In Episode 88 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on January 12, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes John Knox, executive director of Earth Island Institute, a non-profit, public- interest membership organization that supports people working to protect the planet.

John Knox of Earth Island Institute visits The Wendel Forum

John Knox of Earth Island Institute visits The Wendel Forum

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Earth Island Institute can be viewed as an umbrella or incubator organization that assists local and global non-profits creating improvements to the environment, explains Knox. The Institute gives project directors autonomy in executing their work and also offers groups the streamlined benefit of one board, one annual report and one yearly audit. In its three decades, Earth Island Institute has supported 135 projects, including Food Shift (dedicated to curbing waste and building a more sustainable food system) and the Plastic Pollution Coalition (a global alliance of individuals, businesses and organizations focused on ending plastic pollution and its toxic impacts).

Beyond serving as a fiscal sponsor for environmentally-focused organizations, Earth Island Institute also educates the greater public through its quarterly Earth Island Journal, which features investigative journalism and thought-provoking essays about the environment. The Institute also hosts public programs at the Goldman Theater in its David Brower Center (a green building in downtown Berkeley named for the organization’s founder), and bestows Brower Youth Awards to North Americans ages 13 to 22 who have shown outstanding leadership on a project or campaign with a positive environmental and social impact.

What organizations do you know that work towards protecting the planet?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Knox: Episode 88 of The Wendel Forum (27:50 mins; mp3)

Earth Island Institute’s website: http://www.earthisland.org

Food Shift website: http://www.foodshift.net/

Plastic Pollution Coalition website: http://plasticpollutioncoalition.org/ 

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

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

In Episode 87 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on December 15, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor, a nine-city partnership devoted to assisting green businesses, and Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss,  CSO and CEO/CTO, respectively, of ergSol, an Oakland solar thermal company.

Photo of Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor

Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor, in studio

East Bay Green Corridor was founded in 2007 to advance a green energy economy in nine East Bay Area cities, including Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville.  The organization develops policy and also markets and promotes clean energy start-ups with the goal of keeping those businesses in the East Bay. Unlike traditional accelerators, which focus on start-ups’ business plans and capital, East Bay Green Corridor introduces companies to its vast network of local supply chains, customers and resources, including several academic institutions and programs (such as the Cleantech to Market program at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business).  Already, it has worked with Alphabet Energy, which captures waste heat, Imprint Energy, which pioneers zinc-based rechargeable batteries, and Lucid Design Group, a cleantech software company.

photo of Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss of ergSol

Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss of ergSol

Din met Monika Weiss at a conference and since then East Bay Green Corridor has been facilitating relationships for ergSol, a developer and manufacturer of high temperature solar thermal systems based in Oakland.  Since the Weisses moved to the US 12 years ago, they’ve seen an increase in activity and interest in renewable energy.  With ergSol, a solar thermal system that can also be used for cooling as well as heating, they hope to bring US solar use up to the level of Europe.

How has relationship-building assisted your business?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Din and the ergSol executives: Episode 87 of The Wendel Forum (27:44 mins; mp3)

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

East Bay Green Corridor Website: http://www.ebgreencorridor.org

ergSol Website: http://ergsol.com

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

In Episode 86 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on December 8, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Neil Grimmer, CEO and founder of Plum Organics, a line of healthy, organic foods for babies, toddlers and children.

Neil Grimmer, Founder of Plum Organics

Neil Grimmer, Founder of Plum Organics

Plum Organics was founded six years ago by a small group of parents who sought to raise healthy-well rounded eaters. The company has grown rapidly – it started with six products and now has 130, including cereals, snacks and training meals.

The baby food market is a competitive space, with heavy weights like Gerber, Beach Nut and Earth’s Best, which have been in business for decades.  Plum Organics differentiated itself by focusing on high design and great packaging, and targeting modern parents who share the values of sustainability and health.  Plum pioneered the spouted pouch, and the company’s R&D group is continually looking for new materials for sustainable packaging.  Progressive pediatrician Alan Green is the company’s health advisor and a contributor to its website.

A certified B Corp, Plum Organics sought investors that not only had cash, but also understood  the culture of Plum Organics and were similarly passionate about the mission of improving the health of kids and the planet.

Have you tried Plum Organics products?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Grimmer:  Episode 86 of The Wendel Forum (27:47 mins; mp3)

Plum Organics Website: http://www.plumorganics.com

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

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

In Episode 81 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on October 20, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Lauren Selman, founder of Reel Green Media, an environmental consulting and production company dedicated to greening the entertainment industry both on and off screen.

