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Natural Awakenings San Diego

Sustainability Paradigm Pioneers

Mar 07, 2011 10:27PM ● By Linda Sechrist

Linda Sechrist

A paradigm shift—a change from an old to a new way of thinking—doesn’t just happen. Whether it is local, regional, statewide, nationwide or global, a shift in the way individuals perceive and think and what they value is driven by paradigm pioneers: change agents who help the shift to build momentum and reach a tipping point.

Paradigm pioneers throughout the country are creating powerful networks of people and businesses in order to reach the critical mass of brainpower, effort and key resources needed to build a more sustainable world, one community at a time. Organizations such as the Sustainable Business Alliance (SBA), in the San Francisco Bay Area; the U.S. Green Chamber, in San Diego County; and The Connection Partners, in the Tampa Bay area, Florida are linking people, resources and ideas to improve the quality of life on local, regional and national levels.


“Since 2000, when the film An Inconvenient Truth opened the eyes and minds of individuals to the need for considering a whole new set of variables for sustainable living, the world has been under pressure to understand how to respond to this thing we call climate change,” advises SBA Executive Director Mark McLeod. His diverse community includes more than 150 sustainable Bay Area businesses that learn from and support each other through collaboration and help strengthen sustainability through educational programs and partnerships.

Although SBA members range from dentists and psychotherapists to attorneys and solar panel manufacturers, each is focused on learning how various green and sustainable best business practices can be implemented at their workplace. “The green solutions that a dentist needs are far different than those required by an attorney working on cutting-edge capital investment solutions for small investors who want to put their money into local projects,” explains McLeod. “This is an example of why there can be no single answer for individuals or businesses that want to help create a sustainable community.”

David Steel
David Steel


The Green Chamber of San Diego reached a tipping point recently and made a move to become the U.S. Green Chamber, a national 501c(6) nonprofit organization that empowers businesses through environmentally friendly, sustainable practices that positively impact our ecology and economy. CEO David Steel explains that the organization responded to significant growth since opening in 2009 to serve San Diego County. “We felt a strong sense of urgency from business leaders everywhere who expressed an interest in learning best practices for sustainability,” advises Steel.

Plans are already underway for programs in the areas of education, advocacy and member networking. Tools being developed for members include a comprehensive membership directory, calendar of national events and distance-based learning via webinars.
“We hope to be a facilitator of change,” says Steel, who notes that the U.S. Green Chamber will seek to help established and emerging companies find unique solutions to improve operational efficiencies, tap into unexplored markets and explore new opportunities in the

Sharon Joy Kleitsch
Sharon Joy Kleitsch
green sector.


From hosting “conversations that matter” at St. Petersburg City Hall, to creating an educational curriculum for a sustainable Tampa Bay, Sharon Joy Kleitsch, founder of The Connection Partners, has succeeded in engaging community leaders and key sustainability educators in the region to address how citizens and policy makers can be educated about the area’s common future.

Kleitsch, who was also my cross-country partner during the September 2010 Natural Awakenings Stone Soup Listening Tour, specializes in convening community leaders and building strong networks that lead to actions that make a difference.

Kleitsch’s networks and skills recently helped facilitate a collaboration between Progress Energy, the local utility; the Urban League; and the City of St. Petersburg. “They pooled funds and created a weatherization program for low-income communities as a result of participating in conversations about green jobs at city hall,” she advises. “It only works when you get all the right people and decision-makers talking in the same room.”


After listening to hundreds of individuals who participated in the Stone Soup Listening Tour, one key issue continued to surface in every city: the need for one central location in the community where individuals can learn from local and reliable experts about products and services that can make homes more energy-efficient. Upon returning to Spartanburg, South Carolina, my business partner, Nancy Riehle, owner of ECO International Group, and I opened the Upstate Green Central Station Showroom and online directory. With six universities in Spartanburg, it is not unusual to receive visits from groups of students such as those enrolled in Wolford College’s environmental studies program.

In the four months since the showroom has been open, our directory members, whose displays include HVAC systems, insulation products and crawl space moisture control exhibits, have realized business from local residents who stop by to learn about sustainability or who visit our Saturday Morning Fresh Market.

While everyone would like to have one simple and easy solution that can be applied to every challenge encountered in developing a more sustainable future, this is not part of the new paradigm. Instead, it relies upon partnerships that foster cooperation and collaboration as part of a more desirable business model. “Whatever the model,” advises McLeod, “it has to be one that is committed to the triple bottom line—environmental, financial and social—because that is the one way to build local, living economies.”

Mark McLeod, Sustainable Business Alliance; call 510-757-4954 or visit

David Steel, U.S. Green Chamber; email [email protected] or visit

Sharon Joy Kleitsch, The Connection Partners; call 727-550-9600 or email [email protected].

Upstate Green Central Station; call 864-278-8088 or visit

Linda Sechrist is a freelance writer and the editor of San Diego Natural Awakenings. Contact her at [email protected].

Spreading the Word about the U.S. GREEN CHAMBER
by Linda Sechrist

Sarah Hardwick, founder of Zenzi Communications, signed the chamber’s Green Chamber of San Diego’s Commitment last year and began to work on implementing suggested measures for waste reduction, energy efficiency, water conservation and pollution prevention. “We tried to do as much as possible in each area,” says Hardwick, who points out that her efforts were made easier by her landlord, Wardell Builders. “They are not only a LEED certified builder, but also a chamber member,” she notes.
Sarah Hardwick
Sarah Hardwick

Excited to be part of the campaign to take the chamber to a new national level, Hardwick is donating her time to spread the word via social media and press releases. “It’s great to be a member of such an active chamber, where every member is involved in helping to grow membership,” she advises. “I think our efforts have been helped greatly by recognition from other well-respected organizations, such as E2 Southern California, and very successful events.”

Sarah Harwick, Zenzi Communications, 646 Valley Ave., Ste. C., Solana Beach 92075. Visit or call 858-523-9020. Also visit