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Capital for a Sustainable Future - 2015 Sustainable Enterprise Conference


Capital for a Sustainable Future
2015 Sustainable Enterprise Conference

When over 350 people and nearly 50 speakers gathered at Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park for the 10th Sustainable Enterprise Conference on April 30th, the setting was perfect, reflecting Sonoma County’s lead in sustainable enterprise. It was hosted in the solar powered Sonoma Mountain (SOMO) Village Event Center, with an impressive commitment to continually reducing the event’s environmental impact. The delicious food served in Sally Tomatoes was fresh, local and organic; in the afternoon we enjoyed organic ice cream from Strauss Family Creamery; the beverages were all from local sustainable companies—morning teas from Traditional Medicinals, at lunchtime Yerba Maté from Guayakí and at the end of the day, wines from Rodney Strong and Jackson Family Wines and beer from Petaluma’s HenHouse Brewing.

It was wonderful seeing no disposable dishes or plastic water bottles. Ceramic cups were available for filtered water provided by FloWater, where people could refill their own containers. In order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the conference—often the largest component of an event’s carbon footprint—speakers were invited from the Bay Area, thus eliminating air travel, and carpooling using RideScout was encouraged. It is wonderful to have conferences such as this that really show how it can be done!

Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park is the first One Planet Community in North America—there are now 10 worldwide! The first keynote speaker, Poreen Desai, Co-Founder of Bioregional One Planet Living, talked about the One Planet concept, pointing out that people really want to have sustainable living spaces—the One Planet Grow Community in Seattle recently sold over 80% of its houses with minimal advertising and is now sold out.

One of his remarks really impacted me. If everyone lived like Europeans, it would take three planet Earths to support us all, but if everyone lived like Americans, it would take five planets.

The Problem: we only have one planet. One Planet Living has a wonderful website,, where you can also learn about its 10 principles of sustainability, developed by BioRegional and WWF (the World Wildlife Foundation), at

Two other keynote speakers focused on how capital can be used for a sustainable future. Investor Mario Vangelisti pointed out that “business as usual” was no longer an option, because when the dollar value of what nature provides for free is added in, the real cost of many things we purchase is much greater than it seems. For instance, a cattle ranch that has $16.6 billion of revenue could use over $320 billion in nature’s capital, thus making a hamburger’s true cost $200. Talking about divestment, he said that because we must keep 2800 Gigatons (a Gigaton is a bit more than 1100 tons) of fossil fuel in the ground if the temperature isn’t to rise more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, fossil fuel stocks are NOT worth their market value and divesting from them makes economic sense, not just environmental sense. It is good business to get out of fossil fuels right now; one easy way to start, he suggested, is to take 1% of your net worth and investing it in the local economy.

Co-CEO of Beneficial State Bank Kat Taylor spoke of a bank needing to be responsive to the community. Beneficial is committed to working to reinvesting profits in the low-income community or the environment, and lending resources to the new economy in sectors such as affordable housing, clean tech, sustainable food, and women & minority owned businesses. Seventy-five per cent of their loans have to support this new economy; the other 25% can’t undermine it. If we want a new economy, she said, we all have to invest in one. Where is your bank investing the money you deposit with them?

Throughout the day a variety of workshops and sessions addressed exploring how our North Bay businesses, government agencies, and communities are working together to build a resilient community, secure a local food system, and mitigate global climate change. It is always difficult for me to pick from a wonderful menu of sessions such as were offered at the Conference.

My picks were Water and the Future, because I am always writing about water and drought; Innovation and Sustainability; and a series of 10-minute presentations in the SoCoNexus building. I was particularly struck by the presentation from the Rio Theatre in Monte Rio, in which the classic theater was saved through crowd sourcing and recreated as a small sustainable business with 27 co-owners in a rural area.

Coming back from the Nexus building, I took the opportunity to walk the Labyrinth recently cut into the grass opposite the building. Having a chance to take a quiet break in the middle of a busy, extremely full day was a real treat, and another benefit of the conference planning. Of course the free neck and shoulder chair massage I received from Gary Tharler, LMT, of Touch and Go Massage, also helped to ease the stress that can come with such a great conference.

I always find I learn a lot by visiting the exhibitors. There were several who were new to me, and I had some great conversations with them, including:

Sunspeed Enterprises, which is developing the Pacific Coast Suntrail™ Charging Hubs, a series of solar powered charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) along Hwy. 1 that’s planned to reach from Eureka to Malibu. Currently the first station is open in the Old Livery Stable in Pt. Reyes Station, and stations at St. Orres in Gualala, Duncans Mill, and the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo expected to be operative this summer.

I’ve lived in Sonoma County for nearly 40 years, and Mycopia® Gourmet Organic Mushrooms was founded the year I came here—and this is the first I have heard of them! They sell seven varieties of specialty mushrooms to wholesalers and gourmet restaurants, have gift baskets, and reasonably priced educator’s kits with everything needed to bring fungi into the classroom. Justin Reyes, Manager of Sales and Marketing, sent me home with a lovely box containing Forest Nameko™, Velvet Pioppini™, and Nebrodini Bianco™ mushrooms, which I shared with a friend.

Bay Area Green Tours, leads tours to sites around the Bay Area that connect to those pioneering in “Sustainability in Action.”

After a busy day of workshops and networking, it was great to relax and talk about how the conference worked for everyone. The great wine and beer, plus wonderful food rounded off the day. I’ll definitely be there next year. Hope to see you, too. Go to to get on the mailing list.