Crazy Capitalist and Enviro in the Same Sentence?

Today’s NYTimes has an interesting article in a section I usually ignore. The front of the Business section has “Saving the Environment, One Quarterly Earnings Report at a Time.”

Wal-Mart uses a wind turbine to help provide electricity at a store in Aurora, Colo., as an experiment.

From the story by Dave Weaver:

A few years ago, scientists at Cargill Inc. learned how to make rigid, transparent plastics from corn sugars. There was just one problem: they cost a lot more than the oil-based plastics they would replace.

Plastic pellets derived from corn at NatureWorks. Some producers have adopted corn-based packaging, as the cost of oil-based products rose.

But that was before the price of oil shot up and companies came under pressure from consumers and investors to find economically sound ways to adopt “green” packaging and other environmentally friendly products and processes. This year, Wal-Mart, Wild Oats Market and many other retailers, as well as food suppliers like Del Monte and Newman’s Own Organics, all embraced corn-based packaging for fresh produce.

Sales at NatureWorks, the Cargill subsidiary that makes the plastic, grew 200 percent in the first half of this year over the period last year. “The early adopters were more influenced by environmental concerns than costs,” said Kathleen M. Bader, chairwoman of NatureWorks. “But now we’re competitive with petrochemicals, too.”

Cargill is one of several companies profiting from the concerns – of shareholders, communities and consumers – about global warming, leaking landfills and other potential environmental hazards. Huge companies like General Electric and Chevron now have separate businesses to market what they are calling environment-friendly products.

And new companies and university projects appear each day. Cornell University’s College of Engineering, for one, expects to have a commercial process for using bacteria to recoup energy from wastewater treatment within three years.

“There are a lot of creative types looking for the next big thing,” said Bob Sheppard, deputy director for corporate programs at Clean Air-Cool Planet, a nonprofit environmental education organization. “Well, these days, environment is it.”

That’s what I like to hear.

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About Starre Vartan
Starre Vartan is editor-in-chief of and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life.

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