Business & Technology

Notable quotable

Annals of demand response

“Fleet plans are made months and months in advance. We’re going to work to get our fleet more in line with what consumers are demanding. But the shift is so quick and revolutionary that we weren’t able to respond quickly.” – Chris Payne, spokesman for rental agency Dollar Thrifty Automotive, commenting on the sudden surge in demand for fuel-efficient rentals

U.S. economy shifting to — gasp! — efficiency

When it comes to urging environment-mindedness, high oil prices have proven much more persuasive than green groups ever did. The U.S. economy, built on cheap, plentiful energy, is shifting into a new mode. Americans are driving less, riding transit more, ditching SUVs, and moving back into city centers. We’re seeking energy efficiency in our appliances and our heating, cooling, and lighting. Solar energy is having its day in the sun. Companies are rethinking their global supply chains, and consumers too are seeing the benefits of staying close to home. “The environmentalists have always asked you to eat locally,” says economist …

Meat Wagon: Whole Foods edition

The natural foods giant stumbles into an E. coli outbreak

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat industry. Suddenly, Whole Foods can’t get a break. Its share price has plunged about 70 percent since the end of 2005. Its marketing execs are scrambling to shed the company’s reputation for premium-priced offerings — a market position they once reveled in. The natural foods titan used to wow Wall Street with seemingly endless announcements of new-store openings. Now it’s scaling back expansion plans. Amid these ill tidings comes news that Whole Foods is embroiled in an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak. The Washington Post reports that seven people …

GM prepares to roll out Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

We’ve all been there: You want to go green, but you also want to keep rollin’ the streets in the biggest, blingiest vehicle possible. What’s an eco-minded luxury-SUV driver to do? Well, stress no more: The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, billed as the first luxury hybrid SUV, will hit showrooms later this month. The hybrid version of the Escalade gets 50 percent better fuel economy in city driving than its non-hybrid counterpart, bringing it up to a whoppingly unimpressive 20 miles per gallon. It’ll put you back a bling-tastic $71,685 — about $3,600 more than the regular Escalade and $18,390 …

Not a sweet proposition

As GMO sugar beets sneak into the food supply, citizens fight back

“Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Anthropologist Margaret Mead Even if you’ve heard the above quote many times before, the sentiment expressed is so powerful that I think it’s worth repeating. All around the world, small groups of people are organizing public support for improved food safety and successfully challenging large corporations to change their behavior. That’s exactly what Flint Michigan residents Kathleen Kirby and Mark Fisher are banking on: their power to influence change. They’re participating in a nationwide consumer boycott of …

Fannie, Freddie, and Mobile-Sierra

Government-guaranteed, for-profit businesses are inherently risky

Q: What do the banking crisis and the energy crisis have in common? A: They have both been created in no small part by government policies that have expressly incentivized risky behavior. For the banking perspective, pick up any recent issue of The Economist. They have lately been running a series of rather insightful critiques of the recent federal bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Here’s one of many.) Their criticism is essentially that a competitive market is like a pregnancy — there’s no such thing as half. Either nationalize these banks or let them fail, but don’t maintain …

IKEA invests in cleantech, may soon stock solar panels

Heading to IKEA for some meatballs and easy-to-assemble furniture? You may soon be able to pick up solar panels as well. The Swedish manufacturer plans to invest some $75 million in a handful of cleantech startups, focusing on the areas of solar energy, lighting, sustainable materials, energy efficiency, and water conservation. Ultimately, IKEA has a goal of stocking its shelves with products like ABBA smart meters and Ace of Base solar panels (OK, we made up the names). Any cleantech products offered by IKEA, which hosts half a billion shoppers in its 270 stores in 35 countries each year, will …

Poll: Green jobs

What green careers do you want to learn more about?

Last week, I answered a reader question about wind power jobs. I’m interested to know what other careers you’d like me to investigate. Take this handy poll (below the fold) to help pick my future column topics!

Crow Tribe strikes $7 billion deal for coal-to-liquids plant on reservation

The Crow Tribe on Thursday agreed to host a massive new $7 billion coal-to-liquids plant on its reservation land in Montana. The plant would produce about 50,000 barrels a day of diesel fuel when it opens, and eventually up to 125,000 barrels a day. Coal for the plant would come from a yet-to-be-developed mine on nearby Crow land with an estimated 9 billion tons of recoverable, largely untapped coal reserves. The project is still many years from even the construction phase, but the deal could eventually become a major economic engine for the tribe’s 12,000 members since, like most reservations …

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