Diablo Eco Awards
As we all try to do the green thing, we salute the local people, products, places, and programs that are leading the way. Meet the big thinkers pushing for change on the national level, and learn about programs and products being developed in our own backyard.
Wins because: The Berkeley scientist is our country’s new green energy secretary (and our associate editor has a crush on him).
When Chu testified on Capitol Hill before being named Barack Obama’s new energy secretary, I was curled up in my jammies, sick with a cold. I turned on the TV to find something starring a Hollywood he-man: George Clooney in an ER rerun or an old movie starring Gable, Bogart, or Brando.
Instead, I found Chu. He was then director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and he was gracefully and smilingly fielding questions from members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the future of offshore drilling, nuclear energy, and clean coal, wind, and solar technologies.
For me, a new heartthrob was born.
It sounds loopy, and sure, Chu is not your typical sex symbol. He’s in his sixties, balding, and wears glasses. But, in terms of what evolutionary biologists say women really want, he's got it.
His power emanates from the fact that he is Nobel Prize–physicist smart. He is also articulate, engaging, and wants to rally the world’s top researchers to combat global warming, and find renewable energy sources. He has reportedly said he’d like to win a second Nobel Prize for solving the world’s energy crisis.
I couldn’t help but get all tingly when I heard Chu’s opening statement to the Senate committee: “As a scientist, I am ever optimistic to expand the boundaries of what is possible.”
Expanding boundaries. Oh, my.
Chu comes off as self-effacing in the autobiography he wrote upon winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. (He won for helping to develop methods to collect and trap atoms under laser light. I don’t get the significance of this, but I love that he does.)
As the middle of three sons born to scholarly parents from China, Chu describes himself as his family’s “academic black sheep.” He says he performed only “adequately” in high school, though he was enthused by geometry, physics, and English classes. Although his “mediocre” grades kept him out of the Ivy League—where his brother studied—he blossomed at the University of Rochester and ended up at UC Berkeley, where he earned doctoral and postdoctoral degrees in physics.
As director of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, he promoted partnerships between academia and industry. As energy secretary, Chu will manage a $25 billion budget, 14,000 employees, 193,000 contract employees, and the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities. Talk about power.
For the record, I’m not the only one with a Steven Chu infatuation. Even male politicians and commentators, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Atlantic’s James Fallows, have expressed man crushes on our new energy secretary. Like many of the rest of us, they’re gaga over the idea of finally having a scientist in charge of a science-driven national program. And, from what I could see, those Senate committee members were indulging in their own Chu love fest. As California’s Dianne Feinstein gushed: “Dr. Chu is persistent, persuasive, and passionate about science.”
I love a man with passion.
Wins because: The Martinez resident cofounded the Sierra Club and helped start the environmental movement and our national parks. Visit his home, nps.gov/jomu.
The Berkeley journalism professor is leading the charge to green our food industry.
Many argue that we need to wean ourselves off our heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Pollan takes the matter one step further, saying that our national security also is at risk if we don’t reform our centralized fuel-hogging food industry.
His writings on this issue, notably in the New York Times Magazine, won him a meeting with members of President Obama’s transition team. Pollan says our current agriculture system relies on “cheap energy that we can no longer count on.” michaelpollan.com.
This business owner made a major investment in going solar.
Like many small-business owners, Hettinger, CEO of J. Hettinger Interiors in Danville, wanted to go green. Hettinger went all the way by spending a remarkable $400,000 to install solar panels on the roof of his Danville showroom.
He also switched to energy-efficient lightbulbs and hired recyclers to pick up cans and cardboard, a service the town of Danville doesn’t offer to commercial businesses. “It’s more of a personal issue than anything else. Every individual has the personal responsibility to do what he or she can do,” he says. www.jhettinger.com.
Wins because: The East Bay rock gods are pushing the green message to a gazillion young fans.
The band has a website packed with eco information for the MySpace generation. In collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council, band members Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool talk about environmental awareness; front man Armstrong recalls the refinery-ravaged air in his hometown of Rodeo. There are also heaps of conservation ideas and lively tips that avoid preachiness: “Don’t drive like an idiot: Rapid acceleration and last-minute braking drain your tank.” greendaynrdc.com.
