Founder, Upstream 21 & Portfolio 21, Seattle, Wash.
"Small companies are critical to the future of our communities," says Leslie Christian, 62 -- so she helped concoct an innovative way to support them. Upstream 21, whose board she chairs, is a Portland, Ore.-based regional holding company that acquires and supports small, locally focused, privately held companies in the Pacific Northwest -- currently, three forest products companies that are embracing sustainable practices. Right from the drafting of its foundational document, Upstream 21 aimed to break away from business as usual: "Our corporate charter specifically states that the best interests of employees, customers, suppliers, the community, and the environment must be balanced with those of the shareholders over both the short and long term," Christian explains. She is also president and CEO of Portfolio 21 Investments, which specializes in environmentally and socially responsible investing, offering a "healthy," if not hefty, return on investment. (Watch Christian explain the Upstream 21 vision here.)
Psychologist, Tempe, Ariz.
Robert Cialdini, 64, until recently a psychology and marketing professor at Arizona State University, wrote Influence, the classic book on persuasion. Lately he's been researching the best ways to persuade people to save energy. In 2007, he coauthored a study [PDF] that found that giving people info about neighborhood energy-use norms (combined with smiley faces) led to large home energy savings. His research inspired the creation of the company Opower, which sells software that utilities can use to make smarter bills and inspire energy efficiency. Cialdini now serves as chief scientist for Opower and is president of the Influence at Work consulting firm. (Read a Grist interview with Cialdini and an article about Cialdini's work and Opower.)
Farmer, Swanton Berry Farm, Davenport, Calif.
Despite what many consumers may think, organic rules don't ensure fair treatment of workers -- and tight profit margins mean that working conditions and pay on organic farms are too often no different from those in conventional operations. But Jim Cochran, 62, who launched California's first organic strawberry farm in 1987, refused to accept the established norms. In 1998, he became the first organic grower to sign a contract with the United Farm Workers union -- and he approached them. Then, in 2005, Cochran rolled out what might be the nation's first stock-ownership plan for farm employees; workers begin earning stock in the operation after putting in 500 hours. "The dignity of farm labor is a founding principle of Swanton Berry Farm," Cochran says. If the farm's crowded stands at Bay Area farmers markets are any indication, it is possible to protect the earth, treat workers well, and make a profit at the same time.
President, Renewable Funding, Oakland, Calif.
Sure, you'd love to have solar panels on your roof, but where would you get tens of thousands of dollars to install them? Cisco Devries, 36, has come up with an innovative answer: Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a new type of financing program that lets private property owners pay for energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects over 10 to 20 years via an addition to their property tax bill, instead of coming up with the cash upfront; the financing comes via municipal bonds, and if an owner sells the property, the tax surcharge transfers to the new owner. The concept was first introduced in (where else?) Berkeley, Calif., in 2007; since then, 17 states have cleared the way for municipalities to use property taxes in this way, and more than 200 U.S. cities and counties are working to launch programs. DeVries' company, Renewable Funding LLC, helps communities set up and run PACE programs. (Read a Grist post by DeVries.)
President, Founder, & Chief Building Scientist, Recurve, Sausalito, Calif.
Matt Golden, 35, has become a golden boy of the nascent energy-efficiency industry. He started Recurve -- formerly called Sustainable Spaces -- back in 2004 before retrofit was hip. While Recurve works on a software-driven solution to scale up the energy-efficiency business from mom-and-pop shops to a sustainable industry, Golden spends much of his time in Washington lobbying for Home Star and other legislation to fund energy-efficiency work and create thousands of jobs. (Read more about Golden in a Grist article on Home Star and a Grist article on Sustainable Spaces.)
Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart
Founder, Vaute Couture, Chicago, Ill.
Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, 27, launched Vaute Couture last year with a line of chic, eco-friendly, cruelty-free, ethically and locally produced coats that are warm enough for Chicago winters. As a vegan, model, and MBA, she brings a unique perspective to her work, and strong values too; all profits from one of her styles are donated to Farm Sanctuary, a haven for rescued farm animals. Vaute Couture also sells vegan-themed T-shirts and jewelry. (Mai-Ly Hilgart tells you about it all on her blog and in this video.)
Founder, Front Seat, Seattle, Wash.
