We’re thrilled today to help support the official launch of the Law Firm Sustainability Network!

Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP is proud to announce our involvement with the new Law Firm Sustainability Network (LFSN). The firm will serve on the Leadership Council of the nonprofit organization, and Executive Director Gina Maciula has been appointed treasurer of the Board of Directors. The Leadership Council, comprised of eight law firms, will act as an advisory committee to the Board of Directors and provide input on strategy and initiatives.

Law Firm Sustainability Network logoThe LFSN is a nonprofit organization of law firms and legal departments committed to promoting the benefits of environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility throughout the legal industry. Its mission is to develop key performance indicators, foster knowledge-sharing, develop best practice guidelines and recognize and promote sustainability innovations in the U.S. legal sector. For more on the organization’s initiatives and programs, see the launch announcement press release.

Wendel Rosen has long been a pioneering law firm when it comes to adopting and promoting sustainable business practices in the profession. In 2003, we became the first law firm in the country certified as a green business (certification conducted by the Bay Area Green Business Program) and launched our Green Business Practice Group. In addition, the firm co-chaired the effort to write and pass California’s Benefit Corporation Law (AB361) and has been a Certified B Corporation since 2010. Our attorneys and executives regularly speak and write to business audiences regarding the pursuit of a sustainable business operation.

Gina Maciula, Executive Director, Wendel Rosen

Gina Maciula, Executive Director, Wendel Rosen

“We have been a certified green business, and the first law firm in the country to do so, for a decade, and have since been working very hard to educate the industry on the benefits of sustainable business practices,” said Maciula. “We are proud of how far law firm ‘greening’ has come – a defining element of corporate social responsibility – and applaud the industry collaboration to form LFSN. I’m very excited to serve on the governing board of this organization and formally come together with like-minded peers to keep sustainability at the forefront of consideration for law firms.”

In Episode 101 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 29, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group and co-host of The Wendel Forum (did you get all that?).

Bill Acevedo

Bill Acevedo

In 2008, when Acevedo became chair of the law firm’s Green/Sustainable Business Practice Group, he wanted to take the group from start-up mode to an established business mode. The group was founded in 2003, around the time Wendel Rosen became the first law firm in the country to be certified as a green business. By 2008, the sustainable business space was really heating up. As practice leader, Acevedo’s challenge was to understand the paths and different focuses of various partners in the group and to demonstrate to clients the firm’s commitment to the space.  He did outreach to explain what it meant to be a green law firm and to let clients know the partners in the group shared the passion and ideology of the people and companies they represented.

Even when the economy suffered a setback, the sustainable and organic companies represented by Wendel continued to thrive. Today, the biggest challenge for these companies remains access to capital. As natural products companies want to become more mainstream, they need to scale. And to scale, they need more capital.  Experienced legal counsel can help with funding options.

Acevedo’s favorite Wendel Forum shows have been those focusing on surfing companies and organic food companies. With a longtime interest in the health of the ocean and in natural foods, the show has been a great way to marry Acevedo’s work and personal passions.

What was your favorite episode of The Wendel Forum?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Acevedo:  Episode 101 of The Wendel Forum (26:06 mins; mp3)

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 100 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 22, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Dick Lyons, co-host of the Wendel Forum and co-founder of Wendel’s sustainable business practice group.

Richard Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and Wendel Rosen Green Business Attorney

Richard Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and Wendel Rosen Green Business Attorney

In the early 1980’s, Lyons was practicing business law when he worked on one of the early wind power projects in the Altamont Pass.  Since that time, he has continued to work on wind power projects and has worked with solar power companies too.  Before long, he began to hear about the business activity related to natural and organic products.  He attended his first Expo West – the trade show devoted to natural and organic products – in the 1990’s.

“I was amazed by the number of companies, the different types of foods and the overall energy of the people,” he recalls. The natural products industry expanded even more with the creation of Whole Foods, which retailed natural products across the nation.  Since then, he’s represented many natural foods companies, including United Natural Foods Inc., which is now a $5 billion company thanks in part to mergers and acquisitions that Lyons worked on.

Around the same time, Lyons wanted to create a cohesive law firm practice group that would focus on representing companies that benefited the environment. As co-founder of Wendel’s sustainable business practice group, he also wanted to incorporate sustainable practices into the law firm itself.  Together with his co-founders, he was able to convince his partners that recycling and energy saving measures were also good business.

Sustainable business start-ups face many of the same issues as new companies in other industries, but they often have specialized concerns, according to Lyons.  For example, if the product is certified organic, there may be supply chain issues.  In addition, these companies are often formed not just to make a profit but also to achieve larger social goals such as having positive effect on the environment and their community.  They also need capital from investors that have the same social values and expectations about the return on investment.

