Environmentalists: Four Reasons You Need to Know about the Schmidts

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy run the Schmidt Family Foundation in Palo Alto. The couple met at UC Berkeley during their graduate studies, where Schmidt got a Ph.D in computer science and Wendy earned a master's in journalism. Now, it doesn't always follow that Berkeley grads are crazy about the environment, but these two are, particularly Wendy, who serves as president of the foundation and manages other environmental efforts under the Schmidt name. 

Wendy's been on the board at NRDC since 2005, has helmed the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup Prize (remember Deepwater Horizon?) and runs the main program out of their family foundation, the 11th Hour Project. According to its website, the goal of 11th Hour is to "connect organizations with good information on how to develop a more responsible relationship with the world's water, energy, and food resources." In 2012, the foundation gave away more than $17.5 million, almost all of it to environmental causes. We bet the total will be even bigger when the 2013 numbers come in. Eric Schmidt is worth $9 billion.

Here are a few must knows about this funder:

1. The foundation gives out grants in three main areas

The Renewable Energy & Climate program focuses on reducing reliance on fossil fuels and accelerating the production and adoption of renewable energy. The Ecological Agriculture program focuses on "reforming animal agriculture, building regional food systems and long-term movement building" and the Human Rights program recognizes the link between human beings and the environment and works to create "global equity." In recent years, the couple's grantmaking list has been quite long, and it's not uncommon for a grant to exceed $100,000.

The couple has funded everything from Californians for Pesticide Reform to the American Lung Association. They also have an interest in food and agriculture, supporting outfits such as Ag Innovations Network, which works to improve access to healthy and sustainable foods. The funding here is diverse, suggesting opportunities for a range of grankseekers—in theory, anyway, since the foundation doesn't accept unsolicited proposals. 

2. Media and education are key

The 11th Hour Project mentions "good information," and the Schmidts have been keen on supporting media and educational outfits which spread awareness about various environmental challenges. This also probably goes back to Wendy's journalism background. In recent years, Mother Jones, Grist in Seattle (where Wendy sits on the board), the Center for Investigative Reporting and Yale have all received funding.

The couple has also supported Solar One Green Design Lab in New York, a unique sustainability education program for k-12 youth. 

3. California and New York are focuses, but not the only areas where Schmidt makes grants

Just as Schmidt has funded a variety of organizations, he also seems open to all geographic areas, though he appears to have a preference for California and New York. Nantucket Land Council has received funds and Wendy runs ReMain Nantucket, which works on various ventures in Nantucket to preserve the community, history and environment. The couple also runs a seprate entity called the Schmidt Ocean Institute and, among other things, supports a research ship. 

Related Not Just a Pet Project: Full Steam Ahead for Schmidt Science Ship

The Schmidts are clearly active in a lot of different areas. What's more, the 11th Hour Project has a 12-member staff, according to its website, so you shouldn't just be picturing a family operation. 

4. There's a lot more where that came from

As I said earlier, Schmidt is worth $9.1 billion and the family foundation held more than $312 million in assets at the end of 2012. That's a lot of money, and the pile is probably bigger now, with the majority of this seemingly destined for environmental philanthropy. 

If you want to imagine how all this may play out long term, look at a place like the Gordon Moore Foundation, also based in Palo Alto, which has emerged in the past decade as one of the nation's largest environmental and science funders. The Schmidts have more money than Moore, and they're just getting started with their giving. 

Related - The Schmidt Family Foundation: Grants for Conservation