Innovative collaborations built around ideas that unify. That is a hallmark of Groundwork effectiveness, and one of the most powerful examples of that is the Great Lakes Business Network, part of our efforts to build support for decommissioning the Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits and develop better, safer alternatives.
When Groundwork program director Jim Lively learned of the 65-year-old oil pipeline running along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac five years ago, he could not believe what he was reading. He’d been crossing the Straits to his family’s Upper Peninsula cabin since he was 4 years old, had earned a master’s degree in water policy and worked on environmental issues of one sort or another in Michigan his entire career. How could he not have known of this looming threat to the economy and ecology of one of Michigan’s most iconic places?
But once he learned of the pipeline, through a special report titled “Sunken Hazard,” written by the National Wildlife Federation, he never forgot about the threat the line poses and committed to protecting the Straits by having the line decommissioned. His instincts were justified: The oil pipeline has a design so risky and antiquated nobody would ever even propose it today, let alone approve it.
The course Lively chose offers a stellar example of how Groundwork pushes issues forward through incubating fresh solutions, fostering them with smart collaborations and convening to build momentum. This way of operating can sometimes seem ephemeral, nearly invisible, behind the scenes, but it is one of the most essential and effective roles Groundwork plays.
Under Lively’s leadership, Groundwork put together the first rally at the Straits, getting statewide attention, in part by hosting internationally renowned climate change activist and researcher Bill McKibben. Soon after, Groundwork led a gathering of leading environmental organizations to continue to raise awareness of the issue, which became the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign. Under Groundwork’s early sponsorship, the new coalition soon built awareness of the issue statewide and Midwest-wide.
As Oil and Water Don’t Mix coalesced and became a highly effective messaging campaign representing environmental concerns, Groundwork assessed strategically important voices that were missing from the Line 5 discussion and recognized a need to organize leaders within the business community.
Teaming with National Wildlife Federation, we launched the Great Lakes Business Network, a group of CEO’s and business owners from across the political spectrum who are committed to seeing Line 5 decommissioned and finding reliable and safe transportation alternatives for things like shipping propane to the Upper Peninsula and moving Michigan-drilled crude oil to market.
Today, through the work of Groundwork and NWF, the business network claims nearly 100 members, and is still growing. The business network has been critical to helping media and politicians see that the Line 5 issue is much broader than a narrow case of economy vs environment.
Line 5 expands to a very powerful economic issue: a rupture in Line 5 puts at risk the entire economy of the Straits of Mackinac—hundreds of businesses, thousands of jobs—and has far wider ramifications, as it would seriously damage the Pure Michigan campaign into which the state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars.
This kind of economic message is most powerfully made by the business community. Groundwork was able to be effective in building this coalition with NWF because of its reputation as a group that looks for solutions that unify, a group that collaborates, a group that convenes, a group that sees entrepreneurialism, commerce and economic stability as essential components of community resilience. Recently, Groundwork released a white paper about Line 5 that reframes the issue as a bad business deal for Michigan, with profits going to Canada, while Michigan shoulders all the risk.
Jim Lively and the whole Groundwork team will keep collaborating, convening and starting good things, and we are asking you to start something good too. Become a Champion of Change by signing up to be a Groundwork member.