Clients and projects have includes the Arcus Foundation, An Inconvenient Truth, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Earth Day 1990, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Institute, Trust for Public Land, Time Magazine "Earth Day" Issue, Rodale Institute, SodaStream, Yosemite Park, and Abengoa Solar.
The Great Apes Summit
In 2013, the Great Apes Summit took place in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a joint initiative of the Arcus Foundation, the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), and the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival Foundation. It was the one of the most extensive events ever held on the survival of the great apes and featured experts and activists from around the world, including Jane Goodall.
Josh and his team promoted and publicized the summit. One thing was clear, however – it was going to be challenging to get journalists to come to Jackson Hole. Yes, it is gorgeous, but for most media in these days of cost cutting, sending a reporter to a resort in the Grand Tetons just wasn’t going to happen. Josh put together a social media and video team that produced multiple daily video updates and well as constant postings on Facebook and Twitter. These were pumped out to partner organizations so they could be widely shared quickly. Asha Tana, a well-known former television news anchor from the UK, served as the on-air host for the video pieces. She also had a degree in primatology.
Qteros: Branding a Microbe… Can You Do That?
In 1996, near the Quabbin Reservoir in Western Massachusetts, a new microbe was discovered by Dr. Susan Leschine, a microbiologist from the University of Massachusetts. The microbe Clostridium phytofermentans is notable for its unique ability to produce sustainable liquid fuel from plants. It is what is often called a "super-bug" with the uncommon ability to convert all fermentable components of biomass to ethanol, its primary byproduct. It utilizes a variety of plant and tree residues and produces enzymes, thus potentially able to provide a low-cost solution for cellulosic ethanol production.
Dr. Leschine’s microbe became the center of a new company originally called Sun Ethanol, an early pioneer in the race to commercialize cellulosic ethanol. In 2007, Jef Sharp, the CEO of Sun Ethanol, hired Josh Baran and his RenewComm team (a new venture that Josh created with Peter Kelly) to publicize the work of the company.
At their first meeting, even before he was officially on board, Josh brought up the problem of the company’s name. Josh felt that “Sun Ethanol” was too generic, could pose a problem with Sun Oil / Sunoco, and the company didn’t actually produce or sell ethanol, per se. Josh also wanted to know more about the microbe. The microbe sounded potentially revolutionary, but what was the best way to tell this story? Josh wondered if the microbe could be renamed. Was it scientifically verboten? Jef checked with Dr. Leschine and even though she thought it quite odd, no, there was no rule anywhere that said you couldn’t be creative.
Since the microbe was discovered near the Qabbin Reservoir, in the heartland of New England, Josh recommended naming it the Q-Microbe. And while we’re at it, let’s rename the company using the letter Q in its name. A multiple rebranding, so to speak. Surprisingly, people in the company easily went along with this concept.
So the Q-Microbe was born and the company was renamed Qteros the following year. Branding the Q-Microbe was actually quite successful. A major story in the Washington Post business section was titled, “In Microbe, Vast Power for Biofuel: Organism's Ability to Turn Plant Fibers to Ethanol Captures Investors' Attention” (Oct. 18, 2007). Then Massachusetts Governor Duval Patric frequently referred to Massachusetts as “the home of the Q-Microbe” when he spoke about the environment or biotechnology.
The Politics of Species: Reshaping our relationships with other animals
The assumption that humans are cognitively and morally superior to other animals is fundamental to legal systems worldwide. This unquestioned assumption legitimizes treating members of other animal species as inferior to humans. There is a growing awareness that individuals of other species have rich mental, emotional and social lives. Bringing together leading experts from a range of disciplines, the 2014 book The Politics of Species identifies the key barriers to a definition of moral respect that includes nonhuman animals. This volume sets out to increase concern, empathy and inclusiveness by developing strategies that can be used to protect other animals from exploitation in the wild and from suffering in captivity.
Josh was hired by the Arcus Foundation, to promote and publicize the book, oversee the creation of a special website, and produce video interviews with many of the book’s contributors.
State of the Apes
The conservation of the world’s great apes is dependent on examining the threats they face within the broader context of economic and community development. The State of the Apes book series, intended for a broad audience of policymakers, academics, researchers, NGOs, and other experts, explores the interrelated factors that affect great apes’ well-being with objectivity, rigor, and relevance. Each book in the series explores a different theme.
