CIRAS-Sparked Group Holding First Forum for Discussing Sustainable Businesses in Iowa

The still-evolving organization was formed at the end of 2014 after a CIRAS-funded feasibility study identified a desire among Iowa companies for a place to learn more about sustainability practices.

“As a business, as I look to grow my business, I have to look at all the possibilities,” said Doc Wilson, branch manager at Cummins Central Power, a diesel engine wholesaler in Des Moines. “Sustainability is a very important part of that equation.”

sustainabilityBut Wilson, who will serve as a founding board member of the ISBF, said sustainability becomes “a little vague in substance” when people new to the issue first attempt to practice it. Anyone seeking information finds that companies have different focuses, different areas of expertise, and different ideas of what “sustainability” involves.

“If I go looking for best practices, I can’t find them,” Wilson said. “You can’t find what you want to see.”

The hope is that the ISBF will fix that by offering companies a way to compare themselves to others and an outlet for frank discussion of any specific business issues that arise. Companies will be able to seek advice instead of struggling in silence.

Renee Davlin of The Principal Financial Group will serve as the first ISBF board president. The vice president will be Michele Boney of West Liberty Foods, and Barilla America’s Ryan Witt will serve as treasurer. CIRAS will have a nonvoting seat on the board and is planning to initially support the ISBF’s administrative expenses.

“A lot of it is just being able to get companies together, get them in a room and say, ‘What works for you?’” said Witt. “If you aren’t looking at these issues, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Witt said a growing number of businesses are “looking at sustainability both as a PR and a financial game.” Reducing waste and cutting your company’s carbon footprint, among other steps, can both save money and enhance public opinion of your business.

But first, Iowa businesses have to know where they have room to improve—something that’s not as easy as it could be right now.

“I think the benchmarking is probably the best aspect,” Witt said. “I think that’s the biggest bang for the buck for a lot of compa­nies—finding out where you stand in relation to everyone else.”

Wilson said Cummins has managed to save $24,000 a year by recycling paper and cardboard, but “we are just scratching the surface of what we can do to be more efficient.”

“This just adds a huge dimension,” Wilson said of the new forum. “Just to be able to go up and ask other companies, ‘What’s your experience?’ so I don’t have to recreate the wheel, so to speak.”

The Iowa Sustainable Business Forum will hold its first sustainability event on Wednesday, June 3, in Cedar Rapids. For additional information or to apply for membership to the forum, please contact Mike O’Donnell at


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of CIRAS News. You can find the rest of this issue and more elsewhere on our website.