Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Little bits at a time, the world is going green. Almost surely it's not enough to avoid some very hard times, but perhaps it is enough to rