Marissa LaMagna introduces Shannon Shrother left and Mary Cuneo of Grateful Body during a “green tour” of the East Bay.
Berkeley — Walking through the solid industrial entrance, one is not prepared for the sensual floral fragrance wafting forward, the plant life draping the shelves nor the masses of brown vials holding the potions that make Grateful Body one of Berkeley’s premier eco-friendly companies.
Grateful Body, creator of natural lotions and cosmetics, is only one of the many environmentally sustainable companies featured by East Bay Green Tours, a monthly event organized by entrepreneur Marissa LaMagna.
LaMagna, founder of Travel Rasa, has organized a tour of Berkeley’s pioneering ecological and sustainable businesses on the last Wednesday of every month. She is in negotiations with Richmond, Emeryville and Oakland to create such an event in those cities as well.
The $90, daylong event educates the visitor on the enormous amount of activity and effort Berkeley enterprises expend in sustainable endeavors.
“We are at the epicenter of environmentalism,” LaMagna remarked. “What we do has a ripple effect throughout the world. The green economy grew 10 times last year while the rest of the economy is in a downward spiral.”
She also observed that several of the 70 participants in the three tours to date have been, if not already involved in it, looking for a means to enter the green economy. Either they have been out of work or new to the area and looking for a place to alight.
Not unlike Toby Salk, who recently was downsized and now is planning her own business in Berkeley. Berkeley resident Salk said of the Wednesday adventure: “I was surprised at how many businesses are focused on this movement. Not just the grass-roots hippie types, but the mayor’s office and people involved in policy. I live right next to Go Green Motors (one of the businesses on tour), and I didn’t even know it was there.”
Trips to restaurants, automotive-related enterprises, environmental activism and recycling centers were only a few of many points of interests on the day’s agenda. Lectures and demonstrations abounded, but playfulness also was an important note.
Tooling through Berkeley on the biodiesel bus operated by the Sustainable Living Roadshow — a national touring company of educators and entertainers — brought several of the Green Tour boomer participants back to their hippie origins.
The itinerary Wednesday included the restaurant Amanda’s on Shattuck Avenue.Amanda West says her sandwich shop offers a healthy fast food. “The anti-’Super Size Me,’”‰” she remarked, referring to a movie about fast-food restaurants.
After Berkeley sustainable business coordinator Jennifer Cogley’s presentation about the city’s efforts in sustainable economy at Cancún restaurant, participants were led past the Brower Center, which will harbor environmentally focused nonprofits when it opens in the spring.
Speakers at the Rising Sun Energy Center explained its many programs in public education and training of youth for jobs in green business. Green Tour’s strategic development coordinator Emmet Brady took the opportunity at the Center’s premises to recount the advances of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in environmentalism and sustainable economy.
On a drive by the Eco-House on Hopkins Street, Brady pointed out the sustainable features in the structure and its neighboring community garden. Disembarking from the biodiesel bus, tour participants visited 3 Prong Power, an enterprise that converts Priuses to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The outfit shares premises with Go Green Motors, a vendor of electric automobiles.
The Ecology Center was the site of a history lesson on the environmental movement and activism in the 1960s when the Ecology Center was founded. It was also the opportunity for Kass Schwinn, former owner of Vital Vittles, to pass out slices of the bakery’s renowned whole-grain bread.
At Biofuel Oasis, Melissa Hardy, one of five co-owners, explained how she and her partners collect and resell used vegetable oil for use in automobiles.
Several of the participants already were seasoned environmentalists. Anthony Broese van Groenou, director of Global Sun Power Corp., said he made several fruitful contacts on the tour and got ideas for his own business.
“I’d like to see how this model could be replicated over and over,” he said. “It wasn’t an industry-generated event. There was a positive feeling, a sense of community.”
East Bay Green Tours, www.localbizblog.com/GreenTours
, as LaMagna explained, has more than a hundred businesses in its Berkeley database from which it can choose points of interest in its monthly tour.
“I get calls all the time for businesses interested in being included,” she said.
The tours were created under the umbrella of Community Ventures, a project of the Tides Center. LaMagna endeavors to build a community around the aims of the partnership created in December 2007 by the leaders of UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and the mayors of Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and Emeryville. They launched the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership to establish the region as a world center in environmental innovation and alternative energy research.
It did not hurt that aim that four of the participants on the Wednesday tour hailed from EarthTeam Environmental Network, an educational project directed toward teenagers. Its multimedia coordinator Lana Husser videotaped the day’s events with two of EarthTeam’s teenage interns. The footage will be shown on www.thegreenscreenTV.net
The next East Bay Green Tour is scheduled for Feb. 25.