When it comes to tackling climate change, what kind of effect could $750 million make? Stewart and Lynda Resnick wanted to find out. Last September, they donated three-quarters of a billion dollars to the California Institute of Technology to fund sustainability research and technology—the second-largest contribution to an American university in history.
Taking on such an urgent and monumental issue, Stewart argues, requires breakthroughs in solar science, energy storage and environmental resources. Who better to rise to the challenge than the minds at Caltech, a university that partners with NASA. “If they can send a rover to Mars and land, after a year in the stratosphere, within a yard of where they expected, I figure they could do this too,” he says.
The entrepreneurs, whose first national company was the floral delivery service Teleflora, have grown the Wonderful Company into a $5 billion business over the past four decades. They began buying agricultural land in the 1970s as a side investment. Now, with 200 square miles of orchards in California’s Central Valley, the Resnicks are the largest tree crop farmers in the world.
One of Lynda’s talents has been giving the healthful foods in their portfolio—Halos mandarins, Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice and Wonderful Pistachios—the same marketing punch usually spent on chips and soda. She has snapped up Super Bowl spots to entice Americans to “Get Crackin’” on pistachios as a better-for-you snack alternative, and convinced a generation of kids to beg their parents for mandarins.
As one of the largest agricultural water consumers in a drought-prone state, the Resnicks’ efforts to secure water rights have drawn criticism from environmental advocates. At the same time, Wonderful has invested more than $400 million in microdrip irrigation, wastewater recycling, solar power and beekeeping. The couple also funds education, health and housing projects in the Central Valley farming communities Wonderful works in.
The Resnicks had already established Caltech’s Resnick Sustainability Institute in 2009, through a $30 million gift. With this new donation, they’re turning the university into a powerhouse of innovation for the 21st century. “Understanding and addressing changes to our climate is perhaps the greatest challenge of our time,” says Caltech president Thomas Rosenbaum. “Stewart and Lynda Resnick’s transformative investment in Caltech provides the Institute with the ability to empower researchers across disciplines to imagine and advance impactful research in renewable energy, clean water, arable soils, degradable plastics and carbon sequestration that can make a difference, in perpetuity and without restriction.”