Be REAL: Leftist, environmental groups figure out sustainable businesses

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 07/16/2006 - 13:11.

What could possibly make NEO a Green City by a Blue Lake? Rewriting our propagandist "history" to be true through today, and teaching and learning from that, ruthlessly defending our "environment", celebrating progressive "politics",  restructuring "education" to truly focus on social responsibility, inspiring "innovation" through creative people and management practices,  promoting "finance" for progressive businesses and practices, embracing "spirituality" found in liberal religions and non-Western thought, and recruiting and building "critical mass" of like minded people who embrace all of that. What, why, how... several years ago I referenced this article on CAUSE and it still reads true and offers insight for NEO forever... and feel free to post suggestions as comments here.


San Francisco Chronicle

Progressive Inc.
Leftist, environmental groups figure out sustainable businesses

dfost [at] sfchronicle [dot] com

Sunday, November 30, 2003

now part of stylesheet


Jay Harris is the publisher of Mother Jones, the left-lea...

Discard that old tie-dyed image of the Bay Area as an island of leftist politics -- a place where old hippies hawk organic hemp sweaters from the backs of Volvos. Think instead of Progressive Inc.: corporate headquarters for the nation's eco-economy, a hefty portfolio pumping big bucks into the region.

From big-name nonprofit groups to businesses with a social mission, the progressive organizations of the Bay Area employ thousands of people and generate millions of dollars.

Some of the best-known brands in the progressive universe have roots in the Bay Area, from the Sierra Club -- the grandaddy of them all, established in 1892 -- to Mother Jones, Working Assets, the Rainforest Action Network, and even newer, nimbler groups like

In recent years, groups from the Rudolf Steiner Foundation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation have left the East Coast and put down roots in San Francisco, knowing they'll find friends here.

The nine-county Bay Area plus Santa Cruz County is home to more than 9, 000 nonprofit organizations, according to Census Bureau data.

One-fourth of Stanford MBA graduates last year, 88 in a class of 365, also earned certificates in public/nonprofit management. A Green Festival in San Francisco last month featured 300 businesses -- from solar energy to fair-trade coffee -- and attracted 20,000 people.

Progressive Asset Management in Oakland has about $650 million in client relationships, while San Francisco's Parnassus Investments oversees $1 billion in socially responsible mutual funds.

Companies like San Francisco's Working Assets, which donates a portion of its profit to progressive causes, and Berkeley's Clif Bar, which sets high standards for sustainability in its energy bar business, top $100 million in revenue per year. Even the nonprofit Sierra Club, headquartered in San Francisco and with 700,000 members across the country, boasts a budget of $80 million.

And the Bay Area's nonprofit organizations boast power beyond mere numbers. "They're incredibly influential,'' said Jay Harris, publisher of Mother Jones, a crusading magazine produced in San Francisco by the nonprofit Foundation for National Progress. "They move laws in Congress. They get people elected or not elected. Mother Jones' journalism has influence in the national press as a pointer to interesting topics and stories.''

Stephen Roulac, chief executive of San Rafael's Roulac Group, a global real estate advisory firm, sees the Bay Area playing a historic role in an evolving global dynamic. "It's our view that Northern California is the epicenter of the 21st century renaissance," he said.

"Just as the critical parts of Italy around Florence and Venice in the 14th and 15th centuries led to major transformations in society and arts and culture, the same thing is happening in Northern California."

Much as Silicon Valley once boasted of a tech-driven new economy that was going to flower across the world, now green-oriented advocates see the same thing happening -- but in a business movement devoted to treating workers with respect and keeping the environment clean, while still making money.

"I think the Bay Area has a lot of the seeds of the new economy," said Medea Benjamin, a founding director of Global Exchange, one of the big-name progressive nonprofit groups that call San Francisco home. "This is the place to do it."

Other local businesses, whether they're green or not, get greenbacks from the eco-economy. Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, left San Francisco when its rent quadrupled during the dot-com boom. It now has a 10-year lease on a formerly vacant building in downtown Oakland. "Approximately 60 staff members in our office here are now buying our lunches in downtown Oakland," said Cara Pike, vice president of communications for the group.

