Business & Technology

Water into wine

Interview with ‘Growing Green’ water steward Mike Benziger

An April 13, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) announced the four winners of its second annual “Growing Green” awards, which honor leaders in the sustainable-food world in four categories: “thought leader,” “producer,” business leader,” and “water steward.” I interviewed “thought leader” Fred Kirschenmann here and “business leader” Karl Kupers of Shepherd’s Grain here. Now I turn my attention to Mike Benziger, who brought home the “water steward” prize for his work at Benziger Family Winery. ————- Mike Benziger on the family farm. When Mike Benziger and his family began growing grapes and making wine in 1970s-era Sonoma County, the …

SPILL BABY SPILL

Oil rig leak and the week in fossil-fuel industry disasters

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill.Photo: NASA’s Earth ObservatoryThe oil and coal industries have been making themselves look so bad lately, it’s almost as if they want to help out their clean-energy competitors. It’s time for another damage report: About 42,000 gallons of oil a day are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion sunk the oil rig Deepwater Horizon and left 11 workers missing (the rescue search for them has been called off) and three others critically injured. Responders are trying three methods to stop the flow — one that would take hours, one that would take …

he's redefining green

Rob Jones

Art: Nat Damm Rob Jones Cofounder, Crop Mob Carrboro, N.C. Like a growing number of young folks across the country, Rob Jones, 27, likes to get his hands in the dirt, making his foodshed and community more robust and vibrant. Once each month, Jones and a band of young agrarians alight upon an area farm. Calling themselves the Crop Mob, they do a big project together—say, break new ground for raised beds or harvest a labor-intensive crop like sweet potatoes. The host farmers make a big meal, and everyone eats together. Sustainable agriculture is “way, way, way more labor-intensive than …

She's redefining green

Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart

Art: Nat Damm Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart Founder, Vaute Couture Chicago, Ill. Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, 27, launched Vaute Couture last year with a line of chic, eco-friendly, cruelty-free, ethically and locally produced coats that are warm enough for Chicago winters. As a vegan, model, and MBA, she brings a unique perspective to her work—and strong values too; all profits from one of her styles are donated to Farm Sanctuary, a haven for rescued farm animals. Vaute Couture also sells vegan-themed T-shirts and jewelry. Hilgart tells you about it all on her blog. Watch Hilgart talk about her business:

he's redefining green

Matt Golden

Art: Nat Damm Matt Golden President, Founder, and Chief Building Scientist, Recurve Sausalito, Calif. Matt Golden, 35, has become 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 …

he's redefining green

Cisco DeVries

Art: Nat Damm Cisco DeVries President, Renewable Funding Oakland, Calif. 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 up front; the financing comes via municipal bonds, and if an owner sells the …

he's redefining green

Jim Cochran

Art: Nat Damm Jim Cochran Farmer, Swanton Berry Farm Davenport, Calif. Despite what many consumers may think, organic rules don’t ensure fair treatment of workers—and tight profit margins mean that working conditions and pay on organic farms are too often no different from those in conventional operations. But Jim Cochran, 62, who launched California’s first organic strawberry farm in 1987, refused to accept the established norms. In 1998, he became the first organic grower to sign a contract with the United Farm Workers union—and he approached them. Then, in 2005, Cochran rolled out what might be the nation’s first stock-ownership …

She's redefining green

Leslie Christian

Art: Nat Damm Leslie Christian Founder, Upstream 21 and Portfolio 21 Seattle, Wash. “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, Ore.-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 …

She's redefining green

Valerie Casey

Art by Nat Damm. Original photo by Brian Smale. Valerie Casey Founder, Designers Accord Oakland, Calif. Designer Valerie Casey, 37, wants to green not just her own projects but her entire industry. She started the Designers Accord—aka the “Kyoto Treaty of Design”—in 2007 to encourage the creative community to integrate the principles of sustainability into all design practice and to share knowledge with each other. So far, she estimates, more than 600 design firms, 30 corporations, and dozens of colleges and universities from more than 100 countries have ratified the accord. It all started in 2007 with a manifesto Casey …