By day, Alessandra Carreon leads passenger mobility and infrastructure projects at RMI to accelerate global transportation electrification, with a focus on creating an equitable EV value chain and advancing initiatives related to battery circularity.
Beyond that, and at night, she’s the co-founder and co-owner of PizzaPlex, Detroit’s first and only pizzeria certified to serve Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN), or True Neapolitan Pizza.
While these two roles may seem miles apart, they are actually connected by the same impetus – sustainability.
Drawing on inspiration from her mom’s hometown of Naples, and her father’s roots in the Philippines, Carreon works toward the betterment of people, planet, and community prosperity in every endeavor she takes on. Carreon says her passion for sustainability – and also Neapolitan-style pizza – are both products of her childhood.
My interest in sustainability stems from my experiences in my parents’ home countries, the Philippines and Italy. In my father’s rural Filipino town, I saw the ecological destruction wrought by climate change and exacerbated by inequitable development. In Italy, I realized that civic disengagement and ineffective policy led to wealth and health disparities.
Carreon says she has a strong connection with these cultures and that’s inspired her to take up sustainability as a profession.
She also works to find opportunities to show that development can happen differently, and points to a quote hanging in the Bread and Puppet Theatre in Vermont that reads, “Resistance of the heart against business as usual,” as encapsulating everything she does.
Enter PizzaPlex, has the tagline Pizza, People, Planet.
PizzaPlex L3C is a Triple Bottom Line business that is committed to conducting all operations in a manner that reflects responsible environmental stewardship, social justice, and the intrinsic link between business profit and community wealth. Carreon and her co-owner/husband, Drew McUsic, continue to develop the business not solely for financial profit, but for the betterment of the community.
When asked how PizzaPlex came to be, Carreon says, “Both the restaurant business and Neapolitan pizza are in my blood. And I was missing the type of pizza I grew up with. So my husband and I installed a pizza oven in our backyard and started making it. We are passionate about food, culture, and doing things differently and realized we wanted to attempt to share Neapolitan pizza as a social enterprise.”
The sustainability plan for the business was developed within and alongside the model for the business – they are one and the same.
Their sustainability program focuses on water management, waste management, circularity, energy, carbon footprint, equity in the workforce and social responsibility.
I think it’s important to have policies in place to govern how we work, and then to measure that work.
To that end, they’ve engaged with outside entities such as EcoWorks and Make Food not Waste and are taking part in a third-party certification program called The PLEDGE on food waste in Detroit. “These actions help us to identify where we stand, and to implement processes so that we continue to do better.”
In 2018 PizzaPlex received a grant from Detroit Future City to implement a modified Stormwater Cistern Lot Design, whereby rainwater from the building’s roof is directed into underground chambers and slowly infiltrates into the site’s soil. A portion of the water is also reused to irrigate a pizza herb garden.
PizzaPlex composts using My Green Michigan and they have an open-door policy for patrons to bring in their food waste for composting since it’s not readily available in the area.
The community and social justice aspects are hugely important to Carreon.
The business practices a Naples tradition called “sospeso,” by which customers can pay it forward by purchasing food and drink in advance for customers in need.
To scale up this initiative, Carreon and McUsic formed the Sospeso Collective, partnering with five community organizations to date that distribute the pizzas to people in need: Detroit Boxing Gym, Fort Street Presbyterian Open Door Ministry, Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Detroit Friendship House Food Pantry, and South Oakland Food Depot.
Each organization hopes to be able to provide the community with between ten and 90 pizzas a week.
PizzaPlex is also in the process of becoming a worker-owned cooperative.
When asked why Detroit, Carreon says, “It goes back to the concept of doing things differently. There is so much momentum in Detroit to explore different business models, and there’s an ecosystem that exists here for people to think about and create equitable businesses.”
In closing, Carreon says, “It’s so important to be talking about all of this. To find ways to experiment and commit to doing things differently. By doing so, we can build momentum to make systemic changes for more equitable and sustainable businesses and communities.”
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