Elissa Hillary is thrilled that 900 area businesses are part of Local First, but that’s just the start. The president of Local First is out to recruit every business in eight counties of West Michigan to join the cause of promoting for-profits enterprises that are a “force of good” socially and environmentally.

But now there’s more! Helped by a $200,000 grant from The Wege Foundation, Local First is launching its Good For Grand Rapids campaign aimed not just at more businesses, but also at West Michigan’s consumers. Elissa and her team want to expand LF’s mission promoting good social and environmental stewardship into every single home.

Elissa Hillary with the map of the Local First businesses in the neighborhood of their office on Fuller near Michigan.

In short, the dream means every resident in eight counties would become a Local First Shopper and look for that logo on the door when they enter a business, restaurant, office—any commercial operation. The 900 businesses take pride in that gold Local First sticker because it means they are supporting a business owned by a friend or neighbor. Even better if they have a sticker that says “Good for Grand Rapids!” It means they taken the Quick Impact Assessment evaluating what they’re doing as a “force for good.” The QIA also measures how they compare to other businesses.

Does this business pay a living wage? Do they offer employees the time to volunteer for good causes? Do they encourage sustainable transportation like bikes and buses? Do they recycle? Do they pay health insurance? Elissa encourages all area businesses to spend an hour taking this free assessment on line for their own information—and perhaps as a first move toward joining Local First.

Within the Local First business community are Benefit corporations that excelled on the Quick Impact Assessment. Brewery Vivant, for instance is the first LEED-certified brewery in the United States. They buy all the ingredients they can locally, are certified as Bike Friendly with racks and an air-pumping station, and support organizations that shelter homeless people.

Grateful to The Wege Foundation for its recent grant, Elissa Hillary quoted Peter Wege, the late founder, in explaining why Local First and Good for Grand Rapids are such an ideal fit. “Peter used the word economicology to support practices that are good for the ecology and for the economy.” By being a “force for good,” the Local First businesses are also enhancing their profits. Consumers want to spend their money with companies that promote the public good.

Being a Local First Shopper is also a source of pride!


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Six years ago 14 students entered the sixth grade at Grand Rapids Public School’s City High Middle to attend the brand new Center for Economicology, CFE. This innovative environmental school was started by the late Peter Wege with a curriculum based on his philosophy of balancing the needs of the economy with those of the ecology. This year those initial CFE students will graduate from Grand Rapids Public School, City High Middle, that U.S. News just named the number-one public high school in Michigan, 83rd in the nation.

The same year Wege launched the Center for Economicology, he also funded the incorporation of the International Baccalaureate program into the City High Middle School curriculum, another reason the Economicology School was ranked the top performing school in the state.

What The Wege Foundation is especially proud of in this announcement is that this public school has a culturally diverse population with forty percent of their students on free or reduced lunch programs. For the majority of the other top-ranked public schools, only zero-to-ten percent of their students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

In keeping with their economicology philosophy, the graduating class has decided they will do a “Zero Carbon Green Graduation” meaning they will wear recycled gowns and mortar boards in a rainbow of whatever colored caps and gowns they can find along with other sustainable attributes.

You can find the story in the link below.



Read more about the Center for Economicology – click here


Greens to Green:  Golfing for Sustainability

         What begins as a fun day of golf at Blythefield Country Club ends up producing stellar young men like new Aquinas graduate Brendan Molony.  Brendan represents the many outstanding Aquinas scholarship students who get vital financial help from the donors who play in the annual Peter M. Wege ProAm.

         Brendan knows about Peter Wege. The reason he came to Aquinas from Kalamazoo’s Hackett Catholic Center “was the sustainable business program.”  The text that most influenced him was ECONOMICOLOGY, the book Wege wrote named for his word  calling for a balance between ecology and the economy.

         “I see ECONOMICOLOGY as a guide to the future,” Brendan says. “It’s his vision on sustainability.  His book showed me that businesses can be profitable and good to the environment…we learned that the triple bottom line (People Planet Profits) works.”

         Besides academics, Brendan helped  Aquinas’s cross-country team win their conference, make it to the NAIA (the NCAA of small schools) all four years, and this year finish fifth in the nationals.

          Brendan Molonoy is now putting his business-sustainability education to work at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo where he interned last summer and hopes to work full-time.  His job is to implement environmental changes that will save the hospital costs by reducing energy and waste.

         Again Brendan is following Peter Wege’s vision for building green by earning his LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Associates degree.  Now he is now working on the next level to become a LEED Accredited Professional.

         Grand Rapids leads the nation in LEED-certified buildings because of Peter Wege.  Ten years ago Wege said all capital grantees had to apply for LEED.  That triggered the move that makes G.R. the top LEED city in the country.  Brendan Molony says students in Aquinas’s sustainable business program “will lead the way to change.”   His LEED credentials make his point.

