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Solutions & sustainability - May 25

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Tree-Hugging Capitalists

Erika Brown, Forbes
It's the end of the world as we know it--and venture capitalists feel fine.

Last Thursday and Friday at the Four Seasons in San Francisco, venture giant Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers assembled 50 of the smartest minds in chemistry, biology, mechanical engineering and politics to discuss solutions to the planet's most complex environmental issues. Call it "green tech."
...We need to adopt a market-based approach to solving these problems," said Doerr. "Green today means 'wimpy, left, tree-huggers.' It needs to mean 'tough-minded and economically sound.' "

...Historically, Doerr has focused his political efforts on education reform. These days he wears a white "ONE" wristband, signifying U2 lead singer Bono’s campaign against poverty and disease; last year he joined the board of directors at DATA (for debt, AIDS and trade in Africa), another Bono organization. In his opening speech, Doerr said his colleagues have been chatting up Capitol Hill to promote KPCB's green agenda. They even managed to inject the "oil addiction" concept into President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address in late January.

Clad in hiking pants and Birkenstock sandals (with socks), Doerr's co-emcee Bill Joy looked more like a tree-hugger than a calculating VC. But he's clearly been running the numbers: "There is a big wave coming as Moore’s Law meets the biotech and nanotech revolutions. Opportunities abound in new materials, new pathways, new organisms, new forms of magic."
(23 May 2006)
Forbes has recently taken on a distinctly green tone. Perhaps there's money to be made here?


The lawn racket
Do you really need the perfect green lawn?

Stan Cox, Prairie Writers Circle via Working For Change
Now that May is here, perhaps you're looking out at your lawn and thinking it needs mowing. Instead, you might want to think about whether you need that lawn at all.

The problem isn't grass. Humans first lived on the grasslands of Africa, and until not so long ago, grasslands covered far greater swaths of North America than they do now.

But landscapes like those bear little resemblance to the classic American lawn -- an industrial, shocking-green carpet whose very survival depends on our polluting the environment and disturbing the peace.

Other kinds of home landscapes can grow pollution-free. A natural-yard movement is showing that combinations of rugged plants, including grasses, can be far more interesting than a standard lawn while requiring little mowing, no spraying or fertilizing, and even no irrigation.

By contrast, the “perfect” lawn is a monotony of color and texture, yields no useful harvest, and may rarely even be trod upon. But for growing the lawn-care industry a crop of hard cash, the synthetic grasslands of suburbia are fertile ground indeed. To replace all of that high-maintenance turf with something more resilient -- to stow all that equipment and dispose of all those chemicals -- would cause a $35 billion industry to wither.

Among the industry's ever-proliferating lines of new-and-improved products, the most visible -- and audible -- are those that replace muscle power with fossil-fuel power. The lawn mower has undergone what is probably the most astounding metamorphosis, the larger commercial versions now resembling a hybrid between lunar rover and La-Z-Boy recliner.
(23 May 2006)


Wall St. Develops the Tools to Invest in Climate Change

Claudia H. Deutsch, NY Times
SOCIALLY conscious investors long ago hopped on the climate-change bandwagon, putting their money into companies that control greenhouse gases and shunning those that do not.

But now, the pure profit-and-loss players are moving in, potentially raising the level of the game. They are betting that Washington will someday clamp down on emitters of carbon dioxide and other gases that are believed to contribute to global warming. And they are certain that there is money to be made in holding the shares of low emitters and shorting the shares of big ones.

New carbon-tilted rating scales could come in handy, and investment research houses like Sanford C. Bernstein and Innovest Strategic Value Advisers are busily setting them up.

Innovest, in partnership with UBS, has created a "carbon beta basket," a fund that will hold 50 stocks in five industries. The fund managers would monitor global warming regulations and would buy and sell the stocks on the basis of how the companies would be affected by those rules.
(24 May 2006)


My Life as Ethical Test Driver

Allison Cross, The Tyee
Can it be done? Is sustainable transport possible? Well, there's walking, jogging, skipping, running or strolling, but they won't haul you and your family from Nanaimo to Abbotsford in less than say, two weeks. An SUV will do the job, but not without guzzling gas, emptying your pockets and picking at that scab in the ozone layer. The bus is another option, but is rarely conducive to taking road trips, running errands and fetching the wee ones.

But more people are keen to avoid being energy-sucking planet haters, myself included. So in an effort to find methods beyond buses, horse-drawn carriages and my own two feet, I test drove a sample of alternative vehicles, in hopes of understanding some of the science behind the trendy appeal. I found that people's choices in eco-vehicles, from shiny electric scooters to celebrity-friendly hybrids, are often about style and lifestyle, even more than sustainability. And I found that, as with all things green, the guilt-free scale goes from pale lime to deep forest.

