Dec 242007
 

Oakland Unwrapped

Nonprofit lists Oakland merchants to help build sustainable community.

Erin Neel launched Oakland Unwrapped in May of this year as a way to promote local artists and businesses by providing an online market place.

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

Away with the big box markets and chain retailers. Forget the swanky department stores in someone else’s city.

“Shop locally” is the slogan of commerce supporting the environmental movement. And lest you think buying your sister pink Angora socks down the street instead of from your favorite catalog store is a wonky liberal statement, advocates of shopping locally remind you that you will be keeping profits circulating in your hometown.

The Web site Oakland Unwrapped, http://www.oaklandunwrapped.com, connects you to the goods and services of Oakland’s local craftsmen and retailers.

Erin Kilmer Neel, with a degree in urban planning, realized when she married three years ago that the only place to sign up for a gift registry was with a non-Oakland department store. She wanted to change that.

Since she launched her site in May, she has welcomed 15 entrepreneurs, mostly artists, designers and craftsmen as well as two publishers and two brick-and-mortar outlets to the site, and she reports several more will soon link their products to Oakland Unwrapped.

Crafts on sale at Oakland Unwrapped 

She conceived her business as a nonprofit and, working single-handedly, Neel is busy writing grants to get each next piece of technology in place. For instance, a recent grant from Pacific Gas and Electric will allow her to emphasize ecologically friendly merchants who participate in Oakland Unwrapped.

She also is partnering with Oakland’s Cerebral Palsy Center, which has an entrepreneurial division for its clients. In the future, the center’s entrepreneurs will be able to display their products on her site.

Two bricks-and-mortar boutiques, INDUSTRIelle on Grand Avenue and Entrez on Telegraph Avenue also have presences on Oakland Unwrapped. Publishers are GrassRoutes, a series of city guidebooks, and EcoMetro Green Savings Book, a catalog of coupons to environ-mentally friendly local businesses.

Neel charges the entrepreneurs on her site 5 to 7 percent of their sales or a monthly fee of $25. Even with these modest charges, she hopes to be in the black by May, the first anniversary of her launch.

Serena Bartlett, the publisher of GrassRoutes guidebooks, was starting out three years ago just when Neel was setting her own gears in motion.

“We had the same message — shopping locally and keeping the money here. I was one of her first merchants,” Bartlett said.

Neel announced her epiphany to Oakland commerce with a bash called the Indie Awards last May when local entrepreneurs were honored. She chose the name Oakland Unwrapped “because it’s a gift site, but it also unwraps the treasures of Oakland,” she said.

Although most of her merchants have found her rather than the other way around, Neel is a go-getter, with rich contacts in Oakland business. She co-chairs the Oakland Merchants Leadership Forum, serves on the board of the American Independent Business Alliance and belongs to the international Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, http://www.livingeconomies.org, which promotes local business to sustain healthy communities.

Sales are heating up for the holidays. But she says she probably won’t be able to display several new merchants who are waiting to get on her site until January.

 Posted by at 4:16 pm
Dec 122007
 

By Francine Brevetti, Staff WriterThe Port of Oakland is sponsoring an informational job fair next week for a group of citizens who are often overlooked on the employment market _ former convicts.The Apprenticeship Expo, to be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at 530 Water St. in Jack London Square, aims to introduce former convicts to trade unions and job opportunities.The previously incarcerated _ frequently stymied in the job market by demands for background checks _ can make it in the construction trades with the proper guidance and support, said one former felon.The 28-year old woman, imprisoned for embezzlement, is today working on a construction site as an apprentice electrician thanks to one of the 18 training programs expected to attend the expo. The former banker, who asked that her name not be used, credited the Cypress Mandela Training Program with preparing her for her current career and lifestyle.“My lawyer suggested the construction industry because it’s often overlooked, but it has many opportunities and good wages,” she said. She went through the 16-week Cypress Mandela apprentice program and applied for every opportunity the trade unions presented.She said she’s found tolerance at her current job for former felons, provided they make some changes in their lives. “As long as they are willing to put behind them a sense of entitlement for quick money, rolling out of bed at 12 noon, the marijuana, the drugs and sometimes certain relationships, they can do it,” she said, speaking as one who’s had to look at her own life in a new light.Victor Uno, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a former training manager of the union’s apprenticeship program, is expected to speak at the expo.“We had many people formerly incarcerated in our apprenticeship program and we found opportunities for everybody,” Uno said. “If somebody made a mistake and did their time, we don’t hold that against them. Most employers in the construction trades don’t require background checks and we don’t do background checks for the apprenticeship program.”Other trade union representatives will also attend the expo, which is offered in cooperation with the Community Reentry Service Providers Network. and the Oakland Private Industry Council.
 

