the river.

    ArtPrize invites artists from around the world to enter the competition via the Web site, artprize.org, until July 31. Artists must create a profile and submit an entry fee of $50. The contest is based on the public’s opinions via votes cast by texting or online. Voters must register in person at the event. After the first week, voting will be limited to the top 10.

    ArtPrize kicks off Sept. 23 and culminates on Oct. 8. Very few rules apply, but each artist must be 18 or older, submit an original piece, and must come to the city to display their art for the two-week period. The winner will either donate the winning work or create one of the same value for an ArtPrize collection.

    The display area will be limited to the area between Leonard and Wealthy streets on the north and south and College and Alpine/Straight on the east and west.

    The unstated impact of ArtPrize is the potential economic vitality it could bring. Organizers believe local business benefits would be generated because artists must set up camp in Grand Rapids and voters must come to register. Cultural benefits exist, as well.

    “By presenting the work of artists from around the world, ArtPrize will vitalize our urban landscape and establish a public dialogue about art of the 21st century,” said Celeste Adams, director of the GRAM.

    Some in attendance at last week’s announcement voiced excitement — but sometimes with a bit of hesitance.

    “I’m excited about it. I think it will do a lot for the city,” said Brandon Brooks, a local entrepreneur. “But my question is, with so many types of art, I kind of relate it to, ‘Let’s rate the best food in the world.’ So you have breads, you have pizzas, you have hot dogs, you have pasta. You’re trying to rate the best out of all of those, rather than different categories.”

    Beware the “engine of plunder”

    The Holland Board of Public Works figured some folks in West Michigan could use a dose of FREE-thinking on Earth Day, so they brought in John Baden from way out West.

    Baden, who spoke at a free public event Wednesday night in the Haworth Inn & Conference Center, is chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), based in Montana.

    The BPW, which paid FREE a fee of $2,500 plus expenses, said he came to talk about “balancing ecology and economics as the path to a sustainable future.”

    The BPW, of course, is seeking permission to double the output of its coal-fired James De Young power plant, even as Gov. Jennifer Granholm is insisting Michigan has to cut its use of fossil fuels for generating electricity by 45 percent by the year 2020.

    FREE has been described by The Wall Street Journal as a proponent of “free-market environmentalism,” and Baden’s academic research and opinions have been published in the WSJ and New York Times. He likes to focus on “political mistakes” and the resulting environmental consequences.

    “When allocations are made by government,” Baden told the Business Journal, “they’re made in accord to a political calculus, so we have such nightmares as corn-based ethanol.”

    The recent rush to grow corn, in response to record corn prices driven by government-mandated ethanol production, is believed by some economists to have driven up the cost of food. Baden said corn-based ethanol was — and continues to be — an example of “using the government as an engine of plunder, by organized groups.”

    And, he said, government mandates on the use of wind and solar devices to generate electricity also fall into the category of “using politics to force outcomes that benefit special interests.”

    “The potential for using government as an engine of plunder is just huge,” warned Baden.

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