As we strive to lead in all that we do, our commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion remains absolute. We work every day to ensure our Culture Values and DE&I commitments are felt not only by co-workers, but in the communities we serve. In support of these efforts, we want to celebrate the final week of Black History Month by showcasing some of the incredible Black-owned businesses we partner with and highlight the initiatives we support!? 

Working with Diverse Suppliers to Deliver Energy Efficiency Programs

Louis James believes in serving his community. As a U.S. Army veteran, James took this belief and founded Solutions for Energy Efficient Logistics (SEEL), LLC 14 years ago.

SEEL is a nationally certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Business (SDVOB) headquartered in Detroit.

SEEL is a Consumers Energy supplier that offers a suite of energy management services, including energy audits, recycling and incentive programs, in-house weatherization, contact center management and workforce development.  SEEL is also a certified National Building Performance Institute Test Center.

For SEEL and Consumers Energy, safety is a core value. “Safety is important because it is critical that our workers and partners return home safely, just as they left,” James said. 

James continued, “My main goal is to ensure that we have the proper protocols, safety methods and procedures in place to prevent accidents.”

The company’s 138 employees offer energy efficiency programs to previously underserved customers. SEEL is a market leader in serving hard-to-reach communities. 

“As a diverse supplier, we have a higher responsibility to serve our community, ensuring that they are able to save money on their energy bills by participating in the programs and initiatives offered by our utility customers,” James said.

An issue faced in income qualified communities is the inability to conduct a full retrofit project because of extenuating health and safety concerns. To overcome that issue SEEL partnered with a utility partner.

Through that program, they were able to transform customers’ lives and reduce their energy use.

Speaking of goals for this year, James said the company wants to continue evolving, offering the best services it can in the ever-changing energy landscape. 

As an MBE and SDVOB company, James added, “We are committed to energy equity and work hard to educate the public about available resources.”

We are working to double our diverse spend and recognize the many benefits of a diverse supplier base, including alignment with our triple bottom line commitment to people, planet and prosperity.

This relationship demonstrates an opportunity for Consumers Energy to invest with a company with shared values around community, diversity and equity.

Philanthropy Spotlight: Rende Progress Capital

In keeping with our value of inclusivity, the Consumers Energy Foundation recently awarded a $50,000 grant to Rende Progress Capital (RPC), which is a racial equity loan fund based in Grand Rapids. We are excited to support their commitment to ending the racial wealth gap with the help of our grant that will go to their Economic Equity for Excluded Entrepreneurs initiative.

RPC is committed to eliminating the racial wealth gap by providing entrepreneurs of color with small business loans and business technical assistance. They were founded in 2017 to respond to the growing racial wealth gap and combat the racial, social and financial barriers that entrepreneurs of color face. RPC offers technical assistance to entrepreneurs in a wide range of areas including marketing, cash flow analysis and strategic planning. This assistance is made available to entrepreneurs at any stage in their development from initial prototype to established business, even if they don’t wish to pursue a loan. The organization is focused on long-term impact and committed to economic equity.

Since its founding, RPC has increased lending by 339%, expanded a growing portfolio of customers ranging from professional services and media/technology to senior healthcare and restaurants (100% businesses of color, 62% women of color owned, 7% family owned), expanded lending in the Lakeshore, and developed three loan products including a COVID-19 relief loan that has kept all customers remaining in business along with several who have increased revenue 10-20%.

Based on these areas of impact and more, RPC was honored by the Grand Rapids Business Journal (GRBJ) as Newsmaker of the Year for 2021 in Finance. RPC also won Newsmaker of the Year for 2019 in Finance.

Funding from our Foundation will be used to support RPC’s Economic Equity for Excluded Entrepreneurs of Color initiative to build wealth and create jobs in the West Michigan region. Our grant will support lending operations and cover the costs for group and one-on-one assistance to entrepreneurs of color in Kent and Muskegon counties who face barriers to conventional lending capital. RPC anticipates that our grant will support 25 businesses throughout the region and contribute to the creation of new jobs.

This partnership with Rende Progress Capital is a small part of our Foundation’s overall commitment to support entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout Michigan.

Last year, the Consumers Energy Foundation, Consumers Energy, its employees and retirees contributed over $17.5 million to Michigan nonprofits. Of that, over $11 million was contributed to support programs and projects that support diverse populations throughout the state.