From co-hosting The Wendel Forum radio show, Lyons (who, incidentally, played and recorded the Forum’s intro and outro music) learned that people start sustainable companies for one or more of the following reasons: they had an epiphany related to sustainability, they wanted healthy products for themselves that they couldn’t find, or they wanted to benefit the environment and the community.

We’d love it if you would share your favorite Wendel Forum moment with us. What was your favorite interview with Dick as host?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Lyons: Episode 100 of The Wendel Forum (27:52 mins; mp3)

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Wendel Rosen’s Sustainable/Green Business Practice Group: http://www.wendel.com/greenbusiness  

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 95 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on April 13, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Deven Clemens and Gregg Bagni, directors of White Road Investments.

Deven Clemens of White Road Investments

Deven Clemens of White Road Investments

Founded in 2008, White Road Investments is venture capital firm backed by several current and former executives of Clif Bar.  (Clemens is senior director of corporate finance at Clif Bar.  Bagni is president of Alien Truth Communications and former marketing vice president at Schwinn Cycling & Fitness.)  The company invests in health and active lifestyle businesses, including consumer products and outdoor companies.

Clif Bar is motivated not just by financial return but by a five-pronged philosophy, which is to promote the sustainability of its planet, community, people, business and brands. That same philosophy applies to White Road Investments. Clemens and Bagni are specifically looking to fund companies that are mission-driven and that will have a positive impact on the environment and community. The directors want to work alongside entrepreneurs who are eager to learn, grow and do more good. In particular, they’re interested in investing in new categories and new products. For example, they’ve funded a dehydrated pet food company. Currently popular categories in the health space include gluten-free products, plant-based proteins, raw foods, minimal-ingredient foods and bike businesses in urban markets.

In particular, White Road Investments funds with companies with $1 million to $25 million in revenue, with a particular focus on those in the $2 million to 7 million range. An investment can range from $750,000 to $2 million with $1 million being the sweet spot.

The company’s directors want to get deeply involved in the companies in which they invest, beyond simply a quarterly check-in. Realizing that great businesses may take awhile to succeed, the focus of White Road Investments is longer term than most VC firms. In addition to funds, White Road Investments offers companies its expertise, including marketing, operations, strategy, finance, branding and sales advice, as well as “connective capital,” the ability to provide connections from its directors’ longstanding business relationships. White Road Investments also offers the resources of Clif Bar, including the ability to test new products with Clif Bar consumers, who are usually the perfect target demographic.

What new healthy products do you predict to emerge?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Clemens and Bagni: Episode 95 of The Wendel Forum  (27:30 mins; mp3)

White Road Investments Website: http://www.whiteroadinvestments.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’ online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 94 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on March 30, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Michele McGeoy, founder and executive director of Solar Richmond, which offers free solar training, staffing services leading to temporary and permanent employment, and green business ownership opportunities for low income and under-employed residents of Richmond, CA.

photo of Michele McGeoy

Michele McGeoy of Solar Richmond

McGeoy spent the beginning of her career running several software companies and later founded a non-profit that sought to tackle the digital divide.  Eventually, she “burned out” on the computer industry and transitioned to the solar field.  A longtime Richmond, CA resident, she wanted the city to be part of the green economy.  Solar, she thought, was the antidote to pollution, and jobs were the antidote to violence.  Solar Richmond’s mission is to “catalyze transformative change,” which includes providing training and job opportunities related to solar, including installation, service and back office jobs, for 18-24 year olds.

Partnering with Berkeley City College, Solar Richmond has placed more than 140 young people in green collar jobs in which they acquire skills transferable to many industries and careers.  Recently, Solar Richmond became a worker-owned cooperative, in which graduates of the program become part owners in the company. McGeoy hopes to have 10 worker-owners by end of next year and continue to add new employee-owners every year.

Solar Richmond logo

Solar Richmond logo

Solar Richmond works on both residential and commercial solar projects and recently completed a power purchase agreement with a Walnut Creek church.  The City of Richmond also hired Solar Richmond for six of its buildings, including community centers, fire stations and libraries.

Would you consider hiring Solar Richmond for your solar project?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with McGeoy: Episode 94 of The Wendel Forum (27:20 mins; mp3)

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Solar Richmond’s Website: http://www.solarrichmond.org

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 90 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on February 9, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Nikhil Arora, co-founder of Back to the Roots, producer of gourmet mushroom growing kits nourished with recycled Peet’s Coffee grounds.