After working at Microsoft and founding an internet publishing firm, Mike Mathieu, 41, decided to put his software smarts to work for the greater social good. Seattle-based Front Seat, which he founded and chairs, has launched "civic software" projects like Walk Score, which shows you how walkable any given U.S. address is (Grist HQ scores a whopping 98 out of 100 -- a "Walkers' Paradise"), and City-Go-Round, which spotlights innovative public transit apps, like Exit Strategy NYC, which shows you exactly where you should stand on the subway platform to arrive directly in front of the exit at your destination (brilliant). Walk Score has already started to change the way the real estate industry thinks about walkability; its scores have been incorporated into real-estate sites like Zillow.com as well as many agents' individual listings, giving prospective homebuyers more info about the kinds of neighborhoods and lifestyles they might be buying into.
Chandrasekhar "Spike" Narayan
Leader of Science and Technology Organization, IBM's Almaden Research Center, Silicon Valley, Calif.
Spike Narayan and his team at IBM's Almaden Research Center work on bleeding-edge technologies that are at the nexus of efforts to create a sustainable world -- endlessly recyclable plastics, lithium-air batteries that could dramatically extend the range of electric cars, and infrastructure for smart cities. Given Narayan and the Almaden Research Center's proximity to Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, expect to see some of these technologies hit the market in the coming years.
Cofounder and Senior Vice President of Research, Amyris, Berkeley, Calif.
He may look like an amiable Deadhead, but Jack Newman, 44 -- that would be Dr. Newman to you -- is a Berkeley microbiologist who cofounded Amyris, a startup that went from bioengineering a microbe to produce an anti-malarial drug to genetically tweaking a bug to excrete biodiesel (crazy, right?). Amyris, which has a pilot project under way in Brazil, is backed by high-profile Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
Digital designer, Urban Advantage, El Cerrito, Calif.
Digital artist Steve Price, 59, wants to show you the future of green urbanism -- literally show you. He creates photo simulations of what blighted urban landscapes would look like if they were transformed into healthier, safer, more sustainable places -- and pretty sweet spots to live. Price's Berkeley firm, Urban Advantage, builds "photo-realistic visualizations" for developers, design firms, and local governments that want to show how walkable urban development could revitalize an area. "Everybody kind of nods and agrees and knits their brows as they listen to statistics and information about economic development," Price said of the public meetings he's attended. "Then they see the pictures, and that's when the smiles occur. And the 'oohs' and 'ahs.'"
Chief Executive, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Atherton, Calif.
Alan Salzman, 56, one of Silicon Valley's leading green venture capitalists, and his firm, VantagePoint Venture Partners, have invested in a slew of startups that may emerge as the linchpins of a sustainable economy -- companies like solar power plant builder BrightSource Energy, electric carmaker Tesla Motors, and electric-car infrastructure developer Better Place, as well as home-energy management companies AlertMe and Tendril. Salzman also spends time in Washington, D.C., and Europe, advocating for greentech-friendly government policy. (Read a Grist article about Salzman.)
John and Julie Stehling
Owners, Early Girl Eatery, Asheville, N.C.
In 2001, the Stehlings, now 42 and 39, had a radical idea: Let's start a restaurant that sources as much as possible from its foodshed, and let's serve simple, diner-style fare at accessible prices. At that time, most local-minded restaurants were foodie temples, with the menu prices to prove it. (Think Chez Panisse.) Today, with the sustainable-food movement focusing more on broadening access, and with the economy in the doldrums, restaurants that combine eco-consciousness with affordability are all the rage. At the Stehlings' pioneering Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, N.C., a huge proportion of the restaurant's produce, meat, and condiments comes from local producers -- even the fiery table-top hot sauce and salt. And the hearty breakfasts inspire Asheville residents to queue up down the block.
Founder and Managing Director, NewSeed Advisors, New York City, N.Y.
Janine Yorio, 33, formerly a Wall Street investor, has turned her finance savvy to the food world. Her firm, NewSeed Advisors, founded in 2009, invests in and advises promising companies working to make agriculture more sustainable. NewSeed has hosted two Agriculture 2.0 investor conferences, in New York and Palo Alto, Calif., connecting venture capitalists with ag entrepreneurs -- two groups that don't usually mix and mingle. (Read a Grist article about the 2010 Agriculture 2.0 conference.)
This piece was produced by Grist as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
All art by Nat Damm.