On one extreme end of the scale, there are those like Justin Lemire-Elmore, an electric bike guru. With a background in engineering physics, he used an old laptop battery to power a hub motor on his bike, then went on to found UBC's e-bike, and now runs his own bike business.

For him, it's about making better choices. "The amount of energy used to move a person is increasing and is completely unsustainable," he says.

But he thinks the pursuit of the eco-car is misguided. Why? He says cars don't work as well as bikes for urban transport, and says that while in traffic, on his bike, he often passes cars.

He dreams of a day when busy thoroughfares are free of vehicles and replaced by eco-friendly bikes. And he says that day would actually be simpler to manage than the automobile world we currently live in: e-bike riders aren't required to get a license for their bikes and can often travel along the same paths as any ordinary biker. So no new infrastructure would be needed. And he says it's low effort: riders can use the pedals when they feel like it and the motor when they don't.

But so far, it's been a tough sell.
(24 May 2006)


Farmers' Markets Go Beyond Green

Jullia Moskin, NY Times
IN 2004, Nina Planck, who had just been dismissed as director of the New York City Greenmarkets, wrote in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times: "Perhaps it is time Greenmarket itself had some competition."

Next month, that meditation will materialize when Ms. Planck opens two outdoor food markets in Lower Manhattan. Every Saturday, these "hybrid" markets, like weekly markets in Europe, will offer more diverse products than a strictly defined farmers' market. With local makers of guacamole and sorbet selling alongside organic farmers, Ms. Planck is striking a symbolic blow at the farmers-only Greenmarket model.

"I think the farmers' market movement has failed consumers in not making it possible to buy everything they need for Saturday night dinner," said Ms. Planck, whose tenure at Greenmarket was short and tumultuous. "It's time to be more inclusive. It all helps local farms find a market."

Many in the alternative agriculture movement are surprised to hear that Ms. Planck, a vocal and frequent defender of the American family farm, will be running a market that could sell guacamole made from Costco avocados.

"It can be very confusing to the public when farmers' markets start looking more like supermarkets," said Randii MacNear, manager of the farmers' market in Davis, Calif., and an expert in farm marketing. "What's the message?"

American food shoppers who seek alternatives to agribusiness have never had so much choice about how to spend their food dollars. But they are still adjusting to being pelted with information on how to eat well.
(24 May 2006)


'Green chemistry' hitting the market
(audio & transcript)
Sarah Gardner, MarketPlace (NPR)
Decades of toxic spills and pollution have caused a backlash against the notion that chemistry can improve daily life, but "green chemistry" is catching on — even in big business labs.
--------------
KAI RYSSDAL: When he said it, Timothy Leary was talking about LSD. But the slogan, "Better living through chemistry," originally came from DuPont. Actually, the whole catch phrase was "Better Things for Better Living . . . Through Chemistry." DuPont's point was chemistry can improve our daily lives. Decades of toxic spills, pollution and Superfund sites might make you think twice about that. But the backlash has inspired something called green chemistry. And now it's moving out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. Here's Sarah Gardner from the Sustainability Desk.

SARAH GARDNER: If green chemists had their way, there'd be no need for massive toxic clean-ups or class-action consumer safety lawsuits, or company spokesmen forced to defend their most popular brands.

DUPONT SPOKESMAN: In fact, cookware coated with Teflon has been used safely by tens of millions of people for over 40 years and is safe when used properly and as directed.

That was DuPont recently, on the defensive over a long-lasting chemical used to make Teflon. That chemical may ultimately prove safe. But the point, say advocates of green chemistry, is to determine safety before products go to market, not after. Paul Anastas is one of the movement's founders:

PAUL ANASTAS: Green chemistry is the design of new products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.

Anastas and fellow scientist John Warner wrote what you might call the bible of green chemistry in 1998. The book challenged chemists to design with the environment in mind. In the past few years companies like Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and Pfizer are taking a stab at it.
(23 May 2006)


Green Space
The emergence of the green blogs
(Podcast)
Heather Green, Business Week
Dave Roberts is the founding editor of Gristmill, one of the top blogs in a group of newly emerging green blogs. He describes how more green blogs are gaining traction, outlines the landscape of popular green blogs, and explains why Grist, the popular online environmental magazine, started Gristmill two years ago (Podcast interview)
(24 May 2006)

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