Grand Rapids-based Cascade Engineering Leads the Way on Community Impact

Cascade Engineering may be a company with nearly 50 years in business but their progressive environmental practices, company culture and community engagement is leading the industry by example.

Based in Grand Rapids, Cascade specializes in large-part plastic injection molding and has grown to include 15 facilities, 97 presses and more than 1 million-square-feet of manufacturing space since it was founded by Fred Keller in 1973. Christina Keller, Fred’s daughter, currently leads the company as President and CEO.

Cascade is a pioneering company in the field of plastics molding and assembly that serves a wide variety of industries from automotive, material handling, office furniture, polymer compounding, waste and recycling and more. However, Cascade is about much more than growth and profits, it’s about community impact. So much so that they’re applying their unique ability to solve difficult plastic processing problems to other pressing social and environmental problems.

Cascade is going beyond its core business competencies to prove a business that focuses on People, Planet and Profit can be more innovative and sustainable. They call it their Triple Bottom Line. And it’s working for them.

“We believe diversity drives our innovation and that, as an organization, we thrive on collectively solving difficult challenges that will improve our community, our environment and our financial prosperity,” says Keller.

A closer look at Cascade’s Triple Bottom Line

People. Cascade was focused on diversity, equity and inclusion long before today’s recent trends. In addition to figuring out how to hire and retain folks who had previously been on welfare, Cascade has also invested in hiring people who’ve formally been in prison – called their Returning Citizens Program.

“We have a lot of programs that help bring people out of poverty,” says Keller. “We’ve found that when someone has an opportunity to work in a supportive organization like ours, it’s very rewarding and they turn out to be some of our very best employees.”

Planet. Cascade is a company focused on being a leader in the circular economy and their environmental practices reflect their commitment to recyclable and sustainable plastic products. An example of Cascade’s planet-focused practices is their EcoCart program in which they take curbside recycled plastic back to the curb in the form of a recycling cart. The program won an award for design from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI).

“We’re very aware that plastics often get a bad rap. Single use plastics often end up in oceans and other places they shouldn't be,” says Keller.

“That’s why I always talk about materiality. If you want something lightweight and durable, plastics is a great application. We can take things back at the end of life, which we do with our rolls, with our trash containers, and reutilize them with limited to no waste. We’re part of the circular economy.”

Profit. Of course, none of the People or Planet initiatives at Cascade would be possible without a viable business model that enables profit.

“Our profitability and processes are the obvious parts of our businesses,” says Keller. “We work on being a lean, operationally excellent organization and do everything we can to continue to innovate on how we can solve our customers' needs and create profitable solutions.”

The principles enshrined by Christina’s father continue to define Cascade’s core business values such as supporting their employees, promoting the environment and circular economy and having a positive community impact.

“My father was truly a pioneer, and no one was really talking about some of the things that he was doing,” says Christina. “Now, as I've joined and as (these concepts) have gained more popularity, I think we're seeing a lot more adoption in the industry.

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Headquarters: Grand Rapids