Featured Alumni Profile

Laura Rubin, MBA/MS ’95, Spearheads a River Renaissance Along the Huron

A decade ago, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Dexter and other southeastern Michigan communities located within the seven-county, 900-square-mile Huron River watershed had a disparaging view of the meandering waterway, which flows more than 125 miles from its headwaters at Big Lake, near Pontiac, to its mouth at Lake Erie. Today, those same communities, representing a half-million residents, are celebrating a “river renaissance,” spearheaded by Laura Rubin, MBA/MS ’95, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, or HRWC.  Established in 1965, the HRWC is Michigan’s oldest watershed council and works with a network of 500 volunteers to inspire attitudes, behaviors and economies that protect, rehabilitate and sustain the Huron River system.

“When the Huron was industrial and dirty, most communities had their backs to the river,” explains Rubin. “Now communities are turning their faces to the river and reconnecting with it. People are recognizing the value of being a river town and exploring ways to turn this beautiful resource into an amenity that adds recreational, economic and cultural value to the area.”

Since joining the HRWC in 1998, Rubin has transformed the nonprofit from a low-profile organization conducting science in the background to a high-impact, high-visibility national leader in the field of watershed management. The council has led in the development and dissemination of cutting-edge conservation and public-education projects and now serves as a model for other watershed organizations around the country. In June, Rubin won River Network’s 2013 River Heroes Award, which recognizes those who have made a sustained contribution to river protection. Read more

Cynthia Koenig, Erb ’11, Wello WaterWheels rolling along in India

Watch Cynthia in the University of Michigan’s new Public Service Announcement (1:20)
Wello has come a long way since Cynthia Koenig, Erb ’11, arrived in India in September 2011. The Wello team co-created the WaterWheel 2.0 and 2.5 prototypes with consumers in rural India, validated the design through a pilot that reached 1,500 people, and sold out its first WaterWheel production run.

As of mid-2013, 50 WaterWheels were in daily use in India. The rolling plastic drums outfitted with handles are directly impacting the lives of 100 primary users and up to 300 others indirectly. Koenig estimates that WaterWheel users spend two hours less each day collecting water than they would otherwise. “With better, more reliable access to water, men tend to share the burden of water collection. This means that women have more time for other tasks, girls are more likely to attend school and the health of the entire family improves,” Koenig explains.

Sunita, the mother of three, was one of Wello’s first customers. She and her husband, who are both disabled, and their children live in Daba, a village in central India. Their two teenage daughters make numerous trips each day to a hand pump located 1 kilometer from their house to meet the family’s basic water needs. Using a 6-month interest-free microfinance loan, Sunita purchased a WaterWheel for $15. Her daughters transport three times more water than before, in less time, and without the pain and health risks associated with carrying heavy jugs on their heads. Read more


Richard Bole, Erb ’06, Creating Walkable Neighborhoods in Downtown Cleveland

Like other aging industrial cities in the Midwest, Cleveland suffered from economic decline that left its once bustling warehouses and office buildings standing vacant and lifeless. Some people saw an eyesore. But Richard Bole, Erb ’06, saw a huge market opportunity to build green in Cleveland’s urban core and to create a healthful, walkable, sustainable living environment that would draw residents back to the city. It was also a chance to live his principles of sustainability.

“My goal is to get as many people as possible living and working in dense, walkable urban and transit-oriented neighborhoods,” says Bole, who launched his green real-estate development and management company, Ajala Communities, now the Ajala Group, in 2006. “By providing an efficient place to live with access to public transportation, I am giving residents an opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact. I also hope they will gain a renewed appreciation for social diversity.”

The growing market demand for walkable urbanity and more-sustainable lifestyles, especially among young professionals and empty-nesters, and the shortage of suitable apartments in downtown Cleveland prompted Bole to pursue green historic conversions of obsolete properties in his hometown. Read more


Mary Fritz, MBA/MS ’13, Creating Opportunity through Collaboration

As the Erb Student Advisory Board’s VP for academic programming, Mary Fritz, Erb ’13, saw a need in core MBA classes for more sustainable-business case studies. Soon, she and co-author Rich Grousset, both Erb ’13, were creating their own case study in cooperation with REI’s Kirk Myers, the manager of corporate social responsibility who formerly managed one of two Utah stores featured in the case study. REI is the U.S. sales leader in outdoor recreational apparel and equipment.

Under the supervision of Damian Beil, Ross associate professor of technology and operations, and Wallace Hopp, Ross School associate dean of faculty and research, Fritz and Grousset created a case emphasizing  operations and management principles while asking students to determine whether renting is more sustainable than selling.

“We looked at REI’s rental equipment business from a systems perspective and compared emissions from transporting rental equipment between two stores and customers picking up and returning equipment using their own vehicles, versus the environmental costs of producing new skis or snowshoes.” “I hope the case study will help students learn about different inventory models and gain a better understanding of how carbon accounting works,” says Fritz.

The concept for REI Rentals emerged when Fritz, Grousset and Raphael Meyer and Rachel Smeak, also both Erb ‘13, worked on a master’s project titled “The Case for Proactive Chemicals Management in REI Retail Operations.” REI Rentals is different than many case studies because of its sustainability focus, notes Fritz, who anticipates it will appeal to both teachers and students because “REI is a fun company to study. It’s one of those companies that people like.” Read more

Michele Diener Good, MBA/MS ’08, Sustainable Hospitality Pioneer

When Michele Good (nee Diener), Erb ’08, steps into the lobby of a major chain hotel property these days, she sees green – not the color, but rather the green design, construction and operations that have been implemented to achieve environmental sustainability. A decade ago, such eco-friendly measures were less common in the hospitality and tourism industry, which lagged other sectors in creating initiatives to green up the built environment.

“Over the past seven years, sustainability initiatives and programs have become standard, mainstream practices in most hotels, meeting facilities and convention centers,” Good explains. “There’s definitely been a huge shift in this industry.”  That turnaround has been achieved, in part, through her own efforts.

Good helped to lay the foundation for the industry-wide greening of the hospitality market segment while she was a graduate student at the Erb Institute. Over three years, she spearheaded a master’s project and co-authored a book that provided hotel developers, owners and operators with a well-documented rationale and resource guide for embracing environmentally sustainable business practices. Post-graduation, Good continued to break new ground in green building and operations when she accepted an offer to become the director of sustainability strategies at MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas. “Over time, we’ve raised the bar on sustainability for the entire hospitality and tourism industry and demonstrated that everyone can contribute to better environmental quality,” she reports. Read more