 

Back to the Roots co-founders Alex and NikBack to the Roots co-founders Alex and Nik

Back to the Roots co-founders Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora

Arora and his co-founder were about to graduate from UC Berkeley in 2009 when they learned during a class lecture that it’s possible to grow gourmet mushrooms in used coffee grounds. Inspired by the notion of turning waste into fresh, local food, they founded Back to the Roots. Since then, connecting families to food has become Arora’s “true passion,” and the company’s slickly designed, easy-to-use urban mushroom farm kits produce a gourmet crop of oyster mushrooms in about 10 days. Back to the Roots now also sells a three-gallon aquaponics garden, perfect for growing an herb garden on a kitchen counter or in a classroom.

Last year, President Obama invited Arora and his co-founder to the White House to discuss how the administration could support small businesses.  Arora says it was “cool to be representing Oakland,” which he describes as the epicenter of the start-up food culture.  In addition to a loan from the city, Back to the Roots received redevelopment funding to move its warehouse to Oakland.  The company also received a $25,000 loan from Whole Foods (which is fitting because produce guys from the Berkeley store were early advisors) and raised nearly $250,000 via Kick Starter.

With a core commitment to sustainability, Back to the Roots is a certified B Corporation.  Today, they’re working to build a global, “hip and fun” lifestyle brand that connects people to food.

Are you interested in growing your own food?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Arora:Episode 90 of The Wendel Forum(27:37 mins; mp3)

Back to the Roots Website: http://www.backtotheroots.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 82 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on October 27, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Caroline Duell, the founder of Elemental Herbs, an organic body care company based on the central coast of California.

With a background in herbal medicine, Duell is a massage therapist and outdoor enthusiast who began making skin care products for her friends and family.  Later, after success selling the products at farmers markets, she launched Elemental Herbs, a California certified B Corporation.  That certification is to sustainable business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee – it measures a company’s commitment to operating a business responsibly and sustainably.

Caroline Duell, Founder of Elemental Herbs

Duell also runs a farm, from which she harvests some ingredients for her natural healing products such as All Good Goop, a moisturizer and salve.  While Duell also gets ingredients from outside suppliers, she only partners with similar-minded businesses.  In particular, she examines other companies’ employee benefits, utilities use, social benefits and transparency.  Though not certified organic, all Elemental Herbs holistic products and remedies contain organic ingredients and are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

The Elemental Herbs farm also offers a CSA (community supported agriculture) and serves as an education center, including offering courses about sustainable living.  As a member of 1% for the Planet, one percent of all Elemental Herbs revenues is dedicated to fighting for social and environmental justice around the world.  Organizations it supports include a local marine mammal protection organization, a local trail organization, Save Our Snow, which provides information about how global warming affects the planet’s snowfall, and cityWILD, which brings inner city kids into the mountains.

Do you care about the company policies, as well as the ingredients, of your skin care products?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Duell: Episode 82 of The Wendel Forum (26:47 mins; mp3)

Elemental Herbs website: http://elementalherbs.com

B Corporation website: http://www.bcorporation.net/

1% for the Planet website: http://onepercentfortheplanet.org/en/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 79 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on October 6, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Peggy Cross, founder of Bay Area-based EcoTensil, which produces eating utensils made from sustainable materials.

Peggy Cross of EcoTensil

With a background in packaging and marketing, Cross developed a whole line of certified compostable eating utensils made from “silky smooth” paperboard, similar in mouth feel to a soda cup.  The taster spoons are a particularly better alternative to plastic tasters, which are made from petroleum in China and are used for two seconds at ice cream shops, grocery stores or at trade shows, yet will exist on the planet for thousands of years.  In contrast, EcoTensil’s taster spoon offers efficiencies in storage, shipping and waste management, and companies using it can offer customers something obviously greener.  Interestingly, EcoTensil’s first clients, which still represent 25 percent of her business, were prisons because users can’t hurt themselves or others with a paper spoon.

In launching EcoTensil, Cross learned that everything in the start-up world takes longer than you think and costs twice as much money.  As a result, she recommends not launching a start-up without an abundance of tenacity and perseverance.  She also says that entrepreneurs should not just want to make money, but they must also have a passion for what they do.

Wouldn’t you like to ditch the splintery wooden taster spoon?
Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Peggy Cross: Episode 79 of The Wendel Forum (27:49 mins; mp3)

EcoTensil Website: http://ecotensil.com/about.html

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rylons

In Episode 78 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 29, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Scott Potter, managing partner of San Francisco Equity Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in consumer products growth companies.

Scott Potter of San Francisco Equity Partner

Scott Potter, San Francisco Equity Partners, in The Wendel Forum studio

Potter’s firm partners with companies that have demonstrated a proven demand for their products.  So while there’s no consumer adoption risk, the companies are usually facing operational and scale challenges to reach the next level. Typically, they are $5-10 million companies poised to scale their businesses, often to north of $100 million.

