The Next Economy
New Initiative Helping Detroit Businesses Reduce Waste, Costs Through By-Product Synergy

At a time when landfills are overflowing and public pressure is mounting, business can’t afford to waste anything – especially in a city such as Detroit, which is still fighting its way back from economic ruin.

Thankfully, the Motor City has launched a promising new initiative that’s bringing together local industries and institutions, along with entrepreneurs and small business owners, to create closed-loop systems in which one organization’s waste becomes raw material for another.

It’s called the Reuse Opportunity Collaboratory (ROC) and it features prominent bodies such as General Motors and the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD) coming together with local organizations including Fairmount Minerals, CXCatalysts, Pure Michigan Business Connect, and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

Based on the US BCSD’s collaborative By-Product Synergy (BPS) material reuse approach, the whole process boils down into a 3-step process:

  1. Companies share materials they have available and/or want to acquire using a secure and confidential online database.
  2. ROC helps to sort through the data and identify potential matches between different companies.
  3. Both parties check to ensure the trade is feasible, after which they make the exchange.

What makes the initiative so interesting is that it not only repurposes materials that would otherwise be wasted, it also encourages companies to move towards a more collaborative way of doing business. This is a far cry from the closely guarded secrets and fear-based tactics of yesterday that placed competitive advantage above all else.

ROC sums up this point well on its website:

“What starts as an effort to address ‘my’ company’s materials challenges quickly becomes a diverse mix of companies and entrepreneurs working on ‘our’ by-product issues.”

Even so, there might still be a few companies that struggle to see how this kind of initiative will benefit them in the long run. If anyone reading works in one of those organizations, here are six great reasons why closed-loop systems such as the ROC can benefit the environment, the local economy and your company’s bottom line:

  1. Reduced Operational Costs
  2. Reduced Carbon Footprint
  3. Reduced Environmental Footprint
  4. Local Economic Development
  5. Enhanced Corporate Reputation
  6. A Collaborative Platform

Big businesses have a lot to gain from the idea, especially when you look at GM’s track record with waste over the past few years. They’ve generated roughly $1 billion annually through various by-product reuse and recycling activities. Since starting their landfill-free program in the United States, which cost about $10 for every ton of waste reduced, it has reduced its program costs by 92 percent, and total waste by an impressive 62 percent.

It’s not just the Fortune 500s and industry leaders that have something to gain; the ROC is also an exciting platform for startups and nonprofits. The organization’s current poster child is Veronika Scott, founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization that hires women from local shelters and trains them to make convertible coats/sleeping bags for the city’s homeless community.

While the idea has been extremely successful so far, it also had to find a way to reduce the cost of buying insulation for the coats. Thanks to a partnership with GM, Scott has been repurposing scrap sound absorption material donated by the automaker for use as insulation. Mutually beneficial relationships such as these are what the ROC hopes to cultivate throughout Detroit.

Regardless of the size of the company, there is probably a way all can benefit from being part of the ROC community. Get in touch about joining, or about the potential of expanding the model to your state.


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