Environmentalists Face Friendlier Atmosphere : Thousand Oaks promotes a green business cluster. It seeks to hatch more resource-thrifty companies.


It used to be that, if you read about an environmentalist, it was a legislator, litigator or agitator. Nowadays, as the environment becomes a mainstream issue, an environmentalist is likely to be a manufacturer, processor, designer or engineer at a health-conscious or resource-thrifty company.

This new breed is popping up ever more frequently in the county.

Last week, for instance, the city of Thousand Oaks held a fund-raiser at its Civic Arts Plaza to promote an "Environmental Business Cluster." Scheduled to open by Earth Day in April, the 11,000-square-foot office structure on Lombard Street will offer below-market rent. The city wants green businesses to "cluster" around the Ventura and Moorpark freeways.

Earthwatch has already reported details of this particular green business "hatchery." And its organizers recently revealed that some environmentally oriented businesses are growing so fast they have already outgrown the nest.

These businesses operate in a wide range of commercial categories and use all kinds of materials. One such operation, the Sapphire Dragon Corp., an export company that specializes in lumber from quick-growth trees--it doesn't cut in old growth forest but only on an acreage that have been specially planted--"hatched" last year and already has more office employees than a cubicle at the "cluster" could have accommodated.

Another, Studio iz'm, Inc., a graphic-design studio providing "environmentally friendly design option," grew out of managing director Sandra Sampson's home last year and into a Camarillo office suite. She contends that her policy of stressing recycled materials in the creation of promotional materials attracted clients quickly. "They are interested in recycled for its visual effects," said Sampson.

Her success is merely one sign of the change in business acceptance of earth-friendly materials, such as recycled paper, in the county.

Robert Newport, sales rep for T/O Printing, long active in Westlake Village, said almost half of all his jobs, not just those for Sampson, are done on recycled stock at customer's request--up from zilch a few years ago. "It's the pictures on TV of slash-and-burn (forestry practices) that created a growing consciousness of the environment and (an aversion to) non-recycled paper," he said.

Jim Burke, Ventura County rep for a major national paper company, reports almost 40% of all printing done in the county is now on recycled paper.

A further recycling development, reminiscent of the old WWII scrap drives, was reported in Earthwatch last week. Ventura County Tire Amnesty Day is being held this month. Its organizer, David Goldstein, is also the coordinator of the county's Recycling Market Development Zone. He is negotiating to get a rubber recycling company into the area so processing jobs won't be sent out of the county.

The plant could open in one of several locations because the development zone embraces the entire county. Local officials want such green businesses and are offering low-interest loans of up to $1 million specifically for recycling entrepreneurs.

Not so long ago, some local Chamber of Commerce types might have greeted any environmentalist at the county line with tar and feathers. Now the reception involves coffee and cake.

In such an atmosphere it seems appropriate to mention a new publication, "The Business Environmental Handbook." Author Martin D. Westerman's work is not a touchy-feely sort of tome, but rather a workbook almost as practical-minded as an armed forces manual--focusing on saving and making money environmentally. Even businesses whose products or services aren't strictly environmental but whose daily operations could be conducted with planet-preservation in mind, might find his recommendations useful.


* SPACE TO RENT: Small green businesses interested in low-cost leases at the Thousand Oaks Environmental Business Cluster facility should call 529-4534 or 372-8789.

* RESOURCE: "The Business Environmental Handbook" by Martin D. Westerman at $19.95, is available by calling (800) 228-2275.

* CALL: For information on the Recycling Market Development Zone, call 648-9242.

* FYI: Tire Amnesty Day will not be held at the locations identified in advertisements and in last week's Earthwatch Column. The event date remains Feb. 25. For information on appointments and locations, call 648-9242 or 654-2889.

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