In 2014, Josh was hired by the Arcus Foundation to promote the first book in the series – State of the Apes: Extractive Industries and Ape Conservation. He oversaw the creation of a special website and produced video interviews with some of the contributors in the book.
Fukushima – Two Years Later
Working with his associate Steve Kent, Josh was hired to promote and publicize a symposium on the two-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. “The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident” was sponsored by the Helen Caldicott Foundation and Physicians for Social Responsibility focused on the growing medical fallout from the Fukushima reactor crisis. It was held at the New York Academy of Medicine in New York City in March, 2013. The gathering received international media attention.
Rodale Institute – The Future of Organics
In 2009, working with Sarah Bacon at Fenton, Josh conducted a communications audit and drafted a new communications plan for the Rodale Institute, a pioneer in organic gardening and farming.
E3 Biofuels: The Genesis Plant – Poop Into Power
In 2007, Josh Baran and his team helped launch E3 BioFuels, the world’s first closed-loop ethanol plant fueled largely by bio gas from animal waste instead of coal or natural gas. At that time, this approach was considered the next generation of ethanol production. Based in Mead, Nebraska, there was high hopes for this process. Josh helped name the new plant Genesis.
The launch event was attended by the Governor of Nebraska, local elected officials and a representative from NRDC and received some significant media attention, even internationally. Unfortunately, due to significant negative financial downturns, the plant was not able to sustain itself beyond the launch phase.
Enerkem: Waste to Power
In 2011, working in conjunction with Fenton, Josh lead the team preparing for a major public launch of the waste-to-biofuels company Enerkem. Based in Montreal, it was about to announce new plants and plan for an IPO.
Josh visited their existing pilot plants in Canada, helped media and message train their executives, and worked on the strategic communications for the launch. Due to challenging financial times, the IPO had to be postponed and it took much longer to bring their process to fruition, but their Alberta biofuels plant finally opened in June of 2014, diverting municipal waste from landfills while producing clean fuels.
SodaStream: Beyond Recycling
SodaStream is now a very well-known product, but back in 2008, they had little or no presence in the U.S. One of the benefits of making your own soda is that you no longer are buying hundreds of plastic or glass bottles of soda, thus eliminating the need to recycle, let alone ship these bottles all over the world.
While working with Fenton, Josh lead the SodaStream team focusing on the eco-benefits, promoting the new product to environment media, green groups and at eco-events.. The effort was a huge success, helping to establish the brand in the U.S. The brand soon exploded with increased placement in large stores.
Rocky Mountain Institute: Greening the Empire State Building
Josh has been a friend to the Rocky Mountain Institute and its founder Amory Lovins for decades. In 2009, Josh and his RenewComm team worked with RMI for a year on various communications projects, strategic planning and the announcement of the exciting greening of the iconic Empire State Building (ESB). RMI was a key advisor on the retrofit which required an extensive planning process.
The kick-off press conference featured New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former President Bill Clinton, Amory Lovins, and Anthony Malkin, president of the Malkin Group that manages the building. ESB went through a three-year makeover to implement significant reductions in energy use.
Abengoa Solar: Coming to America
In 2008, the global energy company Abengoa was set to announce a major new solar plant called Solana in Arizona, 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. It took over two years to clear all the environmental reviews and financing, and another three years to construct. Solana is the largest parabolic trough plant in the world. Solana's production will be the equivalent of energy needed to serve 70,000 households and will prevent 475,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year, as compared to a natural gas plant. The construction of Solana created more than 2,000 new jobs and over 85 permanent jobs. Also, the construction and operation of the plant generated thousands of indirect jobs.
Josh and his team worked on the launch phase with both Abengoa Solar and Arizona Public Service in communication planning, messaging and media outreach. The announcement received major media coverage and helped drive the momentum for more solar power in the United States.
Natural Resources Defense Fund – Coming to LA
In 1989, Fenton Communications was working with the Natural Resources Defense Council - NRDC - to release a report on the carcinogenic pesticide Alar that was used extensively on apples. The campaign included breaking the news on 60 Minutes. Josh was asked to manage the entertainment industry support for this campaign, helping to arrange an event in Los Angeles with Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, and River Phoenix. Josh also worked closely with Meryl Streep who made numerous media appearances as part of the group “Mothers and Others,” which focused on safe food for children.