         This engaging student athlete also has a big heart.  He helped his tired fellow cross-country team member Dan Foley the last mile in a recent half-marathon to finish one and two.

         Among Peter Wege’s favorite sayings are “Educate! Educate! Educate!” and “Children are the hope of our future.”  Brendan Molony is what Peter Wege’s legacy is all about.

Brendan Molony, a student athlete newly graduated from Aquinas’s sustainability program, holds his diploma in one hand and his cross-country running shoes in the other.
Brendan Molony, a student athlete newly graduated from Aquinas’s sustainability program, holds his diploma in one hand and his cross-country running shoes in the other.
Running cross-country for Aquinas College, Brendan Molony helped the Saints place fifth in the nation in the NAIA championship.
Running cross-country for Aquinas College, Brendan Molony helped the Saints place fifth in the nation in the NAIA championship.

18th Annual Wege Speaker Series – THE MAGIC OF WIND

        Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, refers to the free potential of wind-energy as “the magic of wind” because it can “power a cleaner, stronger, America.”  As this year’s presenter for the 18th annual Wege Foundation Speaker Series, Kiernan happily announced that wind-powered energy has increased ten-fold over the past decade

         Today 4.4% of the USA’s electricity supplying the equivalent of 15 million homes comes from Mother Nature’s free, clean wind. By 2030, wind power is expected to account for 20% of this nation’s electricity.  The state of Michigan is now the 16th biggest provider of wind energy in the country having tripled its capacity in the past two years.

         Kiernan called wind energy a “perfect example of economicology,” Peter Wege’s term for finding a balance between the ecology and the economy. The for-profit electric companies using Shelley’s “wild spirit” now employ 80,000 people in 550 plants – 40 in Michigan – across the country. While Europe was the world’s early leader in wind energy, the USA has moved ahead with 900 wind farms now and 100 more under construction.

         A wind farm typically consists of 50 turbines that have increased in height since the 1980s from 20 meters to 100 meters, the three spinning blades 100 meters long.  At the same time, the per-kilowatt cost of electricity powered by wind has decreased 90% since 2000.

         Kiernan, the former President of the National Parks Conservation Association, advocated for federal tax credits that triggered the growth spurt in wind energy.  He urged the audience to vote this year for candidates who will support increasing wind energy by renewing tax credits.

         In stressing the importance of clean energy, Kiernan told his audience in Aquinas’s PAC that “the future of the planet, life, and wildlife depends on what we do in the next ten years.”

Tom Kiernan wearing the Wege Foundation’s ECONOMICOLOGY pin based on Peter Wege’s word calling for a balance between the needs of ecology and the economy.
Tom Kiernan, Sister Mary Aquinas – Aquinas College’s Emeritus honoree, and Patty Birkholz, Director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters, at the dinner following Kiernan’s talk on wind energy.
Tom Kiernan, Shelley Irwin, GVSU Public Radio host, and Susan Lovell, Wege Foundation consultant pictured at the radio station after their interview about wind energy and economicology.


Students Tackle a ‘Wicked Problem’ for $30,000

Consider what these things have in common.  A vegetable garden in every living room; potato-made plastic bags; a hands-on cradle-to-cradle learning center in the now vacant Grand Rapids Public Museum.  If you said whiz-kids’ solutions for creating a circular economy, a gold star for you.  Another star if you know that in order to “save our planet,” as Peter Wege phrased it four decades ago, we must build a circular economy.

What Wege addressed by starting The Wege Foundation was the hard fact that we are depleting Earth’s finite natural resources at an unsustainable rate. In short, we are using up what we can’t replace.  Herein lies the wicked problem.  Enter the Wege Prize, a competition for West Michigan college students to come up with the best ideas to help jump-start a circular, cradle-to-cradle economy.

(First place team – FusionGRow)

Run by the Kendall College of Art and Design, the rules were simple and reflected two of Peter Wege’s driving principles. The first is economicology.  Wege coined the word to mean balancing the needs of the ecology with those of the economy by requiring contestants to represent at least two different academic disciplines. Second, collaboration: students had to come from at least two different colleges.

Six teams competed and March 3 the judges heard presentations by the three finalists and chose the winners.  Team FUSIONGROW members shared the top $15,000 prize with their plan to make hydroponic stands for growing vegetables indoors using recyclable aluminum in an attractive, sculptural design.

The Wicked Solutions team members won the second-place $10,000 prize for their idea to make plastic grocery bags out of PLA, a plant starch found in potato wash, charging a small deposit to ensure return and recycling.  Wicked Solutions also took home $5,000 for winning the on-line Public Vote.

