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Sonoma County 'sustainability' conference draws hundreds

Is it possible to focus on environmental sustainability and still run a viable business? That question was on the minds of many people Friday at the Sustainable Enterprise Conference in Rohnert Park.

Hundreds of attendees heard from lawmakers and economic leaders about topics from energy retrofitting to biogas digestion.

For Marlene Soiland, president of Santa Rosa-based Soiland Co. Inc., the answer was yes.

The company, which owns Stony Point Rock Quarry and Grab N' Grow Soil Products, makes soil and compost for construction and landscaping. Previously, about 80 percent of the materials the company used came from the ground, Soiland said. But she and her family decided they wanted to leave a better environmental footprint, and made it their goal to generate 20 percent of their materials from finite natural resources and 80 percent from recycled materials.

"Taking rock of the ground is not a sustainable business model," Soiland said.

To that end, the company worked with the Sonoma County Water Agency to recycle 5,000 toilets, crushing the materials that eventually found their way into countertops made from recycled products. The company also is converting used roof shingles into road surface materials.

"You need to have a bit of a passion about it as a business owner, because the economics don't always work," Soiland said. Although those parts of the business aren't always profitable, the company is doing well and planning to hire two people, Soiland said.

Oliver's Market also has been a model of sustainability because it buys goods locally, said Robert Eyler, chairman of the economics department at Sonoma State University.

<CW-15>And Sonoma County government has been tackling sustainability issues by aggressively converting its fleet of cars to electric vehicles and developing a "farms to fuel" program to turn chicken excrement into electricity, said County Supervisor Efren Carrillo.

</CW>Presenter Panama Bartholomy of the California Energy Commission kept the crowd laughing as he spoke about Gov. Jerry Brown's green-energy agenda.


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