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

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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 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 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 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