Identifying these optimal risk-reward companies is more science than art.  San Francisco Equity Partners is particularly focused on its companies’ channel strategy.  That is, a given beauty product can’t successfully be sold at both Sephora and Wal-Mart.  Channels include food (Safeway), drug (Walgreens), mass (Wal-Mart), club (Costco), prestige (specialty retailers and department stores) and direct-to-consumer (online and direct-response TV).  Determining the right channel for products is often a company’s key to success.

A growing channel is the so-called natural channel, as epitomized by Whole Foods, which is separate from the traditional grocery channel.  But Potter’s firm specializes in natural products that are targeted for the mass channel.  Companies targeting this channel should not ask consumers to pay more for an inferior product “just to save the fish,” Potter says.  Rather, the product’s value proposition has to work in and of itself outside of sustainability and natural missions.  The prime example is Method products.

When San Francisco Equity Partners first invested in Method, it was producing just hand and cleaning products.  It has evolved to include bathroom and specialty products and even successfully launched into the competitive laundry space.  Early on, Method knew it would never have the marketing budget of Proctor & Gamble.  So it chose to overinvest in packaging, focusing on the point of sale: when product is on the shelf.  Method’s in-house design team devised a distinctive look, including the bottle molds, and focused on the aesthetic and the user-experience (such as the one-hand laundry detergent dispensing system). With the “design baked into the products,” Method aspired to be like Apple.

At what kind of store are you most likely to purchase natural products?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Scott Potter: Episode 78 of The Wendel Forum (27:48 mins; mp3)

San Francisco Equity Partners Website: http://www.sfequitypartners.com

Method Products Website: http://methodhome.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rylons

In Episode 73 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on August 18, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Lindsay Riddell who covers Cleantech, Sustainability, Startups and Venture Capital for the San Francisco Business Times.  They discuss a number of trends in the cleantech environment.
 
Lindsay Riddell photo

Lindsay Riddell covers Cleantech, Sustainability, Startups and Venture Capital for the San Francisco Business Times

Biofules and Biochemicals

Bill and Riddell start of the conversation with a discussion of what’s happening in the Bay Area biofuel and biochemical industries.  Companies in this space are looking for a variety of approaches to break down or convert renewable materials into fuels, soaps, chemicals, oils, food products, fragrances and others that typically rely on petroleum-based production.
 
With the economic downturn, capital became increasingly scarce and companies had to scale back or retool their plans for expansion.  Now, as these companies mature, they are undertaking new approaches for attracting venture investment.  The more established companies have created a roadmap for some of the emerging companies. 
 
Organizations such as the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which is a joint venture between the University of California campuses at Berkeley, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, are helping to accelerate innovation and bring discoveries to market more quickly.  Riddell discusses some of the strategies these companies are taking to survive the short term and thrive in the long term.
 

Investment trends

 
Not surprising, with the economic downfall of the past few years, Riddell acknowledges that investor enthusiasm has waned.  She observes that there is still money available for good ideas, but the investment community has been behaving more conservatively. Meanwhile, there are still resources in places like Greenstart, a startup accelerator that works with companies focused on solutions that combine cleantech and IT.  Software applications that address issues such as energy efficiency are still finding some success in the marketplace.

Carbon Data

Riddell recently wrote an article on Facebook’s voluntary reporting on their carbon footprint.  She and Bill discuss the pros and cons of releasing this data and the market pressures at play for companies to become more transparent in their operations.  This move is likened to Wal-Mart coming out several years ago with a commitment to dedicate shelf space to products that have higher levels of sustainability.  It’s clear that these big companies can have incredible influence in the marketplace and change expectations for both consumers and investors.

Electric Vehicles

The Bay Area is home to a thriving network related to the electric vehicle industry – car manufacturers, battery manufacturers, chargers and application developers for locating electric car chargers, crowd-sourcing for charging – the list goes on.  Some of the more interesting new developments include apps for available parking spaces with charging stations, car sharing apps, and there’s even an app that essentially takes the act of hitchhiking to the internet. Most of these are mobile technologies that employ various aspects of GPS tracking.
 
What do you consider to be the most important clean tech trends in the Bay Area?  What’s just over the horizon?
 
Post Links:
 
Listen to the interview with Lindsay Riddell: Episode 73 of The Wendel Forum (27:47 mins; mp3)
 
San Francisco Business Times website: www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco
 
Follow Lindsay Riddell on Twitter: @LRiddellSF
 
California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences:  http://qb3.org/
 
 
960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com
 
Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo
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