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May 2009

Social cause & sustainability lessons from Stonyfield Farms’ Hirshberg

Andy Beaupre · May 28th, 2009

Affable and inspiring Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president and CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farms was the featured speaker at Saturday’s University of New Hampshire graduation. The company makes the number-one selling brand of organic yogurt and is the number-three overall yogurt brand in the US according to Fortune magazine. Through its Profits for the Planet program, Stonyfield gives 10% of profits to environmental causes.

Here are memorable takeaways from his talk:

  • “We allowed ourselves to believe in a sort of modern day mythology about the infinite resilience of our finance system, and to allow greedy, short-term thinking to get the upper hand. In a nutshell, we borrowed money we didn’t have, to buy stuff we didn’t need.”
  • “We are seeing signs of failure in every single aspect of our relationship to the planet … if we stopped all fossil fuel burning this afternoon, the Earth’s fever would continue to mount for 40 more years before it began to break.”
  • “How far an item travels, is actually a very minute percentage of the footprint of an apple, yogurt or bottle of beer. The far larger footprint is in how the product is grown, that is the type of agriculture accounts for more like 50-60% of the carbon footprint. In other words, buying organic from a long distance may be far more carbon-friendly than buying non-organic locally. The point is, we need to be sure our brains are as engaged as our hearts when making big decisions.”
  • “I have learned that, whatever you choose to do, there is no point in producing the same quality as anyone else. In fact, that is likely a strategy for failure, for you are almost certain to be out-competed by someone who is better capitalized.”
  • “At a societal scale, those of you who question conventional thinking will be in the best positions to seize the next wave of jobs and economic opportunities. Consider for instance, that with the amount of sunlight that strikes the US each day, we would need only 10 million acres of land – or only 0.4% of the area of the United States – to supply all of our nation’s electricity using solar photovoltaics.
  • “When you consider that the US Government pays to idle approximately 30 million acres of farmland per year, you can see how confused our priorities have become.”
  • “Success will be when you finish eating the yogurt, you will eat the cup.”
  • “Solar isn’t just for Arizona anymore, either; right now in New Hampshire there are homes powered completely off the grid – built at competitive costs. For less than half the normal garage roof space, you can power your house with no fuel, no pollution, and no ice storm outages. Soon it’ll be down to one-quarter of that garage roof. And we haven’t even talked about solar hot water, which is even cheaper than solar cells, or wind power, which is cheaper too. Best yet, these power sources are built, installed, and maintained locally, right here in America, unlike the billion dollars per day we ‘export’ out-of-country for oil, for example.”
  • “Renewable technology isn’t just a energy issue, it’s a global competition. We don’t have a natural monopoly on sunlight or wind, and the Danes, Germans, and increasingly, the Chinese ‘get it.’ They aim to be the energy technology vendors to the world, and—having paid more attention to it than we have—they’re as good or better than we are.”
  • “Questioning conventional authority is a powerful way to succeed in business and in life. A couple of guys from UPS once asked ‘why not try to avoid left-hand turns,’ with their 95,000 big brown trucks.”
  • What we discovered from doing good is a new business formula that is now being mimicked by the largest companies on earth…. when you make a better, higher quality product, you leap all the way to loyalty without having to spend as much on advertising…. When you make it better, you get loyalty. And with loyalty comes the most powerful purchase incentive in commerce—word of mouth.”
  • “I can assure you that there will be more jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, preventative health care, organic/non-toxic agriculture, textiles and cleansers (I have yet to meet the consumer who prefers to eat the yogurt with more pesticides or synthetic hormones than in the traditional fields.).”
  • “The whole notion of service is very attractive to smart employers. From a practical perspective, those of you who volunteer and give your time and energy to work on positive change are exactly who we CEO’s want to hire.”
  • “Don’t forget that as consumers, we wield enormous power to choose the polluting, consumptive and failed ways of the past or the renewable and sustainable ways of the future too. When we purchase anything, we are voting for the kind of communities, society and planet we want. And I have learned that corporations spend billions of dollars to tally those votes.”
  • “We stand at the edge of the next wave, the sustainability revolution in which we use green chemistry which leaves behind no toxic residue, cradle to cradle technology which generates no waste, renewable energy with no carbon footprint, industrial ecology with waste from one process being the food for another, will be the norm.
  • “Personally, I feel there is no greater societal priority than to embrace the conversion to renewable energy and organic food production with all of the climate, ecological and health benefits. When people tell me that organics is not proven, I respond that it is the chemicals that are not proven, but the early results are poor as we face an epidemic of cancers and preventable disease. The same is true of our energy policy, which has been driven by generations who have grown up in the oil and coal business and believe that mining the earth’s crust is the only way to fuel our needs.”

