Finding a Way Forward: SMSBF

SMSBF is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing sustainability in southeast Michigan’s business community. A sustainable business, according to SMSBF, is one that thinks beyond profits and losses. It uses the triple bottom line (social, environmental and economic justice) to gauge its position in the economy and its ability to survive in the future.

Mike Shesterkin, SMSBF’s executive director, envisions a strong network of local business leaders who actively contribute to positive change in southeast Michigan by embracing and sharing just and Earth-friendly business practices. While it’s admittedly a challenge to try to fundamentally change decades of entrenched single bottom line thinking—in which profitability is pursued at all other costs—Mike emphasizes the fact that half of the workforce in the US works for companies that employ fewer than 500 people; it’s in those local companies, rather than the region’s corporate giants, where he sees an opportunity to make a real difference. 

How? Through conversation. SMSBF stands for Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, and Mike emphasizes the “forum” part. “The conversation piece is foundational,” he says. “After all, change happens at the local level, person to person, from people sitting around a table.”

As SMSBF has grown in recent years, they’ve figured out that the greatest value they can bring to the local business community is the facilitation of in-person events where those conversations can happen. Mike says that the goals of SMSBF events are to “bring influencers together to ideate, and to come to a consensus view of what needs to happen to create a culture where local businesses provide meaningful work and a living wage, at the same time they lower their impact on the environment.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has made such gatherings impossible for the time being. In response, SMSBF has shifted to the production of digital content to keep the conversation going. In addition to regularly publishing original essays on topics like food waste, climate change, and a better future for workers (all of which you can find on their website), they’ve begun exploring the creation of video content.

The first SMSBF-produced video is a half hour documentary about local leader Michael Friedman, who currently helps lead the Center for Community Based Enterprise, and who previously co-founded Teamsters for a Democratic Union, the longest running rank and file caucus in US labor history. Friedman had been scheduled as keynote speaker for SMSBF’s annual conference in 2020, but when the pandemic struck and the conference was canceled, SMSBF didn’t want to lose the opportunity to share Friedman’s powerful perspective on workplace justice. So they worked with local partners to create the documentary, and then organized an online discussion party, where participants watched the video together and discussed what they learned. 

While the documentary project provided a good opportunity for SMSBF to provide access to transformative, locally grown thought leadership in a new way, Mike says there is no substitute for getting people together in the same room. “Coming together for face to face events is where we start building community,” he says. So while the digital content will continue to roll out in the coming months (you can sign up for SMSBF’s newsletter here for regular updates), Mike’s keeping an eye firmly firmly on the future, and looking forward to the time when it’s safe to get together in person once again—when, as he puts it, “we can continue to use what comes out of the dialogue to shape what comes next.”

This is part of a series looking at how Green Garage businesses-in-residence are moving forward during the COVID19 crisis. No one story is intended to paint a complete picture, but taken together, we hope that they will illuminate, in a helpful way, the struggles and successes of some Detroit businesses during these extraordinary times.

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