Ignite 2016 Speakers

There will be approximately twelve 15 minute presentations that will inspire the audience to ignite and amplify the environmental, social and economic nexus of sustainability. We will showcase some of West Michigan’s best practices and ideas under the theme of The Path to 2030: We Will Get There Together. We are pleased to announce our first confirmed speakers (and we still have more to announce):

Keynote Speakers

Mayor Bliss

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss became the City’s first female Mayor when she took office on January 1, 2016. She previously served as a Second Ward City Commissioner for 10 years.

Mayor Bliss also is Director of Residential Services at D.A. Blodgett-St. John's. St. John's Home provides emergency shelter and residential services for abused and neglected children. In addition, Mayor Bliss is an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University's School of Social Work.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and criminal justice from the University of South Alabama and a master’s in social work from Michigan State University.

Mayor Bliss is active in her profession and in the community. She is Vice President of the Michigan Municipal League and serves on the boards of the Interurban Transit Partnership, Kent County Land Bank Authority, Downtown Development Authority, Experience Grand Rapids, Grand Valley Metro Council and Dyer-Ives Foundation, among many other organizations.

She is a member of the West Michigan Environmental Leadership Network, and she serves as Chairwoman of the Residential MIN for the Michigan Federation of Children and Families.

Alan Steinman

Alan (Al) Steinman, Ph.D. has been Director of Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute since 2001. Previously, he was Director of the Lake Okeechobee Restoration Program at the South Florida Water Management District. Steinman has published over 140 scientific articles and book chapters, has been awarded over $50 million in grants for scientific and engineering projects, has testified before Congress and the Michigan and Florida state legislatures, and has been invited to speak throughout the world.

Currently he is a member of science advisory boards for the U.S. EPA, the International Joint Commission, Michigan DEQ, Sea Grant, Healing our Waters, University of Michigan’s Water Center, the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. He currently serves as Associate Editor for Freshwater Biology. He also has served on the State of Michigan’s Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council and Phosphorus Advisory Committees. Steinman’s research interests include aquatic ecosystem restoration, harmful algal blooms, phosphorus cycling, and water policy.

Dr. Steinman holds a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a Ph.D. in Botany/Aquatic Ecology from Oregon State University, an M.S. in Botany from the University of Rhode Island and a B.S. in Botany from the University of Vermont.

Darwin Baas

Darwin (Dar) Baas. As the Director of Public Works in Kent County, Dar’s focus is the emerging circular economy - providing leadership and visioning to deliver waste diversion, energy recovery, and sustainable materials management strategies through an integrated solid waste management system for business and residents. Through collaboration and innovation, he is challenging the West Michigan community to think broadly about how waste can become a resource rather than a burden.

Dar brings 25 years of environmental management experience in the public and private sector with experience in emergency response, hazardous waste transportation, environmental contracting, industrial cleaning, landfill, transfer station, material recovery and waste-to-energy operations. His work is centered in West Michigan but he is involved in energy and waste policy at a state and national level.


Lisa Rose’s professional career has included food work in the Napa Valley, Leelanau County, and Grand Rapids. She has been part of growing the local food movement in West
Michigan from the ground up. Rose’s first book, “Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution,” (History Press, 2013) masterfully details the seeds and growth of the players that helped the local food movement take root in Grand Rapids. She has recently joined the Digital Innovations team at Gordon Food Service and is excited for what the future holds for this 100-year old broadline food service company.

When she is not in her own gardens or kitchen, Rose can be found in the fields and forests, leading foraging plant walks and teaching classes on edible and medicinal wild plants. Beyond the Great Lakes, Rose’s interest in ethnobotany and herbal medicine have taken her across the United States and into the Yucatan, mainland Mexico, Nicaragua, and

Brazil to study plants, people, health, and their connection to place.


Erin Kuhn is the Executive Director of the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC). WMSRDC is a local, state, and federally designated regional planning and development agency serving 120 local governments in Lake, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo, and Oceana Counties. The mission of the Commission is to promote and foster regional development in West Michigan through cooperation amongst local governments and other regional partners.

Erin has been with the agency for more than 17 years working in the Economic Development and Local Government Services programs prior to becoming the executive director in 2014. Erin also worked on a variety of special projects for the Commission. The WMSRDC administers programs in both urban and rural transportation, economic development, environmental planning, hazard mitigation, local governmental planning, and homeland security.

Erin grew up in West Michigan, attended Muskegon Community College, and earned a Bachelor of Communications from Grand Valley State University. Erin is a member of the Rotary Club of Muskegon, a board member of 70X7 Life Recovery Muskegon, and a new member of the United Way of the Lakeshore Board of Directors. She currently lives in the City of Norton Shores with her husband and three children.


Elissa Hillary. I am committed to working at the leading edge of values-based capitalism, building sustainable local economies that put people first. As the Executive Director of Local First since 2007, my team and I have brought together nearly a thousand businesses in West Michigan to collaborate in building a vibrant community that encourages sustainable business development. In fact, Local First was one of the first three BALLE networks, and much of my work has centered on convening B Corporations in West Michigan. As a consultant, speaker, and thought leader, I have stressed the significance of building social capital through the mutual investment of the local business, consumer, government, and philanthropic sectors. Under these initiatives, West Michigan’s economy and brand has thrived, with nationally-recognized growth and the birth of new industries.

I was named Grand Rapids Young Non-Profit Professionals Exemplary Executive in 2010 and one of Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” business leaders in 2010 and 2012. I am a 2011 Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) Fellow. In addition, I serve on the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority’s Board of Directors, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Family Security Council Steering Committee, and write a monthly column for Grand Rapids Magazine with practical tips for “living local.”


Rachel Gleason is a poet and musician whose poetry is often an interaction between religious symbolism and contemporary observation, woven together with vivid imagery and word play - and is brought to life through her truly original and engrossing performance style, which combines a sharp but understated humor with a charisma born from her early gospel/evangelical influences. She is also a singer/songwriter with a powerful, unique voice. In addition to working with the youth in high schools throughout the state as a member of The Diatribe collective, she also co-hosts The Drunken Retort, a poetry based open mic held every Monday night at Stella's Lounge in Grand Rapids, MI.

Page last modified May 4, 2016