The Standells may have made more than a few bucks from a little ditty about the Charles River’s pollution. But Bob Zimmerman — no, not that Bob Zimmerman — made his living for three decades by making that dirty water as clean as possible.
Now, as he approaches his 68th birthday next month, one of the state’s most prominent environmental advocates is retiring from his post as executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association. He announced his decision at the group’s annual meeting at the Newton Marriott Thursday, although some in the room were already well aware of his intentions.
The board has hired consultant Carolyn O’Brien to help find Zimmerman’s replacement by the time he leaves on July 1.
During Zimmerman’s 28-year tenure, the Weston-based CRWA helped promote the river’s positive aspects to the public — it runs a popular canoe and kayak race every spring, for example — while pushing for cleanup efforts on various fronts.
“Bob was instrumental in transforming what was a deteriorated eyesore into an eye-popping wonder of nature,” Gina McCarthy, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said in a statement.
Zimmerman takes pride in the fact that his 12-person team uses science-based research to bolster its advocacy. Along the way, Zimmerman raised the group’s annual budget from about $100,000 to about $1.5 million.
“The nature of people’s appreciation of the river has changed,” Zimmerman says. “When I came to Boston, the Charles was still ‘that Dirty Water.’ Nobody wanted to get near it. Now, everybody wants to get near it.”
But Zimmerman leaves with some unfinished business on the table. He has had a hard time convincing public agencies and businesses to invest in his dream project: building neighborhood-scale facilities that could convert waste water and discarded food into energy. He helped get one off the ground in his hometown of Littleton but has had a harder time finding partners in the heart of the Charles River watershed.
He senses an attitude shift, though, as the recent flooding underscore the importance of resilient infrastructure. He expects to continue his mission post-retirement, as a consultant.
“The floods have changed the nature of the dialogue some,” Zimmerman says.
“I’m optimistic. A lot of the work we did here gives us a path out of the box that we currently find ourselves in.”
New role at Stonyfield: chief organic optimist
Gary Hirshberg has been trying to make yogurt cool for 35 years. Now, the chairman and former president and ‘CE-Yo’ of Stonyfield Yogurt has returned to the Londonderry, N.H., company with another spiffy new title: chief organic optimist. The French dairy company Danone recently sold Stonyfield for $875 million to another French company, Lactalis, the world’s largest dairy products group.
Hirshberg had been working as managing director of Stonyfield Europe before the sale.
There’s a literal coolness factor in Hirshberg’s role, as he’ll lead the company’s new Make Earth Cool Again campaign, an initiative that will help Stonyfield customers identify — and eventually vote for — candidates in the 2018 midterm elections who have pledged to protect the environment. He said that while the campaign is an obvious poke at the president, it’s also a far more overt stance politically for the company.
Hirshberg has long used the company’s messaging to support environmental causes, and he says he told Lactalis executives that if they wanted him to return in a larger role, they would need to allow him to up the ante politically for Stonyfield.
“I told them if you want me involved, then you have to know that I’m not going to be quiet, particularly in 2018 with what’s happening with the EPA,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how much organic yogurt you’re selling if you’re seeing the EPA abandon its role in protecting children and families.”
Hirshberg, who has long supported Democratic candidates, says the role is, in many ways, an extension of the activism elsewhere in his public life. He’s worked on advocacy groups that help customers identify genetically engineered foods and understand the benefits of organic products.
“I’ve spent my whole career reminding people that while elections count, we actually vote every time we go to the supermarket,” he says.
“I now find myself telling people to remember voting counts.”
Berkowitz casts a line into the podcast realm
Roger Berkowitz isn’t quitting his day job as Legal Sea Foods CEO anytime soon. But he has landed an interesting side venture with local entrepreneur Larry Gulko: podcast host.
Berkowitz has teamed up with Gulko for a podcast series hosted by WBZ-TV called “Name Brands.” They interview CEOs and other business leaders at CBS Boston’s studios, with a focus on how the guests cultivated brands that resonated with consumers.
“As businesspeople, we intuitively know what [the guests] want to say and, for the most part, haven’t been asked,” Berkowitz says. “Our job is to go in there and get them to talk about what makes their brand tick.”
The project originated with a panel that Gulko hosted three years ago at Harvard Business School. Berkowitz, who was on the panel, hit it off with Gulko. They enjoyed their conversation so much, in fact, that they decided to build a media venture around it.
They first tried a TV show on NECN, but they found the time limits too constraining and the commercial breaks too disruptive.
The podcast episodes started running on CBS Boston’s website in January, featuring a parade of brand names.
Among them: Menswear mogul Joseph Abboud, Dunkin’ Brands CEO Nigel Travis, Polar Beverages executive Ralph Crowley, Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah, and Life is Good cofounder Bert Jacobs.
Upcoming guests include Boston Children’s Hospital chief executive Sandra Fenwick and Talbots chief Lizanne Kindler.
WBZ general manager Mark Lund says several advertisers have shown an interest in the podcast. Lund is also looking to capitalize on the venture in other ways, including possibly by creating videos around the segments.
“Roger and Larry do a phenomenal job,” Lund says.
“If you have good content, the audience will follow.”
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