The Michigan Environmental Council helps jump-start nonprofits

LANSING — Helping Black businesses that install solar power and diversifying environmental reporting are among the efforts of a new initiative by a Michigan environmental coalition.

The Michigan Environmental Council nurtures such efforts with a program designed to help fledgling nonprofit organizations.

Among them is Planet Detroit, an environmental media outlet based in Detroit that publishes weekly newsletters on environmental, climate and public health issues.

“I don’t think we would have been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to accomplish so far without their help,” said Nina Ignaczak, editor of Planet Detroit. “We have been able to hire journalists of color to make sure that we’re representing what’s happening in Detroit communities, and having the MEC behind us has been really critical.”

The newspaper has received several grants from multiple foundations and funding from philanthropic agencies since the program began.

The Council allows emerging nonprofits to use their organization as a host to apply for grants.

“Usually foundations are nervous to give to a new organization that doesn’t have a track record,” said Conan Smith, executive director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “Doing a fiscal sponsorship allows them to leverage the Michigan Environmental Councils reputation and our relationship with those funders.”

A lot of what the program does is supply support for nonprofit organizations so that they are able to thrive. The council offers its services like their accountant to help manage the grant money.

“You end up spending so much of your time on the managerial aspect of nonprofit life instead of achieving your mission,” Smith said. “We have a big and healthy organization that has all of these systems in place so we should be using that capacity to help emerging organizations focus on doing their mission well.”

Black Owners of Solar Services, or BOSS, is another organization in the program. It is a Virginia-based network of Black solar developers and business owners who are interested in using solar energy to lower the cost of gas and electricity in homes.

The organization was founded two-and-a-half years ago with the goal of transitioning the economy from gas and electric energy to solar and lunar energy through the use of solar panels.

The purpose of this program is to connect Black solar energy owners in the environmental economy as it constantly changes, said Michael Dorsey, a member of the organization’s board of directors. The organization connects business owners to projects with other large utility companies and to funding and resources for projects, he said.

Ryter Cooperative Industries in Highland Park is an organization within the BOSS network that focuses on providing clean energy. It has completed several projects, including installing a solar rooftop in Parker Village, a small community in Highland Park.

The company also partnered with the Highland Park community crisis coalition to test and repair generators across the neighborhood.

“The folks at consumers will openly admit that they struggle to find minority contractors in their industry so BOSS can … help solve a challenge that they have,” Smith said.

Brian Wheeler, media relations manager at Consumers Energy, agrees.

“We’ve made a commitment to really expand the amount of solar energy that we provide. At the same time our company is also committed to (diversity, equity and inclusion),” Wheeler said. “We want to work with people of all backgrounds and that really includes focusing on minority owned businesses.”

Other groups helped by the environmental council’s incubator program include Oil and Water Don’t Mix. It is a group of organizations that are advocating to shut down Line 5, a pipeline that carries oil from Superior, Wisconsin, through the Straits of Mackinac to Sarnia, Ontario. Another is Beaver Island Shoreline Conservation Association, which aims to protect and preserve land on Lake Michigan.


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