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Sunday, 16 October 2016 19:26

Q&A: Bill Wood, Executive Director, West Michigan Environmental Action Council

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Bill Wood, Executive Director, West Michigan Environmental Action Council Bill Wood, Executive Director, West Michigan Environmental Action Council Courtesy Photo

After a decade of working with Habitat For Humanity in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, Bill Wood hopes to put his sustainable development expertise to use in Grand Rapids’ booming construction market. As the new executive director of the nearly 50-year-old West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Wood says he sees numerous opportunities to reduce waste from demolition and construction while also gearing policy toward being revenue-neutral or revenue-positive for the area’s business community. In an interview conducted on the green roof of WMEAC’s office in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Wood spoke to MiBiz about how he hopes to tackle environmental policy issues.

What are some of the key policy points you want to focus on?

With my passion (for) construction and demolition waste diversion, hopefully I’ll look at what kinds of city ordinances we have about that. I know there’s a lot of growth in Grand Rapids right now so I’d like to see if there could be an ordinance requiring contractors to have X amount of material to keep out of the waste stream. 

Why is that important?

That brings in groups like Habitat and used building materials centers and gets them a product they can sell. It helps with employment. There’s a lot of good reasons and it keeps our landfills a little more sustainable. 

At the state level, a lot of policies prohibit local municipalities from enacting some of these regulations. What challenges do you see as far as impacting policy?

I’m aware of that. I think if you can show that a policy will be a revenue generator, you’ve got a lot better chance of getting both sides of the aisle. I really like working both sides of the aisle from a political perspective. You won’t find a lot of people that will argue with the idea that we should throw less things away. I think it’s pretty commonly accepted that as a society, we’ve become wasteful. I don’t think that’s really a partisan issue. It may have been at one time, but the question is: Do we reduce what we’re throwing away by penalties and taxes and charging businesses money? Or do we make it revenue neutral or revenue positive for places to be sustainable? 

Are there specific programs WMEAC is looking at?

We’re looking at the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. (Editor’s note: PACE is a financing mechanism for commercial businesses to upgrade to energy efficient infrastructure that exists in some areas of the state, including Kalamazoo County.) It’s not implemented in Kent County. We’ve got a class from Grand Valley that’s working on some revenue generating (ideas). One of the pieces of the puzzle they’re looking at is PACE and the viability for WMEAC to act as a lynchpin for getting PACE more enacted here. 

Any others?

When there’s new infrastructure being put in, making sure we’re integrating that for the long-term so that it’s climate-change resilient. Just from a business perspective, you’re looking at a lot of dollars lost as we have more heavy rains. If the city’s not prepared for it, it’s money lost. If the city is prepared, then … we can continue and we don’t see businesses close. I think WMEAC being a part of that conversation is really critical.

Do you envision there’s resistance from business or political interests to any of the policies you’re considering?

I don’t think we’ll see a ton of resistance if we can make sustainability and waste reduction economically viable. From a policy perspective, that would be the angle I want to work with a coalition of people that would be involved. 

WMEAC has a number of long-standing programs like rainwater collection. Do you continue those as you work on new points of policy?

I don’t think a lot of what I want to introduce is going to be anything new for WMEAC. With waste reduction, it may be focusing on that a little more than we have in the past. Our Teach for the Watershed program is really robust and we’re trying to move that (forward). I think we’re having some success. 

How so?

If a stormwater tax or fee comes into the mix, we’ve already got people thinking about how the costs are going to be minimal, or it won’t be charged because the building has such a good rainwater absorption system. I think that will bring a lot of interested parties into working with WMEAC. We’ll be able to reach out and get some involvement from local businesses. 

What’s keeping you up at night?

I’ve got a really talented staff here — they’re experts in their fields. We’ve got people very qualified so I don’t necessarily need to be an expert on everything because they are. My job is to make sure that every day our doors are open, we’re growing our capacity. I’d like to hire some part-time staff to manage some of the watershed programs because we’ve got a lot of demand for it. So at the end of the fiscal year, I need to live in those expense and revenue lines, seeing that black and not red. I like going out and meeting people and seeing our projects, but I also like it when those numbers balance. 

Read 2173 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 October 2016 19:41

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