Business & Technology

Profit Actually

Monsanto execs make millions off farmers’ backs

Hugh Grant -- Monsanto chair, CEO, and president -- probably won't notice the increased price of a loaf of bread. And if he does, it will be with a smile. Grant is $13-million-and-change wealthier today than he was on Monday, as he choose to exercise stock options -- 116,000 shares worth -- that netted him a profit of over $114 per share. Like many of us, I wouldn't mind paying the extra dollar per loaf of bread if I knew the majority of that dollar was going back into the hands of farmers. Instead, the higher prices at the checkout line are funneled to the agri-giants like Monsanto and Cargill, companies making record profits. Remind you of gas prices and oil companies? Reminds me that these agri-giants spent $100 million on getting their way in the Farm Bill, an investment with huge dividends -- for Monsanto's Hugh Grant, anyway.

Recycled Energy on NPR

Castens implement Phase II of global domination plan

On my morning commute, I always listen to music. Maybe two or three times in the last couple of years, I’ve listened to NPR instead, but it’s rare. This morning, though, on a whim, I flipped over to hear if there was any primary news. And what is literally the very first thing I hear? "One Chicago entrepreneur thinks this waste energy can be captured to reduce costs and lower greenhouse gases." Hey, that sounds familiar! Yup, it’s Tom Casten, father of our very own Sean Casten and chairman of Recycled Energy. Here’s the NPR segment. It’s excellent. For more …

Ray of light

Duke Energy goes (a tiny bit) solar

Yesterday, Duke Energy announced that it will buy the full output of the country’s largest PV solar farm, to be built by Sun Edison in 2009, coming online in late 2010 (all modules complete by 2011). According to Duke, the plant will cover between 100-300 acres in an area that enjoys about 60 percent sunny or partly sunny days, and will produce about 16 MW, with a capacity factor of around 20 percent, which translates to around 27 GWh/year in 2011. Sun Edison will build, own, and operate the plant, so there will be no capital costs to Duke ratepayers. …

Bay Area initiates first-of-its-kind fee on biz greenhouse-gas emissions

Businesses in nine San Francisco Bay Area counties will pay 4.4 cents for every ton of greenhouse gases they spew, after the district air-quality board voted 15-1 Wednesday to approve the fee. Set to take effect July 1, the fee will affect more than 2,500 businesses; the district estimates that perhaps seven power plants and oil refineries will have to pay more than $50,000 a year, but most businesses will pay less than $1. The fee is modest enough that dramatic emissions reductions are unlikely to occur, but proponents laud the precedent. Businesses were, unsurprisingly, less enthusiastic, expressing concerns about …

Nanotubes: the next asbestos?

Lessons from the asbestos crisis should guide the response to nanotechnology, but will they?

The story of asbestos in this country ought to serve as a cautionary tale: A seemingly miraculous fiber was widely introduced into common consumer products; only after it was already in millions of homes did the general public realize that it causes a particularly terrible form of cancer. Now, treating victims and cleaning up contaminated communities is costing billions of dollars, and thousands of people endure the toll of a debilitating and deadly disease. Nanotechnology is another innovation that promises to bring consumer products to a whole new level -- and, once again, it looks like nano products will become widespread and entrenched before we have a complete picture of what the risks are.

Consumers shunning hefty hybrids

Automakers may have assumed that hybrid SUVs would be a hit with the eco-minded-soccer-mom market, but drivers aren’t buying it — literally. Analysts are seeing a tepid reaction to SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and hybrid GMC Yukon, both launched in fall 2007. Concern about climate change and fuel prices has attached a stigma to large cars that isn’t much lessened by the word “hybrid” plastered all over it, say analysts. Most consumers are flocking to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, though original Tahoes and Yukons have also been selling significantly better than their hybrid counterparts — likely thanks to …

Green group highlights biz innovations

The Environmental Defense Fund has produced a new report highlighting processes, products, and technologies that are making the biz world more eco-friendly. The green group’s Innovations Review 2008 draws attention to developments good for both business and the environment. The report focuses specifically on innovations on the cusp: not yet widely implemented, but not still in the R&D phase. So what’s on the horizon? Solar-power purchase agreements in the real-estate biz, data systems that help shipping fleets reach maximum efficiency, technological advances in teleconferencing, and much, much more.

Airline slows down to reduce emissions

Scandinavian airline SAS has found a viable way to cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions and fuel costs: fly slower. The airline has been testing slower speeds since early 2006, and says it has saved some $12 million in fuel costs since then. And have no fear about missing your connection; hitting the brakes adds mere minutes to travel time. SAS hopes that implementing the slowdown strategy throughout its fleet will boost its green image; it was also one of the first airlines to give passengers the option to offset their carbon emissions when purchasing a ticket.

Consumers in the driver's seat

It’s shifting consumer demand that will drive increases in vehicle fuel efficiency

I frequently read about perceived (or alleged) disagreements between the environmental community and the auto industry. A few of them are real disagreements over policy, many are practical disagreements over how best to achieve common goals, but many perceived disagreements are not, in fact, disagreements at all. For instance, some people believe the auto industry stands in the way of higher average fuel efficiency in the U.S. That's just not the case, which I'll explain in a moment. First, an area of agreement: in his New York Times column, Paul Krugman writes about fuel efficiency and our automotive future: