Reflections on Copenhagen: The Economics of Green

3p Contributor | Thursday February 11th, 2010 | 4 Comments

By Dennis Salazar

Copenhagen – A Microcosm of the Green Movement

Last year’s disappointing climate summit in Copenhagen demonstrated if not proved two important things about “saving the earth”:

1. Sustainability is a very emotional topic for some
2. Sustainability is a financial topic for most

Unfortunately, what transpired in Copenhagen is probably the rule, rather than the exception. It was disheartening to realize the events probably represent and reflect the domestic and world population’s perspective on saving the environment.

Public Demonstrations versus Back Room Deals

Perhaps due to decades of protesting, a wide array of real or perceived injustices, unruly public demonstrations have for the most part become unproductive. Even the nightly news has lost interest in well meaning protesters being hauled away by force. I recall the first time I saw an eco activist chained to a tree in the seventies, and thinking “how cool is that.” It did not matter what the cause was, I really admired the commitment.

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People, Planet, Growth and Prosperity

Bill Roth | Wednesday February 10th, 2010 | 2 Comments

I have fallen in love, again! Yesterday I wrote about Amanda West, an entrepreneur that has created the first healthy fast food restaurant. My heart belongs to the entrepreneurs and businesses across America figuring out how to grow revenues by selling products that are good for our people and our planet. My newest love interest is a company called INDIGOGreen created by Liberty Phoenix Lord and Mike Amish. It’s a hardware store. In practice, it is an educational/engagement center helping the people of Gainesville, Florida, figure out how to live a healthier life.

As a business person let me cut to the numbers: “INDIGOGreen has been extremely well received by our community. Our revenues have doubled even in this depressed economy,” Liberty proudly notes.

The company’s business success is representative of two best practices I call “Know it, Embrace it” and “Prove it, Conclusively” identified in my book, The Secret Green Sauce that profiles companies like INDIGOGreen that are growing green revenues. Here’s what their website says to its customers about figuring out what to buy: “Green is very difficult to define.” That very honest admission is supported by the market research I’ve seen documenting:

  1. Most consumers are trying to figure out for themselves what green means to them and what products/services they should be buying
  2. For most consumers this is NOT about “being green” but rather it is a search for improvements in their health, wellness and future and that of their loved ones
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Too Small to Fail: The Role of Micro-lending in Economic Recovery

3p Contributor | Wednesday February 10th, 2010 | 13 Comments

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest op-ed by Eric Weaver, Opportunity Fund, and Matt Lonner, Chevron. Periodically we are approached by companies wishing to publish op-ed material and other content, sometimes we accept it, sometimes not. We were recently approached by Chevron to do this. While the oil industry is a controversial one on many levels, the willingness of Chevron to enter into dialogue with 3p’s readership impressed us and we accepted their request. When commenting, please use this as an opportunity to remember the fact that all companies are made of potential change agents and that Chevron is no different

As the President calls for a renewed focus on supporting small businesses as a crucial building block for America’s economic recovery, micro-lenders across the country are already hard at work.  Micro-loans have become a vital resource channel, giving entrepreneurs an opportunity to get their ideas off the ground, and contribute to the prosperity of their communities.

The practice of micro-finance in the U.S. is still evolving.  In fact, Aspen Institute research shows that only 2 percent of U.S. micro-finance candidates are being served.  Organizations like Opportunity Fund are quickly working to improve that ratio, investing the small amounts necessary for hard-working people with good ideas to be successful.

In today’s turbulent times, the impact of micro-loans is magnified.  For people like William Ortiz Cartagena and his 12 employees, micro-finance is a lifeline for survival – and growth. Cartagena started Gentle Parking, a San Francisco-based eco-friendly business, to support his family of five. When he needed a loan to expand last winter, Cartagena was turned down by several banks. He then came to Opportunity Fund and received a $10,000 loan, along with personalized business coaching and finance training. Since then, Cartagena has hired six more employees and is paying back his loan—all in all, a pretty good ROI for $10K.

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State of Green Business: “Best of Times and Worst of Times”

Sarah Lozanova | Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 0 Comments

I attended the State of Green Business Forum today in Chicago,  hosted by the Greener World Media.  It was an opportunity for industry experts and leaders to share insights and observations on this dynamic topic.  Here are some of the ideas and themes that were raised at this event, although it is certainly not an exhaustive list:

Resources are numerous, but difficult to access

Between local, state, and federal programs, there are numerous grants, low interest loans, job training programs, and tax credits available both in Chicago and nationally.  It can, however, be difficult to identify the resources and know how to utilize programs.  Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Environment said today, “The resources are there.  We just haven’t aligned them for when a business comes to town.”  She would like the city to be able to say, “We are open for businesses and here are the resources we have…”

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Can Green Plants Green Coal Plants?

RP Siegel | Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 4 Comments

If you take a bunch of dead trees and grasses and shrubs and bury them underground and wait a couple of hundred million years, you get coal: a highly concentrated energy source which has the unfortunate side effect of releasing a very large proportion of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But what if you simply took those same trees and shrubs and burned them directly without waiting all that time? You would get biomass, a much less concentrated, but also less harmful source of fuel.

Biomass is less harmful because the carbon it releases into the air had only just been pulled out of the atmosphere during the life of the plants that are burned. This carbon would be released (along with some additional methane) anyway, were the plants left to decompose naturally. Biomass is bulky, but if you have a plentiful source of it and a means to transport it, it can be a very practical alternative to fossil fuels.

The University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus, home to roughly 42,000 students, has made the decision to convert its coal-powered Charter Street Heating and Cooling Steam Plant to run on biomass.

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Tesco Opens World’s First Zero Carbon Supermarket, Pledges $156 M to UK Green Economy

Kathryn Siranosian | Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 0 Comments


Last week, Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, opened the world’s first zero carbon supermarket.

The store has no net carbon footprint and exports any extra electricity generated back to the national grid.

Located in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire, this new supermarket boasts several eco-friendly features, including:

  • A combined heat and power plant which runs on bio fuels from renewable sources
  • Timber framing derived from sustainable sources rather than steel (which significantly reduced the carbon footprint of construction)
  • Interior lighting that dims as the natural daylight increases, and skylights that allow daylight on to the sales floor
  • LED lights in the parking lot and gas station (This is the UK’s first LED-lit parking lot.)
  • Rainwater collection facilities on the roof which provide water for use in the car wash and to flush store toilets
  • Refrigerant gases in the fridges, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that have virtually no environmental impact
  • Solar-powered street lights and crossing signals
  • Additional energy-efficient equipment, such as low energy bakery ovens
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Is Climate Change Legislation Dead in 2010?

| Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 2 Comments

The latest chatter on the Hill is that climate legislation is not likely to pass this year. High jobless numbers, financial reform and the health care debate continue to thwart efforts focused on the environment. It is possible that the Senate will settle for an energy-only bill and call it a day. The likelihood of this strategy was echoed by comments made by President Obama on Tuesday February 2, 2010 at a town hall meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire. The President said that he would be open to the possibility of the Senate passing an energy bill without a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program. These comments have put him at odds with Senate Democrats who have insisted that an energy bill be combined with a climate change bill.

The idea of splitting up the energy bill, which was passed last year by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is a departure from the strategy advocated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid wants an energy bill with a renewable electricity standard, efficiency standards and other provisions to be combined with a cap-and-trade bill. The centerpiece of that bill is a renewable electricity standard (RES) that would require electric utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.

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Despite Recession, Home Depot Keeps on Giving

| Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 33 Comments

Last week’s announcement from the Home Depot Foundation suggests that even with sales slumps and layoffs, the nation’s largest retailer of home improvement products still views charitable giving as good business.

The company is expecting lower revenues for 2009 when results are announced in February, and for the third consecutive January is cutting its workforce.  Still, the Home Depot Foundation gave $74 million to 5,300 nonprofits last year, according to the recent announcement, an almost 50 percent increase from 2008.

“The Foundation has not been affected by how the broader economic pressures have affected our company,” said Home Depot spokesperson, Paula Drake in an email to Triple Pundit.

In fact, during an economic downturn may be the best time for companies to burnish their reputations through cause marketing campaigns, according to Wendy Liebmann, chief executive at WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting company.  In a recent NY Times article, Ms. Liebmann referenced a list of 10 reasons shoppers consider a store their favorite, and supporting “the community or worthwhile causes” came in number 8 on the list.  “The key, as we come out of this recession, is that we don’t trust many people anymore,” Ms. Liebmann added, so “retailers feel the need to present themselves as good citizens” to counter that.

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Nominate A Pioneering, Successful, Green Restaurant!

Bill Roth | Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 19 Comments

“Does green really sell,” is the question I am most consistently asked. Amanda’s is one of my favorite answers to this question. It is a restaurant that its founder, Amanda West, defines as “Whole Foods meets In–N-Out Burger.” It is also likely that Amanda’s represents the future of the fast food industry.

America is a fast food nation with approximately 200,000 fast food restaurants generating national annual revenues exceeding $120 billion (Hoovers). While the names of internationally branded companies like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s or KFC dominate our collective consciousness the industry is actually highly fragmented with the top 50 sized companies accounting for only 25% of sales.

And the entire restaurant industry is under tremendous stress during this recession. A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that restaurant insolvencies in the first quarter of 2009 were 33% higher than the last quarter of 2008.

In comparison, Amanda’s opened its doors in July 2008 and has achieved year over year sales increases while three nearby restaurants have been forced to close. The Secret Green Sauce™ for Amanda’s success is healthy convenience food offered at competitive prices. My first meal at Amanda’s was a veggieburger and apple “fries” that cost $6. It was my first veggieburger and I was stunned at how good it tasted. The apple ”fries” were actually a sliced raw apple diced to look like French fries and served with a honey yogurt dipping sauce rather than sugar-rich ketchup. The meal looked like fast food, tasted great and was priced similar to what I would normally pay at Wendy’s.

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Groups Sue California Over Low Carbon Fuel Standard

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Last week the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) filed a lawsuit against California’s low-carbon fuel mandate, which calls for the state’s petroleum dependence to be reduced by 20 percent by 2020. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted the standard last April. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Fresno, claims the mandate violates federal laws regarding interstate commerce and makes the cost of doing business too expensive. It is the third suit filed in the last two months challenging the mandate.

“We felt the need to challenge it because it will increase the cost of fuel produced in California,” said Rich Moskowitz, vice president of the ATA. “A new clean-diesel truck that emits virtually no particulate matter is about $100,000,” he said. “A natural gas engine adds a 40- to 80-thousand-dollar premium on top of that.”

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Is Walmart’s Sustainability Consortium A Genuine Effort To Develop Better Products?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 4 Comments

Walmart is certainly not a stranger to controversy and criticism, and neither is its attempt to develop sustainability standards for products. Last summer the world’s largest retailer announced plans last summer to develop a Sustainability Index which would serve as a single data source for evaluating a product’s sustainability. The Sustainability Index initiative then launched the Sustainability Consortium, a group representing governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic and business interests to develop standards which can be used to rate the sustainability of products.

The Consortium’s website states that it “develops transparent methodologies, tools and strategies to drive a new generation of products and supply networks that address environmental, social and economic imperatives.” .The Consortium’s website also states that it “advocates for a transparent process and system, not individuals or organizations.” However, the Consortium does not support third party-rating systems such as EPEAT. As Treehugger.com put it, the Consortium “decided to take matters into their own hands and push for consumer outreach on electronics themselves.”

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Ford Unveils Electric Transit Connect, Focused on Fleet Owners

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Ford announced today that an all-electric version of its Transit Connect small cargo van will roll off production lines and into vehicle fleets later this year.

The Transit Connect has been, so far, a hit for Ford, selling well in Europe, where it debuted before coming state-side last year in a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gas-powered engine that gets 19 miles to the gallon in the city and 24 mpg highway.