Sungevity Solar Home Systems
Wins because: With one e-mail, you can get a quote from this Berkeley company for how much it will cost to have your home go solar. sungevity.com.
These cleaning products, created by Lafayette mom Laurie Walter, are so safe, you can drink them. And the company’s personal care products won the highest safety rating from the Environmental Working Group.
This Oakland-based business is totally green and makes awesome tea. “Sustainability is the hallmark of our business,” says Ahmed Rahim, who cofounded Numi Tea with his sister Reem. The tea, made with fresh, organic ingredients, comes packaged in natural-fiber bags and environmentally friendly bamboo gift boxes. worldpantry.com
Lori Bonn Jewelry
It makes beautiful eco-friendly baubles.
We love these stunning pendants, earrings, bracelets, and rings made of silver, half of which has been recycled, and featuring stones that come from eco-friendly mining operations. Designed by Oakland resident Lori Bonn, the jewelry, including the new Love Letters line, is available for sale at Nordstrom and at loribonn.com.
Wins because: Dozens of contractors came together to build this Oakland demonstration house that is visually and environmentally stunning inside and out. margaridohouse.com.
|Pleasanton Fire Station 4|
It was the first green emergency services building in the United States. With drought-tolerant landscaping, high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning, recycled materials in its flooring, ceiling tiles, and insulation, as well as solar power that provides about 20 percent of its electricity, the station was the first to get LEED “gold” certification in Alameda County.
|Athenian School’s Solar Power|
This visually unique solar-power system, in the shape of an A and perched on a hillside above the Danville private school, will provide half of the school’s electricity. The 220-kilowatt system, with 1,300 photovoltaic panels, is one of the largest solar-power installations operated by a nonprofit in California. athenian.org.
It sells Hanky Panky organic cotton underpants and other hip items that are made with the planet in mind. This new Danville shop is designed to be 100-percent eco-friendly but doesn't mince on style. From JBrand jeans to dresses by Gypsy, these are the clothes you’ll find on Kate Hudson and Christina Aguilera. Plus, Olive sells Chartreuse beauty products and Heather Herron handbags.
Wins because: It is a Bay Area force in mobilizing middle and high school students to protect their local environment. Kids from more than 70 schools make up Earth Team, founded by Moraga’s Sheilah Fish to restore habitats and clean up creeks and shorelines. The kids also work with their schools to measure and reduce their campuses’ carbon emissions and educate students on air quality and its relationship to their community’s rates of asthma. They also produce the Green Screen show, which airs on public-access TV. earthteam.net.
This program makes it possible to recycle your wine corks—which are 100-percent natural, biodegradable, and renewable—at local businesses, such as Whole Foods grocery stores and three Livermore wineries. recorkamerica.com.
|National Ignition Facility|
A device housed in this stadium-sized Livermore complex will enable scientists to produce fusion ignition. Fusion, which powers the sun, could allow the United States to begin to generate limitless clean energy by 2020.
Kaufman Prefab House
Michelle Kaufmann’s stylish modular homes make green living accessible and appealing to growing numbers of families.
The Oakland designer's prefabricated homes are sturdy and affordable but contain all the contemporary artistry of custom-built homes, which Kaufmann also designs, such as one nearing completion in Lafayette.
Food Scraps Program
This pilot project by the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority is tackling the biggest contributor to our waste stream: leftover food. Since 2007, the authority has collected food scraps and even soiled paper food containers for composting from more than 58 percent of homes in Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda. In the past few months, the authority has also begun collecting preprep food scraps from restaurants and grocery stores in the area, which will eventually be used to generate energy. wastediversion.org.
Innersense Beauty Products
Not only are they certified green, the shampoo, conditioner, and styling products give hair shine, body, and manageability like we've never experienced. Developed by Walnut Creek businessman Greg Starkman, a former Revlon product developer, Innersense’s ingredients are all organic, biodynamic, or certified organic. Innersense products cost more, but you’re worth it. So is the environment.
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