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Happy Feat

GM unveils plug-in hybrid at Detroit car show, sticks out tongue at greens The media got a peek at Detroit's North American International Auto Show yesterday, and manufacturers had a surprise in store: cars so green they could play hide-and-seek in a cornfield. The biggest buzz surrounded the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid from General Motors, long vilified for yanking its original electric car in the 1990s. Bob Lutz, GM's vice chair of global product development, took the opportunity to bridge the chasm between the company and its eco-critics. "Well, here it is ... an [electric] car from General Motors. …

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Globalization Shmobalization

San Francisco Bay Area coalition urges focus on local economy What will those hippies think of next? A coalition of groups in the San Francisco Bay Area is undertaking a push against globalization and the labor and environmental offenses it incurs. The coalition, which just released a 30-page plan, hopes to coordinate with business and government leaders to move the Bay Area toward a more sustainable, less exploitative economy. One of its main goals is to have environmental costs reflected in the price of goods -- for example, upping the price of electronics because of their disposal costs. The hope …

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Why The Economist’s recent assault on “ethical food” missed the mark

Last month, the influential British newsweekly The Economist took the measure of the sustainable-food movement and found it wanting. "There are good reasons to doubt the claims made about three of the most popular varieties of 'ethical food': organic food, fair-trade food, and local food," the journal declared, and proceeded to subject each to withering analysis. Don't put the cart before the voice. Photo: iStockphoto Like an uncle emboldened by wine at the holiday table, The Economist sought the role of truth-teller to the complacent and self-satisfied. "People who want to make the world a better place cannot do so …

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Social and environmental entrepreneurs have a lot to teach big business

Solutions to sustainability challenges come in various forms, colors, and strengths. Some are compliance-driven and done grudgingly. Some are citizenship-led and done at a slight distance from an organization's core business. And some are truly innovative and entrepreneurial. Now this third category is on the verge of taking off like a rocket, involving new breeds of social and environmental entrepreneurs -- but also driven and encouraged by innovative, entrepreneurial folk in the business and government mainstreams. Much of the work that we do at SustainAbility aims to help corporations that aspire to behave -- and be recognized -- as good …

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An interview with Mary Beth Stanek, General Motors energy director

Trucks with a green hue? GM is in heaven. What a difference three bucks a gallon makes. In the past year, General Motors has rallied state and federal support to get more E85 (an 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline blend) pumps at U.S. gas stations, launched a corn-hued marketing blitz, and announced that it is increasing production of its flex-fuel vehicles by 25 percent. Mary Beth Stanek, GM's director of environment and energy, talked to Grist about ethanol's role in GM's fuel portfolio, SUVs' bad rap, and future eclecticism at the pump.   How did E85 become one of …

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A biodiesel entrepreneur in Argentina spreads seeds of wisdom

Even by Argentine standards, Ricardo Carlstein can talk a blue streak. Ricardo Carlstein. I met with the founder of Biofuels SA, an Argentina-based maker of small-scale biodiesel plants, in the posh environs of Buenos Aires. Carlstein sat at his desk and explained how any person can be a fuel plant by using his invention, a technology protocol he calls "high-temperature pressurized" (simply put: a way to cook biofuels at abnormally high temperatures, one that cuts effluence by rendering obsolete the need to "wash" the fuel). A massive, bearded man in T-shirt, slacks, and New Balance running shoes, he reminded me …

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Millionaires Beg for Change

Business execs and military leaders smack down Bush energy policy Prominent business execs and retired military officers are down on their knees begging Congress and the Bush administration to cut U.S. dependence on oil. "It's the height of folly for the U.S. to continue on this course, lest we have some major economic or national-security problem," says FedEx CEO Frederick W. Smith, cochair of the Energy Security (God-Knows-We-Need-) Leadership Council. Along with repetition of the domestic-drilling-and-biofuels-will-save-us refrain, the council is asking the feds for a 4 percent annual increase in fuel-economy standards for cars, SUVs, and heavy trucks. The 16 …

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An interview with Missouri farmer and ethanol co-op member Brian Miles

Cultivating change? Photo: iStockphoto Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, Brian Miles spends his days working the family farm. Unlike his forebears, however, he also sits on the board of Mid-Missouri Energy, a farmer-owned ethanol cooperative in Malta Bend, Mo. Grist talked to Miles about the present ethanol boom, the potential for an ethanol bust, and the many splendors of fresh corn on the cob.   How did you get involved in the ethanol biz? Our state corn growers association had a meeting a few years ago, because they had isolated this area as a good spot for …

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An interview with Greasecar founder Justin Carven

Justin Carven. In the span of just two years, Justin Carven invented the first waste-oil conversion kit for diesel engines, graduated from Hampshire College, drove a vegetable-oil-fueled van across the country, and started his very own company. Six years later, Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems is selling so many conversion kits that Carven is talking about setting up franchises in India and Brazil. Grist talked to him about the etiquette of snagging free waste oil, Iraq vets' conversion to veggie oil, the economics of environmental goodness, and more.   How did you first get interested in biofuels? I went to Hampshire …

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Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla chats about the promise of ethanol

Venture capitalist and ethanol booster Vinod Khosla. Billionaires are piling onto the biofuels bandwagon. Bill Gates is doing it. Richard Branson is doing it. The Google guys are doing it. Less well-known is the billionaire who kicked off the whole trend: Vinod Khosla, a cofounder of Sun Microsystems and former partner with Kleiner Perkins, the venture-capital firm that helped give rise to Google, AOL, Amazon, and Compaq. In 2004, he founded his own firm, Khosla Ventures, which has come to be known as a rainmaker in the ethanol world. To hear Khosla tell it, the burgeoning revolution in oil alternatives …