Foreign Policy Blogs

"The Business of Green"

I will touch on the economics of climate change a lot in the coming months, and also how businesses, large and small, are driving so much of the action.  For openers, I want to refer to a really terrific special section of the "NY Times" that came out on March 7:  Business of Green.  What follows are some thumbnail sketches of the dozen articles and some thoughts.  You should, though, definitely go to the articles themselves.  Very readable, very informative.

Matt Wald, a terrific and knowledgeable writer who's been on the environmental technology and transportation beat for years, has an interesting piece about the economies of scale that can make renewable energy all that more efficient.  He talks about, among other things, the Cape Wind project on Nantucket Sound, and some big solar projects out west.

In an article about individuals buying carbon offsets, questions are raised about whether this is all about assuaging guilt and, if so, if that is counterproductive to the lifestyle changes that many folks think are necessary at this point for Post-Industrial Man and Woman.  "USA Today" also did a great piece recently on travel and offsets that focused on the question of who was doing the offsetting, a for-profit or a non-profit organization.  In the spring of 2007, PG&E will launch ClimateSmart to help its costumers make choices about offsets.  In the NYT article, Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, speaks eloquently to the question of personal responsibility:  "These programs get the idea across that individuals are neither blameless nor helpless, and can really make a difference."

A fascinating profile of James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, one of the largest emitters of CO2 in the U.S., looks at the tension between big industrial interests and the need to have clearly defined laws and regulations.  Rogers appears to have a long track record of being the exceedingly rare utility industry executive who cares about the environment and wants to have everybody playing on a level playing field.  He wants a cap-and-trade system in place in the U.S. and he wants it sooner rather than later.  In noting the need for an array of programs to address climate change, Rogers says: "There is no silver bullet here.  What we need is more like silver buckshot, a lot of things working together."

In an article on jobs with an environmental focus, we learn that "Businesses as businesses are becoming actors of environmental sustainability " and that concerned students of environmentalism are these days steeped in "sustainable ecosystems." Instead of just studying law, policy and science, they are now getting degrees in finance, business and economics, and going out for work not just to government or to advocacy groups, but to financial concerns, small businesses and corporations.

Keeping restaurants clean and green is another article's subject.  The Green Restaurant Association gives certification for energy efficiency and other aspects of good environmental stewardship.

Large retailers such as Tesco, the British supermarket megachain, and Timberland, are looking at their "carbon footprints."  Tesco is trying to create industry standards through its new Sustainable Consumption Institute.  Third-party issuers of environmental certification are the main way to go on this.  Climate Counts is a new group in this just getting underway.  There is an umbrella group for these:  the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN).

Another piece, focused primarily on Denmark, looks at Europe's triumphs and challenges with renewable energy.  (There will be much more here about Europe's efforts throughout the year, and about the just-completed EU agreement in a few days.  Stay tuned.)

Venture capitalists who've done well in Silicon Valley and in biotech are turning their attention to energy.  Robert M. Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, a pretty big I.T. infrastructure maker, and now a venture capitalist, says (modestly):   "We're going to solve the energy problem in 30 years, just like we solved the Internet problem in 30 years."  I have to stop here to note that 20 years ago, I was temping at a venture capital shop run by James Wolfensohn, later head of the World Bank, and I wrote a proposal to him suggesting that they create a research initiative, piloted by me of course, on renewable energy and environmental technologies.  Oh well, he missed the boat.  Good guy though.

An article on how the interest in climate change among law firms is growing says that "emissions-management tools" such as carbon credits and the markets that trade them are a principal focus.  Another is the opportunity for lobbying on new laws and regs that will be forthcoming, hopefully, from the Congress. 

Vermont it appears, not surprisingly, is courting green business, particularly environmental engineering and sustainable technology firms.  And bioplastics, we learn in another article, are a growing industry.  Two leaders in this are NatureWorks and Metabolix.

Finally, there's a really interesting piece here on the idling of long-haul trucks.  It turns out that the DOE estimates that up to one billion gallons of diesel fuel is spent in idling each year in the U.S., and the EPA calculates about 11 million tons of carbon dioxide are spewed from this activity.  One result is that the banning of unnecessary idling is gaining ground among local jurisdictions, to cut down on their ambient air pollution.  Another outcome is that curbs on idling are being put into place by companies, among them Walmart, and that fixes like small battery packs and generators, as well as hookups at truck stops are burgeoning.

Great articles.  Read them if you can.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change