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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sonoma County Leaders Recognized for Accomplishments

Sustainability Awards Dinner 
Honors County’s Inspiring Leaders

By Jan Kahdeman
On Saturday, November 5th, the Mary Agatha Furth Center in Windsor was the gathering place for the county’s diverse, environmentally and socially conscious population. While enjoying a locally sourced, organic and zero-waste dinner, they will honor individuals, businesses, and organizations who work at the local level on sustainability issues in Sonoma County.  The Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy hosts this annual event, honoring this year’s winners at the annual Leadership in Sustainability Awards Dinner. 

Founded in 2000, the Leadership Institutes mission is to educate local leaders to create business and public policy that focuses on what the group calls the “three Es,” or ecology, social equity, and economic viability.  The non-profit organization runs a 9-month training course each year, where students work with key political and civic leaders, attend workshops on sustainability, take field trips, and engage in leadership training exercises to further the understanding that the future of our economy and our quality of life are interdependent. The leadership Institute has over 350 fellows today, many in leadership roles in local government, business, and other non-profit organizations across the county.

Three years ago, the board of directors and staff at the Leadership Institute decided to create an annual event to honor those businesses and individuals who go above and beyond the ordinary to ensure Sonoma County’s sustainable future.  

“We felt that those who work tirelessly all year to champion the principles upon which we’ve founded our organization deserve a time of recognition and a chance to share their successful innovations and approaches to sustainable environmental and economic practices at the local level,” said Tanya Narath, executive director of the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy.  

The awards selection process involves seeking nominations from the Leadership Institute’s board of directors, from fellows of the Institute’s training program, and from key figures from the county’s sustainability community, such as Ann Hancock, executive director of the Sonoma County Climate Protection campaign, Steve Birdlebough, Chair of the Sierra Club, and Lisa Moldenado of the North Bay Labor Council. Along with the board, the previous year’s winners are invited to join the awards selection jury. 

The criteria used for selection includes connecting at least two of the 3 Es—ecology, economy, and social equity—having a direct impact on Sonoma County, innovating to cause a shift in behavior or policy, reaching across sectors to build bridges with unlikely allies, and providing leadership through educating and promoting sustainable communities. 

“We received a record number of nominations, showing just how much the environmental and social justice community is expanding,” said Narath. “This is so encouraging that we felt the need to bestow a record number of awards—a total of 10 this year.”

Chris Mann of Guayakí Yerba Mate in Sebastopol is excited to receive an award.  A substitute for coffee or tea containing health-promoting vitamins and antioxidants, yerba mate is growing in popularity and can be sustainably harvested.

“We are one of the early pioneers integrating the environment and social aspects into our business model,” said Mann.  “We work with family farms in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, to grow native Yerba Mate in the rain forest.  This helps the families generate income while keeping the rain forest intact as a kind of annuity for the population.”

Mann is also excited about a new app on the Guayakí web site that allows consumers to calculate their carbon impact as a result of their purchase.  When consumers purchase bulk or bagged tea, the calculator actually shows a negative impact in terms of carbon footprint.  “I believe we are the world’s only carbon-subtracting product,” said Mann. 

The Pepperwood Preserve, a 3200-acre undeveloped area northeast of Santa Rosa, is receiving an award this year for its ongoing efforts to educate, engage, and inspire through habitat preservation, science-based conservation, leading-edge research, and interdisciplinary educational programs.  The preserve hosts an elementary school program that brings children, particularly from Title 1, economically challenged schools and populations, to the preserve to experience the natural environment.  Pepperwood also partners with the Santa Rosa Junior College and with scientists who conduct research and experiments at the preserve.

“It is just magical to see the children who come to experience Pepperwood realize that science can be fun, and can be done outside,” said Lisa Micheli, executive director with the Pepperwood Foundation.  “Many of us live in Sonoma County because we are seeking the proximity to nature that’s possible here.  We’re proud to help make this exposure to nature more available to everyone.  It’s a great feeling to see these kids develop a sensitivity to the value of nature, and an understanding of why it is important to preserve it.”

Each year, the Leadership Institute bestows a special Trailblazer award to an individual who “connects all of the 3 Es and forges new ground to cause a major shift toward sustainability.  This year’s Trailblazer winner is Davin Cardenas, of the North Bay Organizing Project, for his leadership in organizing people to build leadership and grassroots power for social, economic, racial and environmental justice.  Cardenas says he sees his role as “getting the people who are affected by public policy to take up their own struggles.”

“At the North Bay Organizing Project we bring many formerly separate sectors—immigrants, labor, students, religious faiths, and environmental groups—together in a way that allows them to take steps toward positive change,” said Cardenas. 

The North Bay Organizing Project is currently involved in issues including advocacy for the “community connector bridge” over highway 101 in Santa Rosa, immigrant rights, and sustaining the economically threatened Graton Day Labor Center. 

To learn more a visit, or contact Tanya Narath, executive director, Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy, 707-578-9133 or

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