On March 24, 2023, the University of Michigan Industrial and Operations (U-M IOE) hosted its Wilbert Steffy Lectureship, which was established in 2003 to honor one of Industrial and Operations Engineering’s early distinguished faculty, Dr. Wilbert Steffy.
The distinguished speaker was Jonathan Isaacson, Executive Chairman and CEO of Gemline, who spoke about corporate responsibility in creating a sustainable future. Gemline is a privately held supplier of bags, business accessories, electronics, stationery, and other promotional products. At Gemline, they define corporate sustainability as “creating economic value while seeking to minimize our environmental footprint.”
“We want to minimize our environmental footprint,” said Isaacson. “We understand that we are part of a community, and a bunch of the costs that we have do not show up on our P&L [profit and loss statement]. So any emissions we have, anything we’re doing to the planet, anything other companies are doing, those are socialized costs.”
The promotional item market has experienced significant waste and less-than-optimal sustainability practices in the past. Isaacson has chosen to combat those practices by moving toward materials that are more eco-friendly such as cotton and bamboo. A large part of his lecture was about the effects of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and how his company is working to eliminate them within their product offerings.
“All of this is a journey,” said Isaacson. “We are going to work on it, we are going to commit to it, and we are going to screw some things up. But we’ll go back and we’ll try it again.”
In addition to his work at Gemline, Isaacson is also a U-M IOE Advisory Board Member. Learn more about him here.