Sustainable Sparks: Marie Koper's mid-Michigan vision

A love for natural beauty is innate in most people. To appreciate the beauty of the natural world is to be human. No one, looking at a sunset, has to be told that it is pretty—it just simply is. It’s easy to take that inherent beauty for granted, especially with busy, often indoor-centered lives focused on the practical realities of making a living. 

As the reality of life continues to shift away from the natural world, the need to seek natural beauty remains an important aspect of the human condition. Equally important is the task of preserving natural beauty. 

Faced with this task, Marie Koper, longtime Mt. Pleasant resident, strives to find and create solutions to conserve the beauty and bounty of the world while also allowing future generations to thrive. 

Already having been a founding member of the second Michigan chapter of Citizen’s Climate Lobby/Citizen’s Climate Education, Koper helped to start the Mid Michigan Business and Community Sustainability Partnership (MMBCSP) in 2022. 

The MMBCSP is a coalition of individuals and people from local government, businesses, and nonprofits working together to bring sustainable practices and smart energy to all parts of the community. Koper and her partners believe this focus will positively impact the resilience and vitality of the mid-Michigan area with both immediate and long-term effect.

Courtesy Marie Koper
Koper grew up among the mesquites and mosquitoes of Corpus Christi, Texas, where she developed a love for the environment. 

“I learned about caring for neighbors near and far and protecting God’s gift of the earth from my mainline religious upbringing,” says Koper. “I also found science classes that explained the natural world and how it works fascinating. All this while taking for granted the many oil refineries a few miles from my neighborhood that provided jobs and means for our fossil-fueled lifestyles.” 

Today, Koper no longer takes for granted this dichotomy, but works to bridge the gap between the worlds of industry, business, and sustainability.

Courtesy Marie Koper
The MMBCSP is seeking a holistic approach to sustainability and aims not to stop industrial and energy production in its tracks, but instead to collaborate and find common sense solutions to complex environmental issues. To do this involves giving a voice to all stakeholders in the community. 

“The group wants broader input from more people, including farmers and growers, financial institutions, manufacturers, grocers, restaurant owners, churches, and other nonprofits which would enable every part of our community to benefit,” explains Koper.

Already, the MMBCSP has met with all three utilities in the mid-Michigan area and organized two public town hall meetings centered on solar energy. The MMBCSP will continue to expand its membership, gather input from stakeholders, and hold events to increase awareness and explore the feasibility of sustainable practices and solutions. 

This work is critical in providing a future in which the local economy and sustainable practices thrive in harmony.

On the long-term benefits of the project, Koper says, “as we market the mid-Michigan area as one that is actively working on these goals, young people will want to stay or come to be a part of it. To live in sustainable housing, to work in sustainable businesses, to belong to a resilient, forward-looking community.”

On a more personal level, Koper shares a message of hope, which perhaps goes against the grain of some current rhetoric.

From L to R: Some MMBCSP members at recent Meet & Greet: CMU Professors Anthony Feig and Tyler Sonnichsen; Mt. Pleasant City Planner, Manuela Souza Powidayko; CMU professors Jim Pytko and Ken Williams. Courtesy Marie Koper

“I am grateful to live in an area and a country that is still open to polite, civil engagement,” she says. “Despite current social difficulties, I believe people of good will can come together, find common ground, and solve the big problems of our time.”

Solving these problems could seem like an uphill battle at times as terminology and tactics have divided people. Despite these challenges, Koper has remained positive. 

“Giving up is not an option,” she asserts. “Widespread disillusionment guarantees failure. Working with like-minded people is the way to get through the rough times. Working with other people from all walks of life who care, who have creative ideas, who are willing to pitch in with whatever time and skills they have to improve our communities. We need each other to make the necessary transitions, and it’s exciting to be a part of creative solutions that protect the natural environment that sustains us and the bottom line.”
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Read more articles by Owen Howard.

Owen Howard is an Isabella County native with a deep appreciation for all it has to offer, in both people and places. He is a current graduate student at Central Michigan University, with a bachelor's degree in biology. He was a collegiate cross country athlete for CMU and currently assists the team as a volunteer coach. In his free time, Owen could be described as 'chronically outdoors.' Owen has a passion for telling stories and for listening to other people tell theirs. He loves getting the chance to allow people to share their passions and stories with a larger audience.