 Posted by at 11:32 am
Dec 122007
 

Commission not swayed by opposition from Parks District  

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

Oakland residents and drivers traveling on I-80 can expect a new billboard in the coming year since the Port of Oakland’s board of commissioners opted for revenue instead of aesthetics at a board meeting Tuesday.Port commissioners agreed that CBS Outdoor could erect one more billboard between the two it already has on a stretch of highway near the Bay Bridge toll gate. The vote came despite protests from the East Bay Regional Park District, local nonprofit Waterfront Action and three residents from the Watergate complex in Emeryville, as well as long-standing public opposition to billboards in Oakland.

“If we don’t use this opportunity to generate revenues for the Port, Caltrans can cut a deal with CBS (Outdoor) to do the same,” port Commissioner Kenneth Katzoff said. “We do a lot of good in the community but we need revenue too.”

Caltrans owns the land where the billboard will be placed, but the port has an easement for the 3,000-square-foot parcel.

The legalities of this issue are complex, involving the ownership of land, past agreements between the port and the city over billboards and past agreements with the East Bay Regional Park District.

John Sutter, director of the park district — which governs Alameda and Contra Costa county’s parks — reminded commissioners of a memorandum of understanding he said required the port and district to cooperate on such decisions.

However, during the meeting, the port board determined the understanding is no longer in effect since the land in question is now controlled by Caltrans.

Sutter responded, “Well, if you don’t have a legal responsibility (to the Park District), then at least you have a moral one.”

The commissioners were not swayed and voted 6-1 for the billboard, which will probably appear within next six months to a year.

In another action concerning the port’s real estate endeavors, the board agreed to give developer Jack London Square Partners more time to begin construction on three projects. The board voted unanimously that the developer could begin construction six months after originally planned.

The developer is building new retail, office and hotel projects at Jack London Square.

Jack London Square Partners said the construction delay would not impact the projects’ expected completion in March 2009.

 Posted by at 11:26 am
Dec 122007
 

Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — A new grocer is finally coming to Jack London Gateway, entering an embattled retail space that has been vacant since the end of February.

Fresh & Easy

 Typical Fresh and Easy outlet

Fresh and Easy, the U.S. branch of UK grocer Tesco, signed a lease in early November with developers JLG Associates to occupy the 27,000-square-foot space previously occupied by the Eugene Market in the West Oakland shopping center at Franklin and Market streets.

Tesco launched in America two years ago, testing the market for American tastes. Last month, Fresh and Easy opened 122 stores in Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The outlet in the Jack London Gateway will be its first in Northern California.

Fresh and Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott would not predict when the grocery store would open. On average, he said, it has taken the retailer less than two years to open a new store.

He also would not discuss Fresh and Easys expansion plans in Northern California or the Bay Area.

Fresh and Easy will occupy only 16,000 square feet of the space, and plans to sublet the rest to a compatible store.

While community sources have expressed the desire for a pharmacy, Fresh and Easy is not ready to comment on its choice of subtenant.

While 16,000 square feet seems modest for a supermarket (the Whole Foods that opened in September near Lake Merritt is 50,000 square feet and employs about 200 people), Fresh and Easy specializes in compact stores with plenty of variety, company representatives said.

Smaller than the usual supermarket, our neighborhood-sized stores are easily accessible and offer everything from everyday staples to gourmet items, states the chains Web site.

The chain also touts reasonable pricing.

Fresh and Easy outlets typically offer two choices for consumers, a store brand and a nationally known label — as opposed to other outlets, which may offer a store brand and a choice of two or three national brands, said Lorie Alemania, president of Portfolio Property Investors, one of the partners in JLG Associates.

Alemania and her partners have been looking for a retailer to take the place of Eugene Market, which was abandoned by its owners in February. She visited six Fresh and Easy stores in Los Angeles and said the retailer offers organic and pre-packaged produce.

It has tasting booths and high-tech scanners, she said.

Wonnacott said the new store would employ between 20 and 30 people.

West Oakland activist Marcus Johnson said the community was dismayed when the Eugene Market closed abruptly, leaving neighbors without a grocery resource and employees unpaid.

Johnson said Fresh and Easy (needs) to do some mending there. The community feels like that it has been deserted.

