At Sonoma State conference, sustainable business is the topic

Faced with a political climate in which environmental protections may be rolled back, more than 200 people turned out Wednesday to learn about how to create a more sustainable economy, not only for the planet but also for the profit column.

Speakers at the 12th annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference held at Sonoma State University’s Student Center noted that despite current federal efforts, the overall trend in the economy is going green, especially at the state and local level.

“California has long set an example for other states to follow,” said Robert Girling, a business professor at Sonoma State University. “We are clearly now, as California, the keeper of this nation’s future.”

For instance, the state is the nation’s leader in solar energy, generating 13 percent of its electricity from the sun, while wind power now accounts for more than 6 percent. Also, more than 50 percent of all electric car owners in the U.S. live in California.

“Smart resource usage is good business,” said Carolyn Pistone, president and managing director of Clear Blue Commercial, a Petaluma property management company dedicated to environmentally responsible real estate practices.

In fact, the conference was held the same week that San Carlos-based Tesla, maker of electric cars, surpassed Ford Motor Corp. in market value.

While environmental issues typically are at the forefront of sustainability efforts, the term also encompasses areas such as labor issues and charitable efforts. One commonly cited reference, by the United Nations’ Bruntland Commission, called it “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sonoma County has taken a leadership role in the sector, especially with such companies as Jackson Family Wines, Bear Republic Brewing Co. and Clover Sonoma Farms Inc. incorporating sustainable practices. The Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group has set a goal of having all of the county’s grape crop be certified sustainable by 2019. In addition, Sonoma Clean Power is growing its customer base through its renewable energy offerings; the company recently announced an expansion to Mendocino County, where about 30,000 households are expected to sign up for its service.

Pistone described one building owner she worked with to make changes on their property, including upgrading to green building practices, turning the lawn into mulch-covered soil and installing electric car plug-in stations. The owner was able to sell the property, originally purchased for $3 million, for a $5 million profit.

“In a capitalist society, we are voting with our dollars,” she said.

Indeed, the business case for sustainability was at the center of the discussion at the event. At Jackson Family Wines, water costs on average 3 cents a gallon at its various wineries, said Julian Gervreau, sustainability director for the Santa Rosa company “You can go to your CFO and say, ‘For every million gallons of water we save, it is worth 30 grand,’?” he said.

Attendees also were urged to become more active in their consumer choices, beyond the car they drive and the electricity they source. And Dale Wannen, a Petaluma-based financial advisor who specializes in sustainable investments, urged attendees to check out to determine how much of their mutual funds have an ownership stake in companies in the carbon fuel sector.

“One out of every five dollars (under management) now integrates with sustainable investing,” Wannen said. “It’s a lot bigger than people think.”

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Dale Wannen’s name.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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