Lauren Selman of Reel Green Media

Lauren Selman of Reel Green Media

Reel Green Media started as a student project when Selman was at UC Berkeley. The company’s first movie project was Benjamin Bratt’s La Mission, which was filmed in San Francisco.  Selman initially zeroed in on composting and recycling movie set waste.  For example, the 80-person La Mission crew was going through as many as 500 disposable water bottles a day.  Selman substituted water jugs.  She then analyzed the energy used, including studying generators, transportation, hotel accommodations and caterers.  In addition, she consulted on whether the products that appeared on screen were environmentally friendly and promoting a green lifestyle.  In addition to movies, Reel Green Media now works on live events, such as the Golden Globes, the Emmys and the Oscars.

Selman also set out to reimagine beauty pageants, competing for the Miss Malibu title in a completely sustainable way with, for example, an all-organic dress and makeup.  She won the pageant’s Miss Congeniality title and the People’s Choice Award and influenced the way other contestants approached sustainability.

Bill and Selman discuss how greening the entertainment industry requires re-thinking basic concepts. For example, it’s not always easy to quickly get things – such as compostable plates – to remote areas where movies often film.  But studios are getting more on board with sustainable practices and both production structures and executives’ awareness is developing.  That, Selman says, will have ripple effect to entertainment industry vendors.

Are you more likely to see a movie that used sustainable practices in filming?
Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Selman: Episode 81 of The Wendel Forum (27:41 mins; mp3)

Reel Green Media: http://www.reelgreenmedia.com

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

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

In Episode 80 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on October 13, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Elliot Kallen, founder and CEO of Prosperity Financial, a San Ramon, Calif.-based money market fund with $200 million under management.

Elliot Kallen, CEO of Prosperity Financial, visits The Wendel Forum

Elliot Kallen, CEO of Prosperity Financial, visits The Wendel Forum

Years ago, socially responsible investing meant simply avoiding investing in so-called sin products such as tobacco or the defense industry.  Increasingly, though, socially responsible investing means more. While it can mean investing in green companies, the issue is somewhat muddy.  For example, is it socially responsible to invest in a solar module product if the parts were made in China and the manufacturing process included toxic chemicals that ended up in the water supply?

Not surprisingly, therefore, everyone has a different opinion of what it means to be socially conscious.  Generally, though, it means thinking about doing the right thing and considering every facet – from environmental issues to a company’s shareholder governance and charitable activities to the private activities (such as aiding the Nazis) of a company’s founder.

In addition, there are different approaches to socially responsible investing.  For example, an investor can proactively support companies that are doing good things for society or devote a portion of a portfolio to green companies. Alternatively, an investor can simply seek the highest possible return on investments but then commit to donating 10 percent of those earnings to a socially responsible cause.  Kallen recommends finding an advisor who will listen to your goals.

What does socially responsible investing mean to you?
Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Elliot Kallen: Episode 80 of The Wendel Forum (26:55 mins; mp3)

Prosperity Financial Website: http://www.prosperityfg.com

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 75 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 1, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Gary Eberhart, who serves on the board of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, which serves 32,000 children and adult students at 56 campuses, making it one of the largest school districts in California.

Gary Eberhart

Amid decreasing budgets and increasing energy costs, the Mt. Diablo School District secured a $350 million bond from the community to add solar energy to 51 of the district’s schools.  Eberhart and his fellow board members determined that purchasing a solar energy system through a bond program would be more cost-effective than buying power from a solar provider under a long-term purchase agreement. Specifically, Eberhart, who has served on the school board for 17 years, determined they could invest the estimated $220 million savings back into the schools over the system’s 30-year life expectancy.  The bond measure was approved by 60 percent of the community.

Mt. Diablo’s 12.2-megawatt system is the largest program in the world for a school district and will meet 92 percent of the district’s energy needs.  After a competitive selection process for the contractor, the installation took one year and all but a handful of the 51 systems are now up and running.  The solar panels were installed primarily in parking lots and on playground structures, which Eberhart says look better and are easier to maintain than roof panels.  The solar energy systems are also providing a unique educational tool for students, who can monitor energy and cost savings through real-time data.

Could your school district use solar energy?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Eberhart:   Episode 75 of The Wendel Forum (27:43 mins; mp3)

Mount Diablo Unified School District Website: http://www.mdusd.org/Pages/default.aspx

Information about the Bond Program: http://mdusdmeasurec.org

Strategic Facilities Planning, Eberhart’s Company Website: http://www.strategicfacilitiesplanning.com

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

Bill Acevedo’s Online Profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 74 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on August 25, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Jenn Vervier, director of sustainability at New Belgium Brewing Company

Jenn Vervier

New Belgium Brewing Company prides itself on providing meaningful employment for its owners and workers.  It promotes a “high-involvement culture,” in which individuals “bring their whole selves to work” and everyone’s voice is heard.  Specifically, the company engages in participative decision-making, soliciting feedback from top to bottom.  All co-workers are included in strategic planning and business operations, and financial reports are shared monthly with all workers.