People drawn to the region for its progressive politics wind up patronizing progressive businesses, like those that put their wares on display at the Green Festival.

These firms "have a different set of values that carry on through their product lines, through their sourcing, everything," said Paul West, communications director for the Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco. "That's really the ultimate sign of power that this congregation of (non- governmental organizations) has. It's creating an environment that fosters that."

Landlords also note the economic muscle. After dot-coms started defaulting on their leases, many nonprofit groups began moving back into prime areas.

The Independent Media Institute, which produces the AlterNet Web site, moved into San Francisco's South Park 10 years ago, before it became a desirable local address.

"We are the only long-term tenant in our building," Don Hazen, the executive director, said in an e-mail. "We have seen many companies come and go. So nonprofits often bring a lot more stability than the crash and burn of speculative money."

The dot-com bust also has steered talent into progressive groups. Laid- off workers say, "I don't want to do that again, I want to work for a mission- oriented organization and do something good for the planet," said Pamela Chaloult, co-executive director of the Social Venture Network, a San Francisco nonprofit organization leading a national charge for socially responsible business.

"There's still a lot of entrepreneurial and idealistic spirit in the Bay Area," Perla Ni, publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the magazine of Stanford's Center for Social Innovation, said in an e-mail.

"Only now, it's being channeled into creating new social programs or revolutionizing access to capital for nonprofits or designing a cause- marketing promotion."

Van Jones is a Yale Law School graduate who came to San Francisco to establish the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996. "People often look at Silicon Valley as the symbol of innovation in the Bay Area, but I really think San Francisco boasts some of the more innovative nonprofit advocacy organizations in the world," he said.

"Whether you look at Global Exchange combining business with advocacy with public education, or a group like ours that has a record label and attorneys that file lawsuits over police abuse, it's an innovative not-for- profit culture."

"When you think of progressive politics, you think of a group in a dark basement with an old-fashioned mimeograph machine and a faded Angela Davis poster on the wall, but this is a sector that's definitely grown up," Jones added.

"The progressive organizations aspire to be as sophisticated as the system we're trying to change. That requires bigger budgets, more staff and real innovative approaches that sometimes blur the line between business and political advocacy."

Observers of the progressive scene cite a confluence of several factors in establishing Bay Area as headquarters, including:

-- History. California has "a heritage as a place of creativity and innovation ... a place people can come to seek their fortune," said Roulac, the global real estate adviser.

The noted philosopher "Alan Watts was one of our first deans," said Joseph Subbiondo, president of the California Institute for Integral Studies, also noting that poet Gary Snyder and Esalen founder Michael Murphy came to the institute in its early days.

The beat poets, the Merry Pranksters, the hippies, the anti-war movement, the gay movement -- all flowered in the region in the 1960s and 1970s, and their descendants run businesses and nonprofit groups here today.

-- Environment. "The Bay Area is beautiful," said Paul West of Rainforest Action Network. "Sometimes we get enamored with the human connections that create these powerful forces, and we have to sit back and remember the connection we all have to how beautiful this area is."

The limitless outdoor recreation, from kayaking to mountain biking, as well as the proximity to Lake Tahoe, Big Sur or Yosemite National Park, prove an irresistible lure.

"I moved here from Pennsylvania when I went to Stanford for graduate school and never left," said Michael Kieschnick, president, chief operating officer and co-founder of Working Assets. "People move here and stay here because it's a wonderful environment. You want to defend it, and unfortunately,

it needs a defense."

-- Politics. Pick an election. The Bay Area rejected both the recall and the candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger last month, while the rest of the state embraced both.

On Dec. 9, San Franciscans get to pick either Democrat Gavin Newsom or Green Matt Gonzalez as their next mayor. The city and its neighboring counties usually opt for the Democratic presidential candidate, even when the rest of the state or the country tilts to the right.

-- Education. Two marquee institutions, UC Berkeley and Stanford University, help create "a competitive advantage for Northern California in the global economy," said Roulac, noting that in the National Research Council's most recent ranking of university doctoral programs, in 1995, Cal and Stanford topped the list.

