14 Innovators Who Are Changing Green Business
Move over, hemp tote bags: These ecocapitalists see profit in fixing the planet.
Also from the Climate Desk: How a warmer climate could roil the political landscape.
Founder, Upstream 21 & Portfolio 21, Seattle
"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-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.)
Founder, Front Seat, Seattle
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 US 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 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.
Digital designer, Urban Advantage, Berkeley, California
Digital artist Steve Price 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, and more sustainable places. Price’s Berkeley firm, Urban Advantage, builds these "photo-realistic visualizations" for developers, design firms, and local governments that want to show how a proposed project 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.'"
Psychologist, Tempe, Arizona
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 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 power.)
President, Renewable Funding, Oakland, California
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 in 2007; since then, 17 states have cleared the way for municipalities to use property taxes in this way, and more than 200 US cities and counties are working to launch programs. DeVries' company, Renewable Funding, helps communities set up and run PACE programs. (Read a Grist post by DeVries.)
President, Founder, & Chief Building Scientist, Recurve, Sausalito, California
Matt Golden, 35, has become something of 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.)