Pinchot’s 2014 Summer Study Tour took Pinchot students, alumni and faculty to America’s “Rust Belt”. The group visited Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit to explore sustainable business opportunities at these significant sites of industrial success, decline and rebirth. In this series of blogs, participants share revelations and reactions along their journey.
Nothing prepared us for Detroit.
Don’t get me wrong – during our tour of the Rust Belt, we definitely saw examples of blight in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. But even after five days in those cities I was not prepared for Detroit’s mass vacancy and abandonment. It seemed to go on for miles.
As we drove deeper into the city the bus grew quieter and quieter as we all tried to process what we were seeing. We passed by whole city blocks of abandoned buildings: homes, schools, hospitals, medical facilities, even a massive railroad station left standing as an eerie reminder of what the city once was.
Our conversations on the trip have now changed. We started in Pittsburgh looking at great organizations doing amazing work – start-up incubators attracting young entrepreneurs, foundations engaging the community to rebuild an entire neighborhood using the newest green technologies, and on and on. We noted how these organizations are creating positive change by leveraging many of the concepts we speak about in our MBA in Sustainable Business courses at BGI. Now, however, we have entered new territory.
Detroit is challenging our assumptions about the role of sustainable business. Even as a seasoned world traveler, I’m realizing that the world is much more complex than I ever knew. We talk often about world issues such as global warming and access to water, but there are people in our own country that can’t even begin to think about these problems because of the terrible environment in which they live. Worse yet, they are not, in any way, at fault for the situations around them. There is a greater economic system that failed them. Their businesses, their employers, their city, their government and, more importantly, the system failed them.
At BGI, we speak of the role that business plays and the need to create a system that addresses the needs of people, planet and profit. But what do you do when the system has failed an entire city? This experience has forced me to redefine the role of businesses in a community. Beyond taking care of employees, businesses must take care of their neighbors and their community as a whole.
about the author
Meghan Metz is currently completing her MBA in Sustainable Business through BGI at Pinchot. Meghan has worked at Starbucks Coffee Company for over ten years in various parts of the organization and is currently responsible for designing and building eLearning curriculum as a learning specialist. Meghan is a native Seattleite and received her BA from the University of Washington in Political Science and International Studies: Comparative Religion.