The universities are now promoting sustainable business models, from a center for corporate responsibility at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley or the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford's Graduate School of Business.

Presidio World College is also launching a new MBA program in San Francisco, focused on sustainability.

-- Innovation. Whether the credit goes to the founders of Hewlett- Packard, or the team that first built Fairchild Semiconductor, Silicon Valley's stature as the world's pre-eminent technology headquarters is unchallenged.

Although not necessarily politically progressive, the valley provides not only innovative tools but also innovative management styles and an inspiration for creative people.

Finance. Until mergers dimmed its luster, San Francisco was long the West Coast's financial capital, and the region's corporate citizens -- such as Levi Strauss & Co., Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Gap -- have promoted different aspects of corporate responsibility, said Robert Dunn, CEO of Business for Social Responsibility.

Dunn also credits big thinkers, such as environmentalist and author Paul Hawken, and smaller businesses, like Fetzer Vineyards, Odwalla, Peet's Coffee and Tea, and WildPlanet Toys, for promoting progressive business practices.

Many of these practices are fostered by Dunn's group and the group that started it, the Social Venture Network, both also based in San Francisco.

When Eric Leenson left Merrill Lynch and joined nine other brokers to form Progressive Asset Management in 1987, "We thought we would get lots of inquiries from all over the country, from brokers who would want to find out what we were doing. That didn't happen. To this day, the Bay Area is an absolute hub of activity. The fact that 10 of us could get together -- it didn't exist anywhere else."

-- Spirituality. Liberal religions and non-Western thought thrive in the Bay Area.

A once-in-a-decade study by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies found last year that while conservative religious groups like Mormons and Southern Baptists grew nationally, they actually shrank in the Bay Area -- while the liberal United Methodist Church grew locally but contracted nationally.

Zen priest Marc Lesser, who spent 10 years at the San Francisco Zen Center before earning his MBA from New York University and now runs the stationery company Brush Dance in San Rafael, finds the Bay Area perfect for his business.

"For us, there's so much both socially responsible activity and support, and spiritual activity and support here. In some way, it's the center of the world for both those activities," he said.

-- Critical mass. With enough like-minded people concentrated in one region, they bump into each other on what LinkTV's Kim Spencer calls "the rubber soy burger circuit of events."

Nexus points have developed, like the Tides Foundation's Thoreau Center in the Presidio in San Francisco, or a $16 million David Brower Center now planned for downtown Berkeley.

Many cite New York, New England and Washington, D.C., as the other capitals of progressive activity, with smaller hives in places like Seattle and Boulder, Colo. But the liberal voices are often drowned out or diluted in the larger metropolitan regions.

"You'd be hard pressed to find another city in the U.S. that has a concentration like this," said Dunn, at Business for Social Responsibility. "The greatest amount of activity in this arena (in the world) is found in London, but many would say the Bay Area would be second."

"I moved here from the East Coast two years ago, literally looking for this kind of energy," said Nancy Ross, the director of communications at the California Institute for Integral Studies.

"I was a diehard New Yorker (seeking) what's interconnected in our world. That lives in a much more vital way in the Bay Area than it does on the East Coast, and you can feel it."

Ecologically and socially responsible groups put down roots in the community

This list shows just a small sampling of the most prominent progressive businesses and nonprofits in the Bay Area with revenues or budgets of at least $1 million.

American Transitech**

What they do and where they are:

Remanufacture toner cartridges, Mountain View

Budget/Revenues: Not disclosed

Employees: 20.

Brush Dance**

What they do and where they are:

Mindful stationery products, San Rafael

Budget/Revenues: $3 million

Employees: 15.

Business for Social Responsibility*

What they do and where they are:

Lobby big business to be socially responsible, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $8 million

Employees: 55 (50 in Bay Area).

California Institute of Integral Studies*

What they do and where they are:

University connects East and West, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $11 million

Employees: 325.

Center for Ecoliteracy*

What they do and where they are:

Foster understanding of nature, Berkeley

Budget/Revenues: $1.4 million

Employees: 9.

Clif Bar **

What they do and where they are:

Energy bars, Berkeley

Budget/Revenues: $100 million

Employees: 120.


