California has had 4 “rushes”. First was the Pioneer land grab, followed by the gold rush, then the information rush of the dot-com era, and now, finally, the green rush. I’m thrilled to say it’s not confined to Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland, and Silicon Valley.
Last week, I wrote about the city of Richmond, California, and its exciting efforts to join the green corridor that includes Silicon Valley, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco. Richmond held its first green business tour last week, modeling itself after the East Bay Green Tours that have been heralding Berkeley and Oakland area businesses and non-profits that are leading the way to a sustainable future. The tour included the deep green as well as the light green, and businesses more in tune with Richmond’s gritty industrial environment.
While square footage is too expensive in Berkeley and San Francisco and other dense population centers for manufacturing, recycling yards, and other land-intensive businesses, this is exactly the kind of green economic development that places like Richmond are ripe (and hungry) for. And this is precisely the reason why green is so ubiquitous and holds so much hope for an economic turnaround in this country and around the world.
The tour started with a visit to Vetrazzo, which has been covered in detail on TriplePundit before. Vetrazzo is housed in the old Ford Point Building, and manufactures stunningly beautiful countertops from used glass (Skyy Vodka produces one of the more popular countertops, as one of the few deep blue glass containers). Glass from curbside recycling bins is optically split off by computer, sorting the different colors so that Vetrazzo can make uniform countertops from co-mingled recycling bins in the Bay Area. They’ve achieved an 85% post-consumer recycled glass content, best in class. I was sworn to secrecy by our tour guide, so I won’t let their secret out of the bag, but suffice it to say, it’s a creative and very green solution.
Sims Metal, a metal recycling yard, was next. Sims breaks down metals (including entire cars) into bite-sized metal chunks for a variety of uses. Sims employs state-of-the-art techniques, heavy-duty machinery, and plenty of manpower to turn just about anything metal into raw materials for a new product.
What came next was truly inspiring. Even though the soil in Richmond is full of contaminants from years as an industrial center, the abundant sunshine and perfect weather for growing a variety of crops makes it an attractive location for some small scale agriculture projects. A rails-to-trails project created a greenbelt complete with bike path that made my trip to Richmond by bicycle a lot easier (it was bike to work day, after all). But what I noticed on the way out there was how much open space was not being used. I just finished reading Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, which convinced me that small scale, community-level agriculture could be a solid foundation for a truly sustainable economy, and all I could see was wasted space in a greenbelt that might have been 50 yards wide by several miles long. In the morning, I was on part of that bike path that was just dirt and grass…in the afternoon, the tour took us to another part of the bike path that is being used in a program with Richmond Middle School, where students, teachers, parents, and community members had built a thriving community garden.
They had built raised beds to get around the contaminated soil issue, and we were told that the garden was going to be expanded substantially. Growing there were organic strawberries, mint, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, rosemary, sunflowers…
Solar Richmond and Richmond Build, two non-profits that share a building, were next on the tour. The two non-profits, among other things, train people for green collar jobs. Richmond Build brings students in to literally build an energy efficient house inside the building. They’re trained to seal ducts, caulk windows, install energy-efficient appliances, but also to work on computers, learning Excel, Word, job searching, resume development and web-browsing skills. If students show up to class one minute early, they’re sent home for the day and receive no training. This replicates a worksite, where foremen expect their workers to show up on time, and trains the kids to get their work ethic in order. They drug test regularly, and train in math for one hour each day: working on fractions to help in tape measure readings, and the sort of practical things kids will have to know on the job site. Solar Richmond helps the kids learn how to install solar panels and other energy efficient implements. It then sets the kids out to install solar in the community, providing free labor to the homeowners and businesses that contract through them for putting solar panels on their roofs.
The final business stop on the tour was Belaire Displays, a manufacturer of large signs for companies like Jamba Juice and the Oakland Athletics. Not normally an eco-friendly industry. But third generation family business Belaire is focusing on doing what it can, and has submitted several sustainability projects to the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.
The day ended with Richmond’s first Green Is Gold Expo, which featured 45 to 60 local businesses, non-profits, municipal committees, and individuals committed to the green revolution. The Expo took place in a green building, Ford Point, on Richmond’s waterfront.