Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Erb Foundation grant continues support for sustainability, Great Lakes and U-M

The $4.5 million grant from the Erb Family Foundation to help establish the U-M Water Center continues the Erb family's long history of support for sustainability initiatives, Great Lakes health, and the university.

In 1996, an endowment gift of $5 million established the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at U-M, a joint venture between the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment.


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The Erb gift, eventually totaling $20 million, represented the largest known commitment to a university for interdisciplinary teaching and research in the area of global sustainable enterprise, a field that explores how organizations throughout the world can achieve long-term success by harmonizing economic, environmental and social interests.

"If we can raise the next generation of business leaders to think about environmental protection as an essential long-term investment, and not a cost to be avoided, we will have taken a major step forward," Fred Erb said at the time.

The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation was established in 2007 to institutionalize and perpetuate the family's philanthropy. The foundation's mission is to nurture environmentally healthy and culturally vibrant communities in metropolitan Detroit and to support initiatives to restore the Great Lakes basin.

The foundation is particularly focused on improving water quality, especially in the watersheds impacting metropolitan Detroit and Bayfield, Ontario; promoting environmental health and justice; and supporting the arts as a means to revitalize the metropolitan Detroit region.

To that end, the Erb Family Foundation awarded $500,000 to a university-led research team in 2009 for a project to comprehensively analyze and map various threats to the Great Lakes. Known as the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping project, or GLEAM, the initiative will produce the first high-resolution map of cumulative threats to the Great Lakes, providing a critical tool that will enable regional planners and conservation groups to coordinate regional conservation efforts.

"Building on previous efforts to map each threat and priority individually, for the first time we now have the ability to generate synthetic maps of threats and their predicted impacts for the entire Great Lakes basin," said David Allan, a professor of aquatic sciences at SNRE and the lead researcher on the project. The GLEAM project will become part of the new U-M Water Center.

In 2011, the Erb Foundation provided a $200,000 challenge grant to fund third-year students at the Erb Institute. The $4.5 million grant for the Water Center is the foundation's third award to the university.

John M. Erb, president of the Birmingham, Mich.-based foundation, said, "The Erb family views its grant-making through the lens of sustainability — the harmonizing of economic, environmental and social interests while meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future." John Erb is a member of the Erb Institute's strategic advisory council and the Graham Sustainability Institute's external advisory board. He is also a member of the U-M President's Advisory Group.

Both Fred and Barbara Erb were born and raised in the Detroit area. After graduating in 1941 from the Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Fred Erb attended Cornell University to study engineering. In 1942 he transferred to U-M, and it was there he met Barbara, a student in LSA, at a New Year's Eve celebration.

After World War II, Fred and Barbara were married, and Fred resumed his education at U-M. He decided to become an entrepreneur and switched from engineering to business, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with honors in 1947.

After graduating, Erb bought into his uncle's lumber and coal business in Royal Oak. At the time, the Erb Lumber Co. had one store, seven employees and revenues approaching $200,000 — one-third of which were generated from the sale of coal.

Erb developed and expanded the enterprise. When he sold it to Carolina Builders in 1993, Erb Lumber had 45 locations and approximately $300 million in sales — none of it from coal, a fact that Erb always took great pride in noting. Erb went on to develop multiple successful real estate and investment partnerships.