Green Tours Offer a Glimpse of Sustainable Resources
Many people wish they could do more to protect the planet, but they aren't aware of the resources available in their area. Marissa LaMagna is making it her business to educate them, at least in Northern California. Her Berkeley-based Bay Area Green Tours leads individuals and organizations to the doorsteps of innovative companies in the San Francisco Bay Area to learn about what they offer.
"We offer seminars on wheels that introduce people to the sustainable solutions that exist around us," LaMagna says. "The Bay Area is one of the environmental epicenters in the world and even residents are not always aware of our green resources."
BAGT tools people around on a biodiesel-fueled bus and shows them sustainable local businesses. For example, a stop at the retail store Building REsources introduces the home-improvement crowd to San Francisco's only source for re-usable, recycled, and re-manufactured building, craft, and landscaping materials. BAGT also visits:
- organic farms, urban farms, and farmers markets;
- artisan cheese makers and wineries;
- restaurants, manufacturers, hotels, and housing complexes;
- local waste removal, renewable energy, and water management systems; and
- alternative methods of transportation.
Typical BAGT customers include corporations, associations, civic groups, and schools. The tours frequently put high-school and university students, recent graduates, and interns in contact with local green job resources. LaMagna says she's particularly passionate about introducing students to the green economy. Daylong trips include lunch at an environmentally friendly restaurant.
LaMagna's transition from being an English teacher to running a yoga and arts center to being an educator about local environmental resources has been tough. She's been running this labor-intensive enterprise for three years on a shoestring, relying on her personal savings and loans from friends. To cut down on the expense of diesel fuel and truck rental, she recently introduced walking tours such as one of the San Francisco waterfront.
Her one paid staff member is devoted to writing applications for grants. The first grant received came from University of California Berkeley for BAGT to run a tour of local retailers and manufacturers for college freshmen. "So they don't have to rely on IKEA and Wal-Mart when they come here," she says. "If it works, it will be a regular event."
She has enormous challenges but she sees a turning point.
"It used to be me trying to get everybody's attention. Now we've had enough momentum through word-of-mouth from both attendees and resources who are contacting us. Levi's came to me saying, 'We would love to work with you. Bring people to see us and our sustainable practices.' Now I'm doing one tour a week there."
Whole Foods, the Intercontinental Hotels and the Commonwealth Club are among those asking for her tours, guidance, and expertise. And in 2012, she looks forward to teaming up with Weber Shandwick to promote the Volt, Chevrolet’s electric car.
In 2010, Bay Area Green Tours received the East Bay Green Award from the local weekly newspaper, East Bay Express. With this recognition and with more public attention, LaMagna hopes the days of struggle are behind her.