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The Planet Visits Saturn and Explores the Sustainable Business Alliance

By Gar Smith
Wednesday December 08, 2010 - 10:51:00 AM

The Berkeley-based Sustainable Business Alliance picked a stellar location for its December 3rd meet-and-greet — the Space Lounge of the Saturn Café, located at 2175 Allston Way — directly across the street from SBA’s home in the David Brower Center. More than 30 Bay Area green business leaders (and a couple of out-of-staters) assembled to swap stories and business cards while loading plates with mounds of organic salad, tasty entrees, slices of fruit and squares of desert bread. 

Curious about the name of the new restaurant (the Saturn opened 5-6 months ago), The Planet asked SBA’s Executive Director Mark McLeod if the Saturn was somehow affiliated with the nearby Jupiter café. Just a coincidence, McLeod noted pointing out that the Downtown also has a restaurant called Venus. Taken together, these three restaurants constitute close to half-a-solar-system. Add the fact that Saturn’s location once housed the Good Earth restaurant, and there would seem to be some celestial magic at work here. (Another footnote: The location was also home to the original Ecology Center.) 

Saturn Events Coordinator Jo Medeiros explained that the original Saturn Café, located in Santa Cruz, has been spinning out delicious vegetarian-cum-vegan meals since 1979. While cooking up an array of meatless burgers and fries (“American comfort food with a vegetarian twist”), the Saturn takes time to collect its trans-fat-free cooking oil so it can be transformed into biofuel. Both Saturns are designed to do double-duty as community centers for promoting environmental and social justice. 

Medeiros explained that the art on display (“apron art” in the main seating area and an exhibit of “Food and Pornography” paintings by SpyGirlFriday that graced the walls of the Lounge) was for sale and that “100% of the sales price goes to the artists.” While not hosting community groups, the Space Lounge also serves up “live music, karaoke, burlesque, fashion shows, comedy improve nights and much more.” (Check the calendar for a current listing of events.) 

SBA, which is a member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), has grown to include more than 150 local sustainable green businesses and eco-organizations. SBA’s ranks include: The Ecology Center, Green For All, Build It Green,, Buy Local Berkeley, Bay Localize, Corporation 20/20, the Green Chamber of Commerce, the Prevention Institute and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Handouts at the event explained SBA’s goal of “a just and thriving green economy for the San Francisco Bay Area” and touted SBA’s triple bottom line: 

• Promoting awareness of just and sustainable practices. 

• Educating our members and the community on business sustainability. 

• Networking to grow each others’ businesses and the green economy. 

The “guest entrepreneur” at the Saturn luncheon was Jeff Lipton, President & CEO of Coyle Industries, Inc. Along with two partners, Lipton (who received his MBA from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business) has devoted the past three years to the design of a portable solar generator that can be driven to remote locations where power is not readily available. The Coyle generator is mounted on a 900-pound trailer that can be hitched to a car and hauled into position by a single person. 

Now that the company has produced prototypes of its solar-panel-on-wheels, Lipton’s new challenge is marketing his product to “private sector clients” and, he confessed with measured regret, “the military.” As Lipton explains it, “I am engaged in a ‘chicken and egg exercise.’ I have to have manufactured the product in order to show it and, before closing a sale, have to convince potential clients that they will soon be joined by many other purchasers, and that together we can grow the marketplace.” 

In the coming year, the SBA will be hosting more of these unique entrepreneurial networking events with the expressed goal of “learning from and supporting each other through community and collaboration and strengthening our businesses through networking, educational programs and partnerships.” 

For more information about SBA and its upcoming events, see: