On a quiet October afternoon in 1995, a small group of people met for the first time in the home of a well-respected environmental activist. What made this day historical was not the topics discussed, but rather that the individuals facing each other represented major environmental groups and some of the most important companies in California. Inspired by the roundtable discussions at the Aspen Institute, founding CED members were intrigued by the possibility that dialogue could move California beyond traditional win-lose outcomes of zero-sum politicking. Building on lessons learned from the Aspen Series on the Environment in the 21st Century, the founders of CED were determined to create an on-going dialogue between environmental and economic stakeholders in California.

Quickly, the membership grew to 30 participants, including the Secretaries of the California Resources and Environmental Protection Agencies and a top-ranking USEPA, Region IX staff member. CED was fortunate (and forever changed) by the recruitment of Linda Gioja, a national expert in “collective intelligence”, as its facilitator. Over time, the California Environmental Dialogue emerged as a uniquely credible source of alternative policy options to inform decision-makers and stakeholders alike.

Over the next several years, the CED produced important policy briefings for public and private sector stakeholders in California’s future. These included papers on transportation; habitat and its value in increasing California’s prosperity; a plan for land conservation; and a timely analysis on the investments made by California in land conservation and drinking water resources, through California Propositions 12 & 13 in the year 2000.

California entered the new millennium as one of the most diverse states in the nation, as well as a global economic leader. Attracting the best and the brightest, California is home to prestigious universities, cutting edge industries, international arts & entertainment, mining, timber, major agriculture, international shipping & manufacturing facilities, professional services, and a bustling tourism industry. At the same time, economic disparity between people is increasing, and the population is growing rapidly in the face of critical resource shortages and insufficient infrastructure investment.

As home to one of the most ethnically diverse and culturally rich populations, California reflects the changing demographics of the globe. To reflect this important diversity, in 2001, CED decided to incorporate issues of equity into all facets of its multi-sector collaborative dialogue.