But – they don’t forget that business can be fun!  New Belgium Brewing Company is employee-owned, with workers brought into the ownership after a year.  On that anniversary, they also receive a bike.  Once employees have worked there for five years, they receive a weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip to Belgium to learn about Belgian beer culture.  Those are certainly nice perks!

Make no mistake about it, though, sustainability is a guiding business principle of the company.  In addition to donating to environmental causes, New Belgium Brewing Company is also one of the first breweries to publish a life- cycle carbon footprint of its processes for consumers.  Plus, New Belgium is constantly looking for ways to hone the efficiency and limit the impacts of its operations.  For example, the company instituted a new method of dry hopping that saves millions of gallons of water a year, and it also has changed its bottle lubricants to similarly conserve water.  For a beer company, conserving water has a tremendous influence on the bottom line and the environment.

In addition, New Belgium has a 200kW solar PV array, 800kW of cogeneration, which produces electricity from the methane captured from its on-site process water treatment, and 200kW of thermal storage—making cold water or ice at night, off peak, to use in the brewing process and in office HVAC during the hottest part of the day.

Are you more likely to drink New Belgium Brewing Company beer after learning about its core values?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Vervier: Episode 74 of The Wendel Forum (27:50 mins; mp3)

New Belgium Brewing Company Website: http://www.newbelgium.com/

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

Bill Acevedo’s Online Profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 72 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on August 11, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Arlene Blum, environmental health activist, mountaineer and author of Annapurna and Breaking Trail.

Arlene Blum

Environmental health activist Arlene Blum

Blum works tirelessly to ban flame retardants from electronics, furniture and baby products.  Flame retardants, which only provide a two- to three-second delay if ignited, are similar to PCBs and DDTs, toxic chemicals that were banned decades ago.  They pose serious, long-term health concerns because they alter hormone levels, damaging reproductive organs, impairing thyroids and changing DNA.  These chemicals continuously migrate out of products.  In the case of couches, for example, they emit toxic dust even when no one is sitting on the couch. 

California State Senator Mark Leno introduced several bills that would have both eliminated flame retardant chemicals and increased fire safety.  Though they were sponsored by health organizations, firefighters and even the furniture industry, the manufacturing lobby successfully defeated those bills.  Meanwhile, only food, drugs and pesticides are regulated by EPA.  No other chemicals – not even asbestos – are regulated, even if they’re highly toxic and enter our bodies other than by mouth.

Blum is also the founder of the Green Science Policy Institute, which provides unbiased scientific data to government, industry and non-governmental organizations to facilitate informed decision-making about chemicals in consumer products. Through the organization, Blum taught a class at UC Berkeley about chemistry and policy.

How concerned are you about toxic chemicals used in furniture?

Post Links:

 Listen to the interview with Arlene Blum: Episode 72 of The Wendel Forum (27:50 mins; mp3)

 Arlene Blum’s website: http://www.arleneblum.com/

 Green Science Policy Institute website: http://greensciencepolicy.org/

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

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

In Episode 67 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 23, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Lars Jacobsen, co-founder of Stalk Bicycles, which produces handmade bamboo bicycles.

Lars Jacobsen of Stalk Bicycles shows off bamboo framing

Lars Jacobsen of Stalk Bicycles shows off bamboo framing in The Wendel Forum studio.

The fastest growing plant on earth, bamboo is considered by many in the U.S. as a pesky weed, but it is also a surprisingly versatile sustainable material.  It has a finished exterior and the grain allows it to bend, but it is still remarkably strong.  In some countries, for instance, it’s used as a substitute for rebar! 

As for its use in bicycles, bamboo boasts a “supreme vibration dampening quality,” making it comfortable to ride.  Stalk Bicycle’s bamboo bikes ride beautifully, explains Jacobsen, who spent two years empirically testing the bikes, riding down stairs and along the pock-marked roads of Oakland to assess product quality.  The base model, which takes more than 40 hours to custom construct and weighs about the same as an aluminum bike, costs $2,500 and comes with a three-year warranty on the frame.  

To increase its commitment to sustainability, Stalk uses other natural fibers, such as hemp, for its products and sources as many materials locally as possible.  In fact, another Wendel Forum guest, Entropy Resins (Episode 47, Shaping a Superior Surfboard), is a supplier of the resin that Stalk uses on the joints of its bike frames.

According to Jacobsen, market acceptance in bamboo bikes is increasing.  “When people ride them, the bikes sell themselves.”  In addition to direct customer feedback, Stalk has earned support from Northern California’s local artisan movement as well as the cycling community.

Would you consider purchasing a bamboo bike?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Jacobsen: Episode 67 of The Wendel Forum(27:31 mins; mp3)

Stalk Bicycles: http://www.stalkbicycles.com/

Entropy Resins: http://www.entropyresins.com/

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

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

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