Besides Portfolio Property Investors, JLG Associates partners include the West Oakland Marketplace Advancement Company and the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. JLG Associates is the lead developer for the Jack London Gateway, a 13-store retail center in West Oakland.

 Posted by at 11:21 am
Dec 052007
 

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — Ghermai Ogbe has driven his truck to pick up and deliver cargo at the Port of Oakland for the last six years.

His livelihood, however, may be killing him.

“If we go to the port and the port is busy, you have 150 trucks idling for half an hour. It’s not healthy for us,” Ogbe said.

A study released Tuesday by the national Natural Resources Defense Council and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, based in Oakland, said truck drivers who serve the Port of Oakland on a daily basis have a higher risk of cancer because of the emissions of diesel fuel.

Diesel particulate matter emitted by trucks is estimated to cause 70 percent of the total cancer risk from air pollution, the study reports.

Diane Bailey, scientist with the NRDC’s environment and health program, said the amount of diesel particulate exposure at the port increased the health risk to twice the level deemed safe by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The surrounding neighborhood of West Oakland, where one in five children is diagnosed with asthma, is also at risk, said community activist Margaret Gordon, representing the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.

The study was conducted by inserting air monitors in the cabs of seven truck drivers for a total of 68 hours. When samples were taken, Bailey said, “The diesel levels were 10 times higher than the level in residential areas of Oakland.”

Five of the drivers reported health difficulties including back pain, breathing problems, asthma and eye problems, the study said.

Doug Bloch, director of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, said truck drivers who serve the port are helpless to change the situation. Because they are independent contractors, they cannot afford to buy newer, clean trucks or fit their equipment with technology to reduce emissions.

“They earn on average $8 an hour and have no health insurance,” Bloch said.

The coalitions urged the port to use its leverage as a landlord to exact efficiencies from trucking companies and clean up the port’s truck fleet.

However, Bailey and Bloch noted that trucking companies do not own trucks and that truck drivers themselves are ill-equipped to make these changes. 

difficulties including back pain, breathing problems, asthma and eye problems, the study said.

Doug Bloch, director of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, said truck drivers who serve the port are helpless to change the situation. Because they are independent contractors, they cannot afford to buy newer, clean trucks or fit their equipment with technology to reduce emissions.

“They earn on average $8 an hour and have no health insurance,” Bloch said.

The coalitions urged the port to use its leverage as a landlord to exact efficiencies from trucking companies and clean up the port’s truck fleet.

However, Bailey and Bloch noted that trucking companies do not own trucks and that truck drivers themselves are ill-equipped to make these changes. Therefore, they urged the Port of Oakland to follow through on its proposal that trucking companies employ truck drivers rather than using them as independent contractors. In this way, the trucking companies would finance the acquisition of cleaner trucks and give their drivers health benefits and a living wage.

Since the port made this proposal earlier this year, it has tempered its commitment to this plan in public statements.

Bailey said the California Air Resources Board is expected Friday to set regulations on air quality at the state’s ports.

 Posted by at 5:55 pm
Nov 282007
 

http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_7578928

OAKLAND – Launched in 2004 after decades of planning and designed to encourage a multicultural neighborhood to flourish, the Fruitvale Transit Village is now a bustling residential and commercial enclave surrounding the Fruitvale BART station.While the retail business had trouble gaining a foothold initially, that seems to be changing.More than 90 percent of the retail space in the plaza off East 12th Street has been filled and all of the space available for community groups and nonprofits is leased, officials said. Twenty of the 23 available retail spaces have been leased and officials are negotiating a lease on one more. 

Of the center’s 40,000square feet of available space, between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet have been vacant in the last two years, said Jeff Pace, chief operating officer for the Unity Council, a community group that advocated for the plaza.

“What’s important is tenant fit and tenant mix, not filling space,” Pace said. “We have a much stronger group of businesses now and much more traffic than in 2004.”Fruitvale Transit Village, which runs along East 12th Street between 33rd and 35th avenues, was designed to resemble a Mexican Plaza with four-story stucco buildings painted bright ocher and burnt sienna. Its tiled walkway is punctuated with palm trees and a fountain.The plaza boasts a variety of storefronts, such as the Powderface coffee shop, whose specialty is a sugary beignet, and Anh’s Jewelry, which serves people planning weddings and other special events.Officials are proud of the progress they’ve made turning a lot once planned for a massive parking garage into a shopping and residential hub targeting the untapped spending potential of Fruitvale.Social Compact, an advocacy group for investment in lower-income communities, estimated the collective income of Fruitvale as $708 million. While residents spend $290 million on retail purchases, they spend only about $160 million in the neighborhood itself, the report said.Unity Council thinks it can change that, not only by stimulating trade on the pedestrian mall but by stimulating commerce on International Boulevard as well.The council will soon open a new shopping outlet across the street from the transit village and has turned the first spade of dirt on the second phase of a large residential addition to the project.

Gilda Gonzales, CEO of The Unity Council poses for a photo in the plaza of Fruitvale Village in Oakland, Calif. on Wednesday, November 14, 2007. The Unity Council is the organization which lobbied for the Fruitvale Village s revitalization and redesign. (Karna Kurata/The Oakland Tribune)

The first phase of residential construction, 47 apartments that opened in 2004, filled right away, said Unity Council Chief Executive Officer Gilda Gonzalez. Retail space struggled, however.”We built out the space for the commercial boom that was going on during the dot-com era,” Gonzalez said. “In hindsight, we should have built more residential.”Since Gonzalez joined Unity Council, five retailers have been relieved of their leases because they weren’t turning a profit.Unity Council is moving forward with additional residential development. Phase II is divided into three parts calling for 450 additional units. The next phase calls for 92 units to be completed in 2010. The whole project is designed for working-class incomes and Unity Council can fund $125,000 in down payment assistance. Officials are not yet taking applications.The imbalance between residential and commercial was also a result of the center’s location. The two parking facilities that serve BART are situated so that people can easily enter and leave BART without setting foot in the shopping plaza.”We decided to get in commuters’ ways. So we started a farmers’ market. We have celebrations, music and other things that bring folks into the pedestrian mall,” Gonzalez said.

The farmers’ market, open every Thursday from 2 to 7 p.m., has been an important draw for the surrounding shopkeepers.In December, the grand opening is planned for an additional marketplace, The Public Market, located in the 100-year old Masonic Temple on East 12th Street. Just across the road from the village, the market will offer artisan goods such as handmade ice cream, textiles, jewelry and a florist. A Latino cultural arts center is planned for the second floor.

The market, part of Unity Council’s neighborhood development program, was funded by grants from the Ford Foundation.During a recent interview at the Fruitvale Village, Gonzalez stood at the westernmost end of the pedestrian mall closest to the BART station and looked toward the hills.

The steeple of St. Elizabeth’s Church rises three blocks away. Officials had always planned to build the village at the foot of the church, she said.”BART wanted to build a five-story parking garage right here. But we launched a fight for the neighborhood,” she said. Now, she said, BART and Unity Council are “solid allies.”"They had a vision and they are in the process of achieving it. In an economy like this, I think that’s fabulous,” said Carole Ward Allen, who represents Alameda and parts of Oakland on the BART board of directors

 Posted by at 5:56 pm
Nov 242007
 

 

Formerly incarcerated often find re-entering the workforce difficult

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — The Port of Oakland is sponsoring an informational job fair next week for a group of citizens who are often overlooked on the employment market — former convicts.The Apprenticeship Expo, to be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wed-nesday at 530 Water St. in Jack London Square, aims to introduce former convicts to trade unions and job opportunities.

The previously incarcerated — frequently stymied in the job market by demands for background checks — can make it in the construction trades with the proper guidance and support, said one former felon.

The 28-year old woman, imprisoned for embezzlement, is today working on a construction site as an apprentice electrician thanks to one of the 18 training programs expected to attend the expo. The former banker, who asked that her name not be used, credited the Cyprus Mandela Training Program with preparing her for her current career and lifestyle.

“My lawyer suggested the construction industry because it’s often overlooked, but it has many opportunities and good wages,” she said. She went through the 16-week Cyprus Mandela apprentice program and applied for every opportunity the trade unions presented.

She said she’s found tolerance at her current job for former felons, provided they make some changes in their lives.

“As long as they are willing to put behind them a sense of entitlement for quick money, rolling out of bed at 12 noon, the marijuana, the drugs and sometimes certain relationships, they can do it,” she said, speaking as one who’s had to look at her own life in a new light.Victor Uno, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a former training manager of the union’s apprenticeship program, is expected to speak at the expo.

“We had many people formerly incarcerated in our apprenticeship program, and we found opportunities for everybody,” Uno said. “If somebody made a mistake and did their time, we don’t hold that against them. Most employers in the construction trades don’t require background checks and we don’t do background checks for the apprenticeship program.”

