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Local businesses work to become bicycle friendly

We've been working with local businesses to help them provide a bicycle-friendly workplace. Those encouraging bicycle commuting see a triple bottom line benefit to their people, planet and even profits.
Bike racks assembled at an angle provide a space-saving way for businesses to provide bicycle storage for employees

Bike racks assembled at an angle provide a space-saving way for businesses to provide bicycle storage for employees /courtesy of Catalyst Partners

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What can employers do to create a more bicycle friendly workplace?

The League of American Bicyclists' system has four areas that need to be addressed--engineering, education, encouragement, and evaluation:

  • Engineering is about providing changing rooms, showers, safe and convenient places to park employee bicycles, and other kinds of facility investments.
  • Education is about giving people of all abilities the skills and confidence to ride and commute, through classes and providing information.
  • Encouragement is about creating a strong bike culture that welcomes and celebrates bicycling and bicycle commuting through a variety of incentives and programs, often tied in with the employee health insurance plan. Participating in GGRBC's Active Commute Week is one way this is often done locally.
  • Evaluation is about planning for bicycling as a safe and viable transportation option such as setting corporate goals for bicycle commuting.
Priority Health recently purchased campus bikes for employees to sign out for lunchtime errands, recreation or exercise.

Priority Health recently purchased campus bikes for employees to sign out for lunchtime errands, recreation or exercise. /courtesy of Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition

Written by Tom Tilma, Executive Director of GGRBC

Grand Rapids' corporate community is known for taking the concept of "corporate social responsibility" (CSR) seriously. Evidence for this includes the relatively high number of LEED-designated green buildings in Metro Grand Rapids and high participation in the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.  

Many corporate leaders here have long been comfortable with grading their CSR performance against social, environmental, and economic "triple bottom line" criteria, and there's an openness to fresh ways of measuring that performance. 

In the last couple of years an emerging sustainability goal among Grand Rapids businesses is the bicycle-friendly workplace. I've observed several companies taking steps to become more bicycle friendly, and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition (GGRBC) has provided technical assistance to some of those pioneers.

Becoming bicycle friendly

Area employers large and small have worked to create a culture that's supportive to cycling, and a number of them have become certified as "Bicycle Friendly Businesses" (BFB) by the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C.

Catalyst Partners was designated a Gold-level BFB last October.

Catalyst Partners is only the second BFB in the state to receive a Gold-level BFB designation. They consult with companies to develop high performance, environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient buildings, and they assist with the LEED designation process for the buildings. Catalyst Partners' own building on Grand Rapids' West Side is a LEED Platinum project.

Having that kind of expertise and passion made applying for the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly Business certification a natural next step, according to Keith Winn, founder and president of the company.

Winn has made sure there's a changing room and shower in the building, and wall racks for indoor bike parking. Some of their six employees commute by bicycle every day, and the rest bike to work a couple of days a week.

Catalyst Partners is a member of GGRBC, and the bicycle coalition had consulted with the company about a strategy for elevating their BFB designation from the Honorable Mention they had received on their first attempt a few years ago. (GGRBC's Bicycle Friendly Business Program assists employers with becoming more bicycle friendly and with applying for BFB designation.) 

Keith Winn has told me he's now serious about pursuing Platinum--the highest level of BFB certification--and with his company's overarching commitment to sustainability I believe they will achieve that level of bicycle friendliness.

Many other local companies have also received Bicycle Friendly Business recognition. Mel Trotter Ministries achieved Silver in 2009, and Amway, Priority Health, Steelcase and Village Bike & Fitness were awarded Bronze certifications last year. CycleSafe has received Honorable Mention.

Other Grand Rapids employers that have made above-average accommodations for cyclists include Atomic Object, Gordon Food Service and Rockford Construction.

More evidence of increasing local awareness about the bicycle friendly workplace is the fact that over 30 employers participated in GGRBC's Active Commute Week this past May. Those employers participated in either the commuter challenge or the Bike to Work Day Pit Stops or both. In addition, a number of major employers were sponsors for Active Commute Week or were on the planning committee, such as  Calvin College, Cascade Engineering, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Meijer, Priority Health, Steelcase and TerraTrike.

Benefits of a bicycle-friendly workplace

There are a number of benefits to organizations that encourage biking and biking to work, and these benefits can be categorized within the "people, planet, profit" triple bottom line sustainability framework. 

People: People benefits include better fitness and improved health, and employees who cycle to work report having more energy throughout the day. Providing another commuting option- one with much lower travel costs- is another direct worker benefit.

Planet: Planet benefits resulting from a workplace culture supportive of cycling include reduced air pollution like lower carbon dioxide emissions. Less water and noise pollution are other benefits. Essentially any environmental problem that can be associated with a reliance on single-occupant motor vehicle trips to work can be significantly mitigated by employees switching to a bicycle commute even one day per week.

Profit: These people benefits become profit benefits, as improved employee health means lower health care costs, decreased absenteeism and increased productivity. Some of the triple bottom line profit benefits include improving your organization's green image, both in the community and for employee attraction and retention. Having a bicycle friendly workplace is definitely cool and is becoming important to attracting and retaining creative and younger talent. And some of the trendsetting bike-friendly companies are seeing a low-cost opportunity for positive community relations.

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