Business & Technology

Post-Carbon County

Clean energy comes to the coalfields

The name says it all. Carbon County, Pennsylvania is a county of 58,000 located in the heart of the Keystone State’s famed anthracite coalfields. The county was famous not just for its coal, but also the notorious Molly Maguires that exemplified the kind of organized violence between workers and bosses that marked 19th century American industrialism. Pennsylvania is also the state that launched the petroleum industry, with the sinking of the Drake Well in Titusville (on the opposite end of the state from Carbon County) in 1859. But times, they are a changin’. Carbon County, in a poetic turn, is …

Solar discord

The New York Times blows the solar PV story

It would seem like an easy story for the paper of discord record: In recent months, chains including Wal-Mart Stores, Kohl’s, Safeway and Whole Foods Market have installed solar panels on roofs of their stores to generate electricity on a large scale … In the coming months, 85 Kohl’s stores will get solar panels; 43 already have them. “We want to keep pushing as many as we possibly can,” said Ken Bonning, executive vice president for logistics at Kohl’s. Macy’s, which has solar panels atop 18 stores, plans to install them on another 40 by the end of this year. …

Umbra on eco-conversions

Dear Umbra, In all sorts of corporate environmental reports, you see claims that compare apples to oranges — “By reducing our emissions by X pounds this year, we’ve saved the equivalent of 17 gazillion trees.” Or “If every person in the U.S. bought our eco-friendly product, we could save all the baby harp seals.” OK, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit. But where do people come up with these eco-unit conversions? I’m making a presentation to our board of directors and I wanted to use a similar easy-to-visualize comparison of our annual energy use. I’ve Googled to no avail. Can …

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 …