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

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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

In Episode 70 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on July 21, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Mark Dwight, founder of San Francisco-based Rickshaw Bagworks.

Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks visits The Wendel Forum Studio

Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks visits The Wendel Forum Studio

After leaving his Silicon Valley tech roots, Dwight joined Timbuck2, where he fell in love with the bag business.  When he moved to Rickshaw, he committed to making bags in a sustainable way, including minimizing waste and overstock. 

Rickshaw bags are made with polyester recycled from beverage bottles and industrial plastic, and the company avoids materials that are noxious in their manufacture, use and disposal.  Every Rickshaw bag features a gem tag with the letters PCQ, which stands for “passion, craft and quality,” and a five-pointed star, which represents Rickshaw’s five constituencies: employees, customers, business partners, shareholders and the community.

Bill and Dwight discuss how no business can be 100 percent impact-free and that sustainability starts at the bottom line.  That is, businesses must be sustainable financially in addition to committing to environmental and social justice goals.

Dwight is also the founder of SF Made, a nonprofit organization that promotes local manufacturing. Since its founding two years ago, 350 San Francisco manufacturers, including Anchor Brewing, have become members of SF Made. Dwight established the organization as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization (as opposed to a 501(c)(6) trade organization for for-profit companies) so it can receive tax-deductible donations. The City of San Francisco even awarded a grant to SF Made to promote local economic development. SF Made has served as a model for other communities launching similar geographic branding programs.

Does it matter to you to buy local?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bags: Episode 70 of The Wendel Forum (27:34 mins; mp3)

Rickshaw Bags Website: http://www.rickshawbags.com/

SF Made Website: http://www.sfmade.org/

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

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

In Episode 69 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on July 7, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Gary Price, a tax partner at Sensiba San Filippo, one of the Bay Area’s largest accounting firms and a green business certified under the Bay Area Green Business Program

Gary Price

Dick and Price discuss how in the last few years, it’s become economical for businesses to use renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind, which provide energy without using oil or gas. Because buildings and their occupants produce a significant amount of pollution, even  businesses like accounting, law and other service firms can help the environment by buying clean energy from roof-mounted solar power systems that replace or supplement power from the grid. Even if those businesses occupy just one floor of a big building, they can contribute to lower energy consumption.

Renewable energy used to cost more than electricity purchased from utility companies.  But the 2008 renewable energy credit program helped bring prices down.  Within just four or five years, companies using renewable energy will see the payback, resulting in real cash savings. Using solar and wind energy also has related insurance and bank loan benefits.

A new clean tech trend is that larger renewable energy companies – perhaps a solar company or even a company that produces a part of a solar energy system – have accelerated the use of solar power by become financing companies.  As a result, customers may not need cash at all to buy electricity from roof-mounted solar systems. Solar and wind energy options will continue to grow and experience increased demand, which will further drop the price point.

If a business is interested in switching to renewable energy, Price recommends finding an expert to “put the whole thing together.” Construction and engineering companies, for example, have savvy energy departments. Law and accounting firms also have specialists that put green projects together.

What would it take for your business to buy clean energy?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Gary Price: Episode 69 of The Wendel Forum(27:53 mins; mp3)

Sensiba San Filippo website: http://www.ssfllp.com/

Price’s article on Sensible Savings: http://www.ssfllp.com/sustainable-savings-how-businesses-can-profit-big-from-clean-technology/

Bay Area Green Business Program website: http://www.greenbiz.ca.gov/

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

In Episode 64 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on May 26, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Steve Roth, CEO of Roth Consulting, which helps companies devise and execute a “winning strategy,” whether related to capital, expansion, product development or management.

Steve Roth, CEO of Roth Consulting

Steve Roth, CEO of Roth Consulting

Roth brings his experience as a senior executive and investor in companies in a wide range of industries to green businesses and double-bottom-line companies, those companies for which a social goal — like benefiting the community or the environment — co-exist alongside profit goals.  For those companies, the biggest issue is balance, Roth explains.  Companies can’t forget that profitability is what allows a company to be generous and, therefore, profitability must remain the core operational focus.  Companies shouldn’t become so enamored with a social mission that they lose the ability to fund it.

The average double-bottom-line company devotes about 5 percent of sales to a social mission.  The more profits earned, the more impact the company can have. Ben & Jerry’s was one of the first and most successful double-bottom-line companies.  “On a public relations basis, charitable endeavors are a big part of their raison d’être.”

Companies can also donate employee time – within limits.  In the 1970’s, Xerox was one of first companies to devote its human resources to help the community, and some employees were even promoted on that basis.  But Xerox diverted too much attention from its core business and now no longer exists.  “It’s an educational tale.”

Another business challenge for these companies is making the charitable work relevant to customers.  Many businesses in the coffee industry, for example, donate money back to the cooperatives that grow their beans.  It may be more expensive to source products from those areas.  As a result, customers may need to pay higher prices or the company may have to accept lower profits.  “Corporate communication is critical to justifying the premium” customers may have to pay, especially in a competitive marketplace where consumers have many choices. The customer must be educated about the social benefit of buying that product.

Roth and Dick also discuss socially responsible investing.

What social causes would inspire you to purchase products from double-bottom-line companies, even if the prices were higher?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Steve Roth: Episode 64 of The Wendel Forum(27:45 mins; mp3)

Roth Consulting:  http://www.consultroth.com

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

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