Fertile Ground for Zero Waste
Who They Are & What They Do
World Centric is a leader in compostable to-go wares for the food service industry. A California Benefit Corporation and a certified B Corporation, it provides zero waste solutions as part of its vision to create a just and sustainable world.
By the Numbers
World Centric employs 36 staff members and donates 25 percent of its profits to grassroots nonprofit organizations.
“Petaluma is the perfect place for a growing, environmentally-oriented business like World Centric,” says Das, founder and CEO. “There is a strong awareness of sustainability, of being part of a cohesive community and living in balance.”
Petaluma is the perfect place for a growing, environmentally-oriented business like World Centric.
Unexpected Success Drives Change
Aseem Das, founder and CEO of compostable products manufacturer World Centric, is a software engineer by training, an activist by vocation and a visionary by nature.
“Petaluma is the perfect place for a growing, environmentally-oriented business like World Centric,” says Das.
Das started World Centric in 2004 as a nonprofit to promote awareness about social and environmental issues. At first, World Centric was funded by ticket sales from educational events and online sales of Fair Trade products like cashews and dried fruit. Then in 2005, Das discovered the newly emerging compostables market, which offered an alternative to plastic and StyrofoamTM. Recognizing an opportunity to earn money while helping to reduce waste, Das added compostable products to the World Centric product offerings.
Sales were strong from the outset.
“It was a matter of offering the right product at the right time,” Das explains modestly. “As demand continued and sales grew, I hired employees and introduced our own line of products to complement those we were distributing from other manufacturers.”
In 20102, World Centric converted to B-Corp status and, in 2013, became a California Benefit Corporation. These moves enable the company to retain a mission and set of values aligned with its origins as a non-profit.
The Site Selection Process
Around the same time, Das learned that the office building in which he’d been renting was slated for re-development. It was an opportunity for World Centric to transform itself—but where?
Silicon Valley was too expensive and had no facilities suitable for World Centric’s potential manufacturing operation. Oakland and South San Francisco offered adequate office and manufacturing space, but Das, who walked or biked to work, did not relish the idea of commuting to either area. Stockton had space, too, but not the talent pool or the lifestyle options Das was seeking.
Das cast his eye on the North Bay on the advice of several former World Centric employees who had grown up in Sebastopol and had spoken highly of the area. Das met with a realtor and looked at sites across Sonoma County, but nothing felt right. So he put the move on hold for a bit while he tried to secure capital for his manufacturing plans.
Meanwhile, a World Centric staff member had reached out to Sonoma County BEST, a public-private initiative to support business, and Sonoma County’s Economic Development Director, Ben Stone. Eventually, Petaluma’s Economic Development Director, Ingrid Alverde, got involved and helped Das renew his search with an insider’s view of what Petaluma could offer.
Alverde presented housing and workforce data so Das could compare what his costs would be in Petaluma versus other Bay Area locales. She also referred him to experienced commercial realtors who showed Das a wider range of suitable properties. Finally, she connected Das with other CEOs, including Jim Happ, CEO of Labcon, a biotech manufacturer based in Petaluma since 1970; and Blair Kellison, CEO of global organic tea purveyor Traditional Medicinals, which had moved its executive, sales and marketing teams to Petaluma from Sebastopol in 2012.
“Ingrid Alverde made sure I had everything I needed to make an informed decision,” says Das. “My conversations with leaders of Petaluma-based companies were especially valuable. Not only was I hearing objective perspectives about Petaluma’s business climate, I was also creating a professional network that would be ready for me when and if we moved.”
Petaluma–A Good Fit
Das recognized that Petaluma would, indeed, be a good fit for World Centric.
Commercial real estate was readily available and affordable with a healthy mix of office space and manufacturing sites. The entire city could be easily navigated—so Das could to walk or bike to work—yet was close enough to the highway to accommodate employees who needed to commute. And there were plenty of educated and experienced potential employees—an important consideration since most of the World Centric staff were choosing not to relocate with the company.
Pierce cites a number of reasons why it’s easy to find the right people in Petaluma.
Still, a change of this magnitude weighed heavily on Das. In the end it was the personal observations of his wife, Sylvia, that tipped the scales toward Petaluma.
Recalls Das, “She’d walked around the town while I looked at office space and had developed a true sense of the town. She said to me, ‘Aseem, everywhere I go in Petaluma, someone starts up a conversation or smiles at me. I like this place.’”
Manufacturing in Petaluma
Now Das is one of those smiling Petalumans – and for good reason. Soon after making his decision, he signed a lease for 2,340 square feet of riverside office space at the Foundry Wharf; he rides his bike there each work day from a picturesque house located less than a mile away.
As for Petaluma’s talent, Das is more than pleased. In the past, World Centric had primarily attracted idealistic 20-somethings looking for experience and still searching for their true calling. Today, World Centric is comprised of seasoned professionals who are in it for the long haul. This older, wiser crew is good for business: From a salary standpoint, the cost commensurates with World Centric’s prior salary structure, yet because they have experience, they bring more total value to the company.
“The employees I’ve hired in Petaluma team are great,” says Das. “They’re skilled, they’re passionate about our mission, and they bring a stable energy that’s been wonderful for the business.”
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
World Centric donates a whopping 25 percent of its profits and also actively engages in the kinds of good works typically associated with nonprofits. In Petaluma — where unconventional, mission-driven organizations are celebrated — Das and his team have found numerous opportunities to make a difference. They’ve sponsored educational workshops and networking meetings about sustainability, hosted a river clean up, donated products to local charities and started to investigate how to enable commercial food-scrap composting in Sonoma County.
“Petaluma really is the perfect place for us to run our business and fulfill our mission,” says Das. “There is a strong sense of community, of living in balance and we feel privileged to be part of such a special community.”