Will fleet owners embrace this EV version? That will likely depend on its yet-unannounced list price. Christopher DeMorro at Gas 2.0 estimates that Ford will give it an attractive price point—maybe as low as $35,000—to attract fleet buyers.   The gas version of the Connect goes for around $22,000, and it’s hard to imagine that fleet owners would go for the electric, zero emissions version if it costs more than twice that—although the cost of electricity will be a determining factor, certainly. In the Northwest, where hydro power generates some of the cheapest energy in the nation, fleet owners are in a better position than those in places with higher or more volatile energy costs.

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Hydrogen is Not The Miracle Fuel of the Future

Steve Puma | Monday February 8th, 2010 | 69 Comments

Hydrogen is abundant in spaceBoingBoing.net is reporting today on a tabletop “hydrogen power station” that produces hydrogen from water using a standard power outlet and costs around $200. While this may sound wonderful on the surface, it merely illustrates how the notion of a “hydrogen economy” is mostly a myth, especially as it pertains to powering vehicles.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: hydrogen is not a energy resource. Hydrogen does not exist naturally in any sufficient quantities to make it a viable energy source, at least on this planet. To get hydrogen in any useful quantities, it must be extracted from natural gas, water or biomass, and all of these result in a net loss of energy. It is more efficient to use these fuels in their original forms.

Hydrogen is more like a battery, an energy storage medium. Unfortunately, (for practical purposes) it is a very impractical battery, with an extremely low energy-to-volume ratio. According to Wikipedia, “The energy density per unit volume of both liquid hydrogen and compressed hydrogen gas at any practicable pressure is significantly less than that of traditional fuel sources, although the energy density per unit fuel mass is higher.”

To be fair, fossil fuels are only energy storage mediums as well, but their energy was accumulated over millions of years, and is readily extracted now in a compact form. Neither hydrogen nor fossil fuels are energy sources, because the energy does not come from them, it came from the sun, the only really abundant energy source we have (not including nuclear and geothermal, which are very small players to date).

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The E-Waste Market: The Good, Bad and the Ugly

Jace Shoemaker-Galloway | Monday February 8th, 2010 | 6 Comments

While technology has become more affordable and readily available, discarded electronic waste, commonly referred to as e-waste, has become a great big problem.  That shiny new gadget you buy today will probably be obsolete tomorrow.  So what happens to all that electronic waste?

According to a 60 Minutes segment, an estimated 130,000 computers are thrown out every day in the US. In 2005, four billion pounds of e-waste was tossed out in the United States. While most is either incinerated or dumped in landfills, some of the waste that is “recycled” actually ends up being exported to developing countries.  Workers, often paid low wages, process the materials in primitive conditions, putting the workers and the environment at risk.

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2010 SuperBowl Ads: Audi Green Police Is As Green as it Gets?

Scott Cooney | Monday February 8th, 2010 | 29 Comments

Let’s face it, the Superbowl is watched by more Americans than any other single TV event.  Personally, my guess is that at least half of the people who watch it only watch it for the famous Superbowl ads.  They’re usually humorous (and this year, somewhat controversial, with the addition of the ad for an anti-abortion campaign starring Tim Tebow and the simultaneous censoring of an ad for a gay dating website).

This year, the familiar faces–beer companies, car makers, sellers of snack foods…the usual suspects–signed on for large sums of money to advertise their products. During the third quarter of the game, something occurred to me about this year’s commercials.  None of them, up to that point, had even mentioned sustainability.  I tried to search online but couldn’t really find anything relevant, but I seem to remember that in last year’s Superbowl ads, companies trumpeting their sustainability records, achievements, or product features, especially car ads featuring “best in class fuel efficiency.”

I had just finished a diatribe at the Superbowl party I was attending about whether the world had completely turned off to sustainability, when the first ‘green’ ad emerged.  A customer at a checkout counter is asked, “Paper or plastic?” and when he chooses plastic, he is arrested and taken away by the “Green Police.”

I found myself quickly regretting my karmic intrusion into the Superbowl programming, as the ad quickly turned into yet another perhaps well-intentioned ad that casts environmentalists, frankly, as wack-jobs.  I have to admit, I really started paying attention to see which companies had decided to advertise their product this way…

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