From USA Today: "The thing that I came away with from the Alar controversy was that I realized I am not an activist," adds Streep, who later learned that the science behind the anti-Alar initiative was controversial. "I can play one, but the lawsuits that followed me, the irate growers, the people who broke into my home — I was really very intimidated by all that. I'm really more like Julia Roberts than Erin Brockovich." As irony would have it, Streep could not deny her advocacy role. "But I realized I really am an activist," says Streep. "We are all activists every day that we make a purchase. We vote daily with our credit cards; we demonstrate with our dollars. Americans, mostly women, demonstrated that they cared what is on our food. We made the connection between what is on our food and our children's health long before Congress enacted new regulations to protect our kids from pesticide residues."
After the Alar campaign ended, Josh met with NRDC Chairman John Adams and lobbied him to open an NRDC office in Los Angeles. Back then, it was conventional knowledge that San Francisco was the environmental heart of California and all the established national environmental groups ignored Southern California. Josh made a passionate case that LA would be where much of the action would be in the future and it was an opportunity for NRDC to connect with the entertainment industry.
John Adams finally agreed and, a year later, opened an office. Josh was very involved with the new office for years, helping them with various projects and media outreach. The office eventually moved to its own building in Santa Monica that is a major hub of activity. NRDC has become a huge force in Southern California, working extensively with the entertainment industry. In 2014 John told Josh, “Opening that LA office was one of the best things I ever did.”
Earth Day 1990 – 20 years
For the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990, environmental activists were determined to make it a truly global event, a rebirth of environmental awareness. Josh and his team were the only outside communications folks hired to help Earth Day’s in-house publicity team. It truly became huge with massive gatherings in the largest cities, participation throughout the country – from schools and churches to companies and board rooms.
StarKist – Dophin-Safe Tuna
In April 1990, StarKist Seafood, the world's largest tuna canner, announced that it would not purchase any tuna captured in nets along with dolphins nor would it buy any fish caught with gill or drift nets. Owned by H. J. Heinz, StarKist became the first major tuna company to sell only "dolphin-safe" tuna for human and cat consumption.
Josh was part of the media and outreach team working closely with StarKist management as well as with Greenpeace, convincing StarKist “to do the right thing.” Soon after the announcement, other major brands – Chicken of the Sea and Bumblebee – joined in. This result was the effect of many years of protests and boycotts with tuna companies being inundated with letters and drawings from hundreds of thousands of kids.
Time Magazine: The Earth Day Issue
For Earth Day 2000, Time Magazine published a special issue, “How to Save the Earth,” which featured a section on heroes for the planet. Time engaged Josh and his team to promote the issue and the earth heroes.
Yosemite Park and Curry Co
For nearly a century, the hotels and concessions in the great Yosemite Park was operated by the Curry Company, which for many years was owned by MCA / Univeral. Since Josh was actively involved with many Universal projects and also had environmental experience, he was asked to advise the Yosemite Park and Curry Company on various environmental issues. Because of the extraordinary special place Yosemite holds in our national parks system, any activity or impact in the Park is heavily scrutinized and potentially controversial. Because of various acquisitions and mergers, the Curry Company relinquished its role in 1993.
California big green initiative - 1990
In 1990, in the light of the 20th anniversary of Earth Day and a growing new wave of environmental awareness, California Assemblyman Tom Hayden and then Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp launched what was generally called the "Big Green" initiative. This effort placed an initiative on the November ballot the would remove from the market 32 pesticides suspected of causing cancer or birth defects, limit emissions that contribute to global warming , and ban new drilling for oil or gas in state waters. It would also create a $300-million bond issue to buy ancient redwood forests, where logging would be prohibited forever. It was very bold and far reaching. Hayden hired Josh and his team to manage the communications, especially around the launch phase of the campaign. The media campaign was very successful not only making this initiative a big deal in California, but also nationally with a front page story in the New York Times. There was major business opposition to Big Green mostly from agriculture, timber, and oil and gas industries which spent tens of millions of dollars against the initiative and ultimately won. That November, California elected a conservative Republican as governor - Pete Wilson. Big Green was a bit before its time.