Other trade union representatives will also attend the expo, which is offered in cooperation with the Community Reentry Service Providers Network

 Posted by at 6:01 pm
Nov 222007
 

by Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER 

UPPER BROADWAY is the first neighborhood to be targeted for a retail resurgence in a study awaiting approval by the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency.

The study proposes ways for Oakland to provide much-needed stimulus to the retail sector in 18 different neighborhoods. The upper Broadway area from 27th Street to 51st Street is the first neighborhood the study suggests should be targeted for an infusion of new business and a mix of retail and residential development.

The study, released in September and prepared by real estate and economic development consultant Denise Conley, suggests ways to fuel retail traffic without substantial investment from the city.

As some auto dealers on Broadway’s Auto Row relocate to the Army Base or other locations, the vacancies leave “a prime location for a lifestyle retail district,” the study said.

The study suggests three alternatives for retooling upper Broadway:

-The first suggests a mixture of retail and residential or office space. Retailers offering a mix of wares, including clothing, home furnishings and appliances, wouldoccupy the ground floors of buildings, with upper floors reserved for residential or office space. More than 1 million square feet of retail space would be created under this scenario.

-The second scenario foresees big box retailers as anchor tenants in the stretch between Broadway and 27th Street and residential development along Valdez Street. More than 1.1 million square feet of retail space would emerge from this plan.

-The third alternative emphasizes residential development. Retailers at ground level would offer mostly convenience products, such as food, beverages, medications and others. Only 312,000 square feet of retail space would emerge from this option, however.

The City Council will deliberate on these alternatives Dec. 18. The time and place of the meeting have not yet been announced.

Oakland residents have long suffered from the scarcity of places to shop, whether they’re looking for groceries, clothing, home furnishings or appliances. Conley’s report said Oakland residents spend $1 billion a year shopping outside of Oakland — typically in Emeryville, San Francisco, Walnut Creek and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

That $1 billion translates to $10 million a year in lost sales tax revenue and as many as 10,400 fewer jobs. Retail jobs are typically entry positions, important training posts for the young and those returning to the work force, Conley wrote.

For the last 40 years, Oakland has launched numerous studies of its inefficient retail sector. Many big-name retailers are discouraged from entering the city because of concerns about the crime rate, real estate brokers have said in previous interviews.

Officials, though, said they hope the time is right to rejuvenate Oakland’s sagging retail sector.

“We have had retail strategies, but they have not been as comprehensive and as action-oriented as this is,” said Keira Williams, an economic analyst with the Commission on Economic Development. “So finally we’ve said, ‘Enough already, we want to get on with it now.’”

Earlier this year, retail consultant Marcus and Millichap ranked Oakland as the fourth most desirable city for investors to place retail properties, based on factors including employment growth and the local housing market. Marcus and Millichap said Oakland has the lowest housing vacancy rate in the nation.

And retailers appear to be interested.

Larry Westland of TRI Commercial Real Estate Services said he has clients who would be interested in opening up major retail outlets on the Broadway corridor. The outlets could be configured on five or six floors connected by escalators, the way Kohl’s or Target are in many developments.

New plans for the remaining 17 neighborhoods the city has specified are expected to be addressed by Conley Consulting Group by March.

Other neighborhoods targeted for renewal include the Telegraph corridor; 7th Street/West Oakland; the Oakland Army Base; and West Grand Avenue and Mandela Parkway.

“We still have convenience gaps that need to be filled, food, pharmacies, etc., in many neighborhoods,” Conley said. “We’ll do what we can to make them function better. We’re going to see a very big reversal of shopping patterns in Oakland. No longer will we be meeting our neighbors in someone else’s city.”

 Posted by at 2:25 pm
Nov 112007
 

Core of Oakland town center will become government service center

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

The new owner of the Eastmont Town Center is preparing to redesign and, he hopes, revitalize the long-troubled shopping mall.

ScanlanKempBard of Portland acquired the property in March for $78 million. This month it will submit design plans to the city of Oakland for approval.

The retail installation has known rocky times over the past decades. Many would say it has been a disappointment to its neighborhood’s consumers.

The Eastmont mall consists of an outer retail installation surrounding an inner core of offices and storefronts.

“Our intent is to take the inner component and develop it for a number of government services, make it into a government service center, rather than the failing retail mall it is now,” President Tom Gooding said.

The mixed-use property at 7000 Bancroft Ave. consists of a two-story mall, and a single-story in-line retail building.

