Bridges out of Poverty: One word – “Plastics!”

By Ashley Bean Thornton

By the third day of Bridges out of Poverty training last week, my brain was pretty much full to capacity and overflowing, so I almost missed one of the best parts of the whole training: The story of Cascade Engineering.

Cascade Engineering , headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, specializes in large scale plastic injection molding which is used to create all kinds of things from car parts to trash cans to furniture. In fiscal year 2012 they did over $338 million in sales, up from around $285 million in 2011.

Why were we talking about plastics in our Bridges out of Poverty training? If you take a look at the Cascade “2012 Triple Bottom Line Report,” the connection becomes clear.  The report includes not just financials, but also metrics on their social and environmental accomplishments.  For example, on the last page of the report, in the same annual scorecard where they report their sales, they also report a metric called “Welfare to Career Retention Rate” – 97% for 2012, by the way. This metric is evidence that Cascade has developed a successful strategy for recruiting individuals from poverty and retaining them as valuable, productive employees.  In so doing, they have moved the concept of “social benefit” from the realm of charitable donations into the realm of business strategy.

Here’s a quote from the letter the CEO, Fred Keller, wrote to introduce the 2012 Triple Bottom Line Report. Read and be inspired! :

“Sometimes I am politely asked if our Triple Bottom Line focus on People and Planet takes away from Profits. With the release of this year’s Triple Bottom Line Report … we have a great opportunity to address the common misconception that these three priorities are necessarily at odds with each other. In truth, they can be. But if you do it right, the opposite is true. Commitment to People and Planet can accelerate Profits because teams committed to such worthy endeavors tend to work harder and with greater innovation than if they were merely going through the motions of the job. Also, commitment to People and Planet introduces business value that almost always results in greater long-term rewards.”

The story of Cascade engineering helps us to evolve the conversation about poverty into a conversation about potential – for the people involved and also for the businesses that employ them.  We can learn from that!

It wasn’t easy though…more on the journey in a blog to follow.

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