First place team FusionGRow (left to right) Jacob Czarniecki (General Business, GVSU), Aziza Ahmadi (Public Administration and Sustainability, GVSU), Philip Han (Collaborative Design, KCAD), Yulia Conley (Applied Economics and Urban Planning, GVSU), and Eric Choike (Industrial Design, KCAD)
Second Place team is Wicked Solutions Inc (left to right) Justin Burton (Industrial Design, KCAD), Evelyn Ritter (Mechanical Engineering, Hope College, Matthew Johnson (Industrial Design, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Kristina Raiz (Sustainable Business, Aquinas College)
Wege Prize Judges (left to right) Michael Werner (Sustainability Strategist, Haworth Inc.), Gretchen Hooker (Biomimicry Specialist, Biomimicry 3.8 Institute), Colin Webster (Education Programme Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation), Ellen Satterlee (CEO, Wege Foundation), and Nathan Shedroff (MBA Program Chair, California College of the Arts)


Photos courtesy of Kendall’s Matt Gubancsik

Parent Magazine: One of the “Coolest Schools in America”

Five years ago the Grand Rapids Public Schools and Peter M. Wege joined forces to create a sixth-grade program focused on environmental education at City High Middle.   That was how the Center For Economicology – named for Peter Wege’s philosophy and books – came to be.

         Wege coined the word advocating that humans must balance the needs of the economy with protecting the ecology.  From 17 sixth-graders in one room in 2008, this year 57 students are enrolled in the Center For Economicology.  And because City High Middle moved into the former Creston High School this fall, this growing economicology program has expanded from two classrooms to having its own building behind the former Creston High.

         By moving from its campus on Fuller to the three-story school on Plainfield, City High Middle has its first pool and not just one but two gyms.  The new expansive space has allowed the school to increase its number of 6-12 graders by 120 students up to 760, City High Middle’s highest enrollment ever.  To serve more students, GRPS hired six new teachers up from 24 last fall.

         Because the natural world is a significant part of the curriculum for CFE students, they head outdoors on almost weekly field trips.  A wind farm.   Farmers Market. Lake Michigan research vessel.  Two over night camps spring and fall.  They are also working at Riverside Park partnering with Grand Rapids’ park officials to clean it up.  The park is becoming one of the Economicology students’ outdoor classrooms where they are studying invasive species.

         The Center For Economicology’s success has not gone unnoticed at the state level.  In the competitive Rewards program, the CFE ranked in the top 5% of schools for High Performing and Beating the Odds.  What Principal Mike Pascoe and Assistant Principal Ryan Huppert are most proud of is that CFE achieved this top rating with 40% of their students qualifying for free and reduced lunches.

No wonder Parent Magazine recently called Economicology one of “the coolest schools in America.”

In relocating to Creston High, City High Middle not only greatly expanded its square footage, but the students also gained a pool and a second gymnasium, one of them shown here.
City High Middle students practice in their new – and bigger – music room
Since September, the former Creston High School on Plainfield has become the new home for another GRPS school: City High Middle.

Family Members Come to Michigan for the Wege Lecture

Jessica Wege McLear and Caitlin Wege are pictured above with Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, President of the University of Michigan. The sisters came across the country, one from Boston, one from San Diego, to attend Michigan’s annual Peter M. Wege Lecture started by their grandfather in 2001. This year’s speaker was Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and head of the UN Environment Programme. His title was, “The Imperative of Change: Environmentalism in the 21st Century.”

The UN executive’s thesis took a page out of Peter M. Wege’s two books on ECONOMICOLOGY when he addressed the need to balance the economy with the ecology.  Steiner’s argument is that “nature is also capital” and must be treated for its financial worth. “Functioning wetlands have value,” he told the audience in Rackham Hall. “Pollination services by bees are free but shouldn’t be.”

Because humans have considered the natural world as a free resource, we have exploited it without regard to its financial worth. “Mankind’s non-valuation of nature over time is tragic,” Steiner said. “We have to become more economically literate about the environment.”

And echoing Peter M.Wege’s top global concern, Achim Steiner spoke to the threat of over population. “We have seven billion people today, nine billion by 2050.” His ‘Imperative of Change’ is that we must act now to conserve Earth’s finite resources in the face of the exploding number of people dependent on nature for survival.

Steiner noted that the difference between our reaction to the smog pollution of the last century and the global climate-change damage in the 21st is that people could see and smell dirty smog.  But the destructive pollution of carbon dioxide is invisible and odorless.  Most discouraging to his audience was the statistic that world governments now spend eight to nine times more money subsidizing carbon industries than they spend diminishing emissions.

“We must transition to a green economy,” he said, before it’s too late.

