Tom Steinbach, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

TITLE: Program Director, Environment Program

FUNDING AREAS: Clean energy, conservation, climate change, Nuclear Security Initiative

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Steinbach's environmental grant giving covers many bases. Applicants have many avenues with which to approach him in search of a grant—provided that they can demonstrate solid results.

PROFILE: The Environment Program at Hewlett is big, spreading tens of millions in annual grants between climate and energy, conservation in the West, and Bay Area issues. That means the person overseeing that grantmaking needs to be savvy in those areas, and have the ability to balance competing needs and interest groups.

Tom Steinbach is a natural fit for the job, with an early background with the EPA and Department of Energy, traditional 1990s American conservation experience, and a solid reputation juggling the needs of communities in the Bay Area through eight years of service as executive director of the Greenbelt Alliance, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that lobbies for smart growth over urban sprawl.

Steinbach took over as program director of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Environment Program in 2008 after working as a program officer covering western U.S. and Canada for about a year. He had big shoes to fill in replacing program director Hal Harvey, who had previously run the Energy Foundation and left Hewlett to launch the billion-dollar grantmaking initiative ClimateWorks. (ClimateWorks is an effort started in part by Hewlett to strategically direct its climate giving, along with the McKnight and Packard foundations, so since it spun off in 2008, the project has drawn the lion's share of Hewlett's investments in clean energy.)

That said, Steinbach balances a multitude of environmental needs in his grant giving, with beneficiaries spanning many issue areas and many latitudes of geography. Mexico’s Cento Mexicana de Derecho Ambiental is one prominent winner, having secured more than $4 million in grants over the years, much of that sum for programs related to curbing pollution and improving air quality. Steinbach has also given generously to the land-conservation efforts of the Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy, and has awarded numerous large grant awards to the Environmental Defense Fund, including $300,000 for a project pertaining to natural gas and electricity consumption, and another $200,000 award for environmental policy advocacy in China.

Steinbach’s own career path, like Hewlett’s environmental grant-giving itself, has spanned a wide array of environmental issues. Smart growth was his chief priority at Greenbelt. Steinbach worked with businesses and government officials at the state and local levels to advise on how growth could be done right, and to protect open space while maintaining economic growth. On the other hand, he specialized in land conservation while serving for six years as conservation director of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Later in his role as Hewlett program officer dealing with conservation in the West, Steinbach would have to balance his devotion to protecting land with the increasingly ominous need for clean energy solutions.

"This is an area where there are two camps in the environmental community: the renewable energy camp and the land camp. And those two camps don't always see eye to eye," he said in 2008. "A lot of our funding today goes to finding solutions so these constituencies can work together on the shared goal of clean energy."

During his tenure focusing just on the West for Hewlett, Steinbach spoke in depth about his work on the foundation's own website. He's articulate and passionate, and much of what he says clearly applies to his focus and point of view even as he works now on a larger scale.

Despite his work in open spaces and outdoor recreation, Steinbach's roots are as a policy wonk, and he's always been interested in how governments act on a community's values. That's the kind of stuff he dabbled in while earning a master of public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. He did his undergrad in economics at University of Rochester, and even did economic analysis for the Congressional Budget Office. 

Now running one of the largest environmental grantmaking programs in the country, Steinbach spends his days in Menlo Park overseeing seven program officers and three associates, each with a portfolio for subprograms within the environment focus. The grantmaking on climate and energy is ambitious, global, and strategic, much of it directed to ClimateWorks and Energy Foundation. Most of the other grantmaking is regional, either to conservation and water issues in the West or urban issues in the Bay Area, reflecting the interests of Hewlett's founders and the current board.

On a separate track, Steinbach also sees The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Nuclear Security Initiative. In 2013, Steinbach doled out nearly $3 million in this arena to both U.S. and internationally based organizaitons. The biggest prize of $1 million went to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for their nuclear security program. But Steinbach can also think small-scale, awarding $70,000 to the British American Security Information Council to help them reduce the role of tactical nuclear weapons in European security.

Whatever the program you're thinking of taking to Hewlett, one thing is certain: Steinbach and Hewlett are interested in funding initiatives that get things done. The foundation puts a heavy focus on proven strategies, tangible results and demonstrated outcomes. Find information about applying here.