 

Cleantech links for 5-6-2009

Stephen Hodgdon · May 6th, 2009

  • Thinking of going solar? First start with an energy self audit. Here’s how (Scientific American)
  • Ford is spending $550 million to retool one of its plants into a green car factory (CNET Planetary Gear)
  • Is the EPA finally standing up to the corn ethanol lobby? The industry is having a conniption over new biofuel emission rules. (Earth2Tech)
  • What do think of Volkswagen’s new eco-friendly (or not?) print ad? Greenwash Index wants to know.
  • The first LEED Platinum, true Zero Net Energy home in Vermont. (Jetson Green)
  • We know the clean energy industry is engineering bacteria to produce better biofuels. But bacteria for better solar panels too?

Idea for solving an eco-calamity: garbage in, electricity out

Stephen Hodgdon · May 6th, 2009

The word’s largest garbage dump is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a toxic swarm of plastic trash twice the size of Texas that’s wreaking havoc on sea birds and marine life. It’s an obscene environmental problem for which we’re all responsible, but no one has a solution nor wants to deal with it. So yesterday, a group of scientists and conservationists set out to map the calamity and try to figure out a plan.

The US has nearly 90 waste-to-energy plants that turn garbage into electricity and hot water. They burn nearly as clean as natural gas plants, displace 7.8 million tons of coal-produced energy, and every ton of garbage consumed by the plants eliminates one ton LESS of CO2 emissions due to landfills and fossil fuel generation.

I’m just saying….

Green business may need a little white-collar entrepreneurship

Steve McGrath · May 1st, 2009

Do you ever have a flash of inspiration, then shrug it off thinking it probably couldn’t pan out?

Shai Agassi never does. His back-of-the-napkin conversation with an engineer has quickly become perhaps the most viable plan for making all-electric cars feasible (hybrids still depend on fossil fuel). Agassi has a clever solution to “range anxiety,” the pervasive consumer worry that electric cars are prone to stranding their owners on deserted roads. His solution? If you run low on juice, don’t plug in for half a day; just switch the battery out. In the time it takes to pump a tank of gas, a robot would whiz out to your car, reach underneath, pluck out the battery and pop in a new one. If anyone can make that fanciful notion real, suggests the New York Times Magazine, it’s Agassi.

The 41-year-old Israeli-American has already created a software company, sold it for $400 million, started a SAP division that went from zero to $2 billion annually, and turned down the SAP CEO job. He has Israeli President Shimon Peres and Renault-Nissan behind his new venture, Better Place, and $400 million in investor backing. He is described as fearless, brilliant and charismatic, and a rhetorical steamroller in the face of objections.

Agassi is an exemplar of innovation (versus mere inspiration), a distinction about which we blogged a few weeks ago. He demonstrates the underappreciated need for clean, green and sustainable businesses to be as fiercely entrepreneurial as any other.

Unfortunately, the world often sees green concerns as starkly at odds with those of business, and every SUV or Superfund site in America reinforces the canard. Agassi, however, makes an eloquent case that classic entrepreneurship will be essential to green business success. He also trusts in the free market to drive demand for electric cars. In fact, he says, cheap electricity will subsidize those cars the same way that cheap minutes let carriers subsidize wireless handsets. (Agassi is, however, counting on government subsidies – to automakers, consumers and infrastructure builders – to kick start the market.)

Keep your eye on Better Place. This one promises to be a wild ride. If Agassi has his way, it won’t burn a drop of petroleum.