What they do and where they are:

Public interest environmental law firm, Oakland

Budget/Revenues: $18.3 million

Employees: 138

(64 in Bay Area).

East Meets West Foundation*

What they do and where they are:

Support Vietnamese infrastructure projects, Oakland

Budget/Revenues: $10 million

Employees: 28

(7 in Bay Area).

Electronic Frontier Foundation*

What they do and where they are:

Fight for bill of rights in cyberspace, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $2 million

Employees: 24.

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights*

What they do and where they are:

Fight human rights abuses in criminal justice system, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $1.2 million

Employees: 19.

Epic Roots**

What they do and where they are:

Grow, market & distribute pesticide-free salads, Mill Valley

Budget/Revenues: Not disclosed

Employees: 10.

Give Something Back**

What they do and where they are:

Sell office products to benefit nonprofit groups, Oakland

Budget/Revenues: $25 million

Employees: 90.

Global Exchange*

What they do and where they are:

International human rights organization, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $7.14 million

Employees: 45 (43 in Bay Area).

Independent Media Institute (Alternet)*

What they do and where they are:

Support alternative journalism, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $1.7 million

Employees: 25.

Independent Press Association*

What they do and where they are:

Support independent magazines, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $8 million

Employees: 23.

Indigenous Designs Corp.**

What they do and where they are:

Design and market free-trade organic fiber clothing, Santa Rosa

Budget/Revenues: $2-5 million

Employees: 8.

Juma Ventures*

What they do and where they are:

Employ youth in franchise businesses, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $3.5 million

Employees: 30 adults, 200 teens.


What they do and where they are:

International satellite broadcast channel, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $4 million

Employees: 28 (22 in Bay Area).

Mal Warwick & Associates, Inc.**

What they do and where they are:

Public relations and direct marketing firm for nonprofits, Berkeley

Budget/Revenues: $10 million

Employees: 40.

Mother Jones Magazine*

What they do and where they are:

Investigative magazine, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $7.2 million

Employees: 40.

Net Impact*

What they do and where they are:

Progressive business network, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $1 million

Employees: 9.

New Leaf Paper**

What they do and where they are:

Recycled paper, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $17 million

Employees: 18.

Institute of Noetic Sciences **

What they do and where they are:

Educational research foundation, Petaluma

Budget/Revenues: Not disclosed

Employees: 30.

Parnassus Investments**

What they do and where they are:

Socially responsible mutual funds, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $5-10 million

Employees: 16.

Progressive Asset Management, Inc.**

What they do and where they are:

Socially responsible brokerage, Oakland

Budget/Revenues: $4 million

Employees: 6 .

Rainforest Action Network*

What they do and where they are:

Save the rainforests, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $2 million

Employees: 22.

Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center*

What they do and where they are:

Business incubator, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $2 million

Employees: 14.

Rosebud Agency**

What they do and where they are:

Solar-powered music booking agency, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: Not disclosed

Employees: 15.

Rudolf Steiner Foundation*

What they do and where they are:

Financial service loans money to other nonprofits, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $2.6 million

Employees: 23.

Sierra Club *

What they do and where they are:

Environmental organization, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $80 million

Employees: 500

(200 in Bay Area).

Tides Foundation*

What they do and where they are:

Administers donor-advised grants; part of Tides family of nonprofits, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $4.9 million

Employees: 23 .

TDA (Turner Dale Associates, Inc.)**

What they do and where they are:

Investment advisers/primarily real estate, Burlingame

Budget/Revenues: Not disclosed

Employees: 10.

Wild Planet Toys**

What they do and where they are:

Nonsexist nonviolent toys, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $50 million

Employees: 10.

Working Assets**

What they do and where they are:

Credit cards, phone service, San Francisco

Budget/Revenues: $130 million

Employees: 107.


What they do and where they are:

Environmentally responsible consumer products , San Rafael

Budget/Revenues: Not disclosed

Employees: 25

* Denotes a nonprofit

** Denotes a for-profit business

The list was compiled by Dan Fost and Steve Corder of the Chronicle staff, with help from the Social Venture Network.

E-mail Dan Fost at dfost [at] sfchronicle [dot] com.