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Discover Brilliant: Business something something

Next up, a full panel of folks discussing sustainable business opportunities. On the stage: Mossadiq Umeday, chair of Xantrex Technology Inc., Andrew Mangan, executive director of the US Business Council for Sustainable Development, and John Kaestle, president and CEO of Halosource. ... Oh screw it. This one was so boring I could barely focus.

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Industry to Bush administration: “Please regulate me”

Long-standing shared love for voluntary standards aside, businesses and manufacturers have begun asking the Bush administration to begin regulating industry's health- and planet-ruining ways. A variety of factors have contributed to the turnaround, including tougher regulations enacted by states, a Congress unafraid to crack down, publicly apparent failures of voluntary standards, and a flood of low-priced, unsafe imports into the market. (Oh, and industry's deep commitment to public health and safety, of course.) Businesses also tend to appreciate the pro-industry approach of the Bush administration, which has shown willingness to write regulations with clauses that, say, disallow consumer lawsuits. But …

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Discover Brilliant: Intro

I'm here at the introductory talk at the Discover Brilliant conference. The focus of the three-day event is on those areas where entrepreneurial energy and profit overlap with lower environmental impact. Everyone is here to figure out who's making money, who's investing where, and what the next big tech will be. The vibe is refreshingly different from the usual green conference -- much more lively, lots more optimism, much less guilt. I'll be posting updates periodically over the next three days. Update [2007-9-17 9:38:49 by David Roberts]: This is kind of interesting: she says that as of today, energy, building, …

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As long as GE funds coal, its net impact is far from green

Let me pull a few excerpts from a recent WSJ story on the progress of GE's much-touted "ecomagination" campaign: "I don't want to change the economic flow of the company," [CEO Jeffrey] Immelt says. So GE continues to sell coal-fired steam turbines and is delving deeper into oil-and-gas production. Meanwhile, its finance unit seeks out coal-related investments including power plants, which are a leading cause of carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. ... Counting the emissions was a big challenge for a company with more than 3,000 facilities in 73 countries. One nettlesome question: How should GE count emissions from power …

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New York attorney general subpoenas energy companies over disclosure of coal-plant risks

A new weapon has been brought to bear in the war on coal, and it's aimed right at the corpulent industry's soft underbelly: risk. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo just sent out a round of subpoenas to energy companies. He wants to see internal documents demonstrating that the companies -- AES Corporation, Dominion, Dynegy, Peabody Energy and Xcel Energy -- fully disclosed the financial risks of planned coal-fired power plants to investors. (This is Cuomo's twist on a once-obscure statute -- the Martin Act, a 1921 state securities law -- that his predecessor Eliot Spitzer revived and used to …

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Greenwashing is getting more subtle

This article in Slate got me thinking. I'm usually inclined to believe that any greening of business is good, but it seems like "greenwashing" is getting more subtle, with the media playing right into it with their lavish features on new "green" initiatives, regardless of their content and effectiveness. Take-home point: better government policy is much more significant than any voluntary greening by business. Something we've always known, but always worth a reminder.

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Why small may be more beautiful than ever

I spent the afternoon doing something I almost never get to do anymore: read the papers, namely The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Here are some of the things I learned: Oil prices are testing new highs. The dollar continues its slide against the Euro, hitting an all-time low. A weak dollar means pricier imports. Prices on imported goods from China, essentially our manufacturing base, are rising alarmingly fast. (There's a labor shortage among skilled workers in China, the Journal reports: "While China's rural population represents a massive amount of untapped labor, skilled workers are in short supply.") …

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Peter Barnes looks at carbon-capping methods

Peter Barnes has a guest post on the Step It Up blog giving a good brief description of how a Sky Trust would work: Carbon capping comes in three varieties: cap-and-trade, cap-and-auction, and cap-and-recycle. In cap-and-trade, permits are given free to historic polluters. This is called 'grandfathering.' The more a company polluted in the past, the more permits it gets in the future -- not just once, but year after year. As the descending cap raises the price of fossil fuels, everyone pays more, and the com­panies that get free permits keep this extra money. In Europe, a carbon cap-and-trade …

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It’s a mistake to view the economy as an abstraction

From a Seattle P-I story comes this gem of a quote about declining housing affordability: "It's going to affect people more so than the economy." Uh, what's that again? The economic outlook is still rosy -- it's just, y'know, people who are in trouble. This quote -- from a government economist, no less -- embodies one of the most common and pernicious errors pervading much of economic thought. You see, economists (and the reporters who love them) often pretend that the "economy" is somehow different from real people. A philosopher would describe this error as "reification," i.e., mistaking an abstraction …

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Creative use of wind saves cargo vessels fuel

While sailing ships are unlikely to make a comeback anytime soon for oceanic shipping, adding sails to fossil-powered cargo vessels is definitely "on the horizon." This not-new idea is now compatible with the needs of shipping companies, and the savings make both climatic and economic sense: By using the SkySails-System, a ship's fuel costs can be reduced by 10- 35% on annual average, depending on wind conditions. Under optimal wind conditions, fuel consumption can temporarily be reduced by up to 50%. Even on a small, 87 metre cargo ship, savings of up to 280,000 euros can be made annually. These …