Gooding claimed to have “strong relationships” with the government tenants currently situated atEastmont Town Center. The company is continuing to talk to city, county and federal agencies to stimulate more such tenants.

As for the retail part, “we’re going to give a facelift to the strip center (storefront retail portion) and landscape. The facade enhancement will stimulate retail,” Gooding said.

Eastmont Oakland LLC and Eastmont Town Center Co. LLC of Oakland sold the 605,959-square-foot project to the current owners. The past two decades’ owners failed to make the mall a thriving retail hub. When the anchor retailers, JCPenney and Mervyns, moved out of Eastmont Town Center in the early 1990s, they took the heart out of the retail trade there.

Despite this history, Gooding thinks ScanlanKemperBard can make the revamped project a success.

“The neighborhood at the time had a lot of issues, and fewer people wanted to go to that area. But now gentrification is now going on in the area. Real estate values are going up, and people are starting to care about that area more,” he remarked.

Currently, the plaza has very little by way of retail except for Gazzalli’s Market. Among its tenants are the Oakland Police Department, a public library, various city services and nonprofits and a Social Security office.

Julie Taylor, a broker at Cornish & Carey, which is handling the project, observed, “It’s a great opportunity for Oakland now. You see a resurgence of box tenants — large, value-oriented retailers like Ross — moving into downtown San Francisco even without oceans of parking. So if they’re pursuing San Francisco, eventually movement will come to Oakland.”

Taylor reported that two letters of intent from retailers were about to be negotiated, a task that may take several weeks.

“But before this time next year we will have a new and renovated, vital project,” she said.

ScanlanKemperBard boasts a $2.25 billion portfolio of properties. In Oakland, it owns the Broadway Webster Medical Building on Pill Hill and office space at Jackson and 11th; the Westgate Building in San Leandro; office space in downtown Berkeley; and the San Francisco Gift Center and Jewelry Mart.

 Posted by at 2:17 pm
Nov 082007
 

Cooler aims to help consumers fight global warming

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

Imagine you’re about to shop online. Before you make your purchase, you check out how much carbon emission that Jimi Hendrix T- shirt produced compared with its competitor. It’s conceivable that some day this factor may sway you in selecting a product as much as price, size or style.

Making this comparison is what Oakland-based Cooler will soon be able to do for you. Right now Cooler’s Web site, http:// www.climatecooler.com, tells you the carbon footprint you create for your online purchases within a day of the transaction.

“Cooler allows the consumer to connect every purchase to a solution for global warming,” said Michel Gelobter, founder and chief executive officer.

The for-profit company was spun off by the nonprofit Oakland- based environmental think tank Redefining Progress.

Cooler lists about 350 retailers, names as common as Safeway, Macy’s, eBay, Staples and Mrs. Field’s. Buying any of the 8 million products available through the Cooler channel costs the consumer nothing. Instead, the Web-based company charges the retailer 2 percent to 12 percent of the purchase price to calculate their products’ impacts on climate change and the Earth’s health.

Cooler officials say that being environmentally friendly in the marketplace makes such good sense for retailers that they’re willing to pay for the service. Gelobter argues that consumers will increasingly demand to see their suppliers — manufacturers and retailers — on the side of the angels rather than the polluters.

A recent GlobeScan survey found that 79 percent of the 22,000 people surveyed across several countries agree that “human activity, including industry and transportation, is a significant cause of climate change.”

The company’s Web site allows users to track the amount of greenhouse gases that they have saved from the atmosphere. Gelobter claims that, thanks to the expertise of the University of California, Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon University, Cooler has “the country’s only product carbon calculator.”

“We can calculate almost instantly the global warming impact of a product.”

This technology calculates the carbon impact of the product based on its description, country of origin, price, weight and brand.

It is expected that over time consumers will start seeing patterns of the carbon imprint they create from what they buy. Then it becomes feasible for them to create a carbon emissions budget, consider their choices and reduce consumption in a rational way.

Tom Kelly’s family, of Berkeley, has made two purchases through http://www.climatecooler.com. Tracking the impact of their purchases “has been one of the intriguing aspects of the site. Most of us don’t think about our purchases’ climate impact,” Kelly observed.

But the main focus of Cooler’s business will be to sell its service to retailers and manufacturers, universities and large companies so they can monitor their own processes. Some deals are in the works but the founder and CEO wasn’t ready to talk about them by press time.

 Posted by at 2:11 pm