UW-Madison: Sustainable business outreach in Neenah

Contact: Tom Eggert, tleggert@wisc.edu, 608 279-8608

At Evergreen Credit Union in Neenah, green means more than cash. Through composting and recycling, employees are able to keep 95 percent of the company’s waste out of landfills. They’ve installed solar panels on the roof and grow organic vegetables for a local food pantry. They even hosted a “Sustainable Sweepstakes” on their Facebook page.

Efforts like this can be a model for businesses large and small all over Wisconsin, with results that benefit the bottom line as well as the environment. Tom Eggert and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are helping businesses like Evergreen showcase their sustainable practices through the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.

Eggert taught the first sustainable development class ever offered at the university in 1994 and is now a senior lecturer with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

The council aims to “bridge that gap between what happens in academia and what happens in the ‘real’ world,” says Eggert, the council’s executive director. Participating companies include such notable Wisconsin names as Lands’ End, Oshkosh Corp. and Mercury Marine.

The council recently honored Evergreen and six other companies for embracing sustainability in day-to-day operations at the 2016 Sustainable Business Awards. Mike Brandt, Evergreen’s president and CEO, says the council has helped highlight Evergreen’s accomplishments and brought attention to its deep commitment to a more sustainable world.

“I’m a normal guy. I just enjoy breathing clean air and drinking clean water,” says Brandt. “We would be doing this whether or not we get recognized.”

Students from Eggert’s class developed the first Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference in 2008. Now an annual event, the conference is always produced by students and has been held at such businesses as American Family Insurance and Harley-Davidson. Host companies use the conference to share and demonstrate sustainable practices.

“We have loads of Wisconsin businesses who have carved out credentials in the sustainability sector,” Eggert says.

“What’s motivating me is that I think we’re actually making a difference in the business community,” says Eggert. He’s quick to add that that doesn’t mean the job is done – and he hopes the council’s work will become a model for other states.