The Iowa Sustainable Business Forum: Offering resources and community for Iowa businesses

Adam Hammes, of Des Moines

Adam Hammes is leading the charge for Iowa businesses to band together for sustainability efforts that prioritize people, profits and the planet.

Hammes, of Des Moines, was the sustainability manager for Kum & Go. Now, he has launched the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, which offers webinars, roundtable discussions and other resources to Iowa businesses to share what is working and what could be done to further sustainability efforts. 

The forum is in its third year, and 16 companies are members. Hammes, who is the executive director of the ISBF, says about 50 other companies regularly send employees to events throughout the state to learn more about the forum and what it offers. It's doing well for a “fledgling organization,” Hammes says, but he has ambitions to make it larger. By the end of the year, he hopes to see an additional 20 member companies. Companies pay an annual fee ranging from $250 to $5,000 based on the number of employees.

The forum offers Iowa-centered information for participating companies on topics ranging from recycling, transportation, energy and water waste, to environmental health and safety and employee health and wellness. The ISBF connects companies that are interested in doing better with peer professionals in similar and sometimes different industries. Topics are member driven and dialed in to Iowa vendors, utility providers and other resources. 

Hammes says the forum takes a broader look at sustainability, focusing on the nuts and bolts of business decision making, as well as employees and the people who interact with the company. The forum typically offers members two to three webinars that lead up to an in-person roundtable event, Hammes says, which offers more in-depth sharing among members. Forum members also can access three years' worth of past presentations and roundtable notes to share with their employees.

“Whatever members are dealing with," he says, "we bring experts in.”

Hammes says he has seen similar sustainability initiatives in other states but none quite the same as this. Compared to other regions of the country, Hammes says Iowa has inexpensive energy and inexpensive water, which may not incentivize the same kind of sustainability changes that would make sense in drier states.

One of the founding members of the forum is Frontier Co-Op, based in Norway, Iowa. Seth Petchers, Frontier’s sustainable supply chain manager who works out of North Liberty, says Frontier leaders signed up from the start. The group wanted to be part of a network of peers in the area, as well as the opportunity to share what the food, flavorings and body-care company has learned throughout its 40-year history of prioritizing sustainability.

Petchers says joining ISBF led to a connection with another forum founding member, West Liberty Foods, where Michele Boney turned him on to the Department of Natural Resources Iowa Waste Exchange, which provides no-cost advice to companies in the state on how to divert waste from landfills.

“I got a bunch of free consulting services from the Iowa Waste Exchange,” Petchers says. “I took a half-day to go to that (ISBF) roundtable, and it saved me thousands of dollars,” he says. “Plus, now I know Michele and I can pick up the phone anytime.”

Petchers says not every result from the forum is so concrete. He says the forum lends the opportunity to gather with others who are focused on similar issues and challenges. Sometimes, that means sharing solutions, and other times, it helps people think in different directions.

Petchers says he does not believe there are drawbacks to businesses increasing their sustainability efforts, no matter the size of the business. He says it’s a mix of doing the right thing and seeing the payoff.

“It’s kind of abstract. Just in terms of business, weighing whether or not to invest time and money as an ISBF member,” he says. “A lot of sustainability in business has a direct relationship with cost savings. Obviously, it’s good to figure out how to reduce electrical usage and other resources; it’s clearly reflected on the utility bill.”

Hammes says he knows many businesses are trying to do the right thing; they are just trying to decide on the right direction. “I believe if businesses can implement sustainability (and) integrate that into a successful business model, that’s how, I guess, we’re going to survive,” he says. “That’s how we’re all going to make it.”

Nicole Lauer is an occasional Radish contributor. For more information about Adam Hammes and the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, visit iowasbf.org and eco-fluence.com.

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