**To watch the introduction and the full lecture, please click Wege Lecture for the two links.

Mark Van Putten, consultant to The Wege Foundation, and Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, are pictured at the dinner following Steiner’s speech at the University of Michigan.

ECO EXPO Takes Over City High/Middle

Grand Rapids Public Schools City High/Middle School recently hosted an all-day seminar based on Peter Wege’s two books, ECONOMICOLOGY I and II. City’s Economicology Expo focused on Wege’s advocacy for balancing the “economy” with the “ecology.”

Forty-plus outside speakers gave programs in their particular areas of expertise. Their topics ranged from Pet Adoptions to Veganism; Window Insulation to Our Water; Hydrofacking to Feeding America.

All the presenters directed their talks to one or more of Peter Wege’s philosophy of the Six Es: Environment. Ethics. Empathy. Economics. Ecology.  Education.

Vaughn Maatman, Executive Director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, spoke on, “Economicology and Ethics.” He challenged the students to examine their values when they make purchases. Working in small groups, students were asked to choose their first car based on Wege’s six Es. Maatman asked them to think about “a healthy relationship between the things you buy and the environment.”

Their choices ranged from a 1997 Stratus to smart cars to bikes to hybrids. Reviewing the results, the students discussed the complexity of their choices. A Volvo, for instance, is the safest car but it’s because their cars use more steel, which means they burn more fuel.  Subaru leads the industry in that nothing from manufacturing their cars goes into the landfill.

Maatman asked students to think about their “dream car,” and then think about what car they’d buy in terms of Peter Wege’s Six Es philosophy.

**City High students Melanie Rothley and Mitchell Armstrong on the left stand beside their guest speaker from Steelcase, Melissa De Soto, with students Jason Do and Christian Nyugen on the right. Peter Wege’s Six Es philsophy is written on the board behind them.

City High substitute teacher Courtney Ridout (pictured above) stands with Terri McCarthy, V.P. of Programming from The Wege Foundation, on Eco Expo day. Terri McCarthy talked to the students about farmland preservation as an example of how the non-profit world supports ECONOMICOLOGY.
City High seniors Megan Crawford and Haley Young wear their Economicology Center T-shirts during their school’s recent Eco Expo.

Economicology Students Share Costa Rica’s pura vida

In April 2011, eight students and two educators from the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ City High/Middle School spent over a week in Costa Rica on a trip that, in the students’ own written words, had a profound impact on their lives.

The eight young men and women from the Center for Economicology, sponsored by The Wege Foundation, chose Costa Rica because it is recognized as the most environmentally progressive country in the world. The theme of the Grand Rapids travelers was “pura vida,” the Costa Rican motto for “pure life.”

The trip leaders, Spanish teacher Patricia Osborn and Assistant Principal Ryan Huppert, defined the trip’s main goals as immersing the students in the Spanish language, exposing them to the Costa Rican culture, teaching them about tropical ecology, and showing them sustainable practices.

The photographs in the attached link to their blog show the breadth of their learning experiences, from sustainable farming to producing geo-thermal energy to spotting howler monkeys to eating dinner with gracious Costa Rican families. The students even found time to meet with Peace Corps volunteers and paint a village school a cheery blue.

To me pura vida means community, family, and happiness, wrote Lindsay Klomparens in her journal. Take nothing for granted. Make the best choices not only for yourself, but also for those around you.

About this Central American country with over 25% of its land in permanent conservation, Nick Maodushpitzer wrote: The Costa Rican people’s…dedication to improving the planet for future generations is shown in the work that is done here, not just what is written on paper. (Costa Ricans) should be a model for how the rest of the world operates.

costaricecart costaricatree costaricasign

In almost poetic terms, Carl Uzarski described his first taste of raw sugar from chewing on a sugar cane to get the juice out. Not an intense sweetness, Carl wrote, but, instead, it was watery with a gentle sweetness.

Grant Kammer saw the “pura vida” in the contrasting levels of consumerism between the Costa Rican people and Americans. I love our culture as a U.S. citizen, Grant wrote, and I am proud to be a part of it, but the need for materials, the need for things is just appallingly unnecessary.

Summarizing for what the Costan Rican experience had taught them, Nick wrote, We, as students eager to learn, are the seeds of change…(we) understand the seeds will not blossom in one day…and slowly we will see that our small ideas can create big dividends for our world.

Leaving Costa Rica and pura vida, Hannah Tripp wrote, We will miss waking up to the sounds of the rainforest, the silly dogs that followed us everywhere, the kind town, Pablo and his machete (used to whack a palm tree and teach students to make a salad using the palm core), the amazing birds, and all the fun we had.


Please check out the economicology students’ blogs and the photos they took on their Costa Rican adventure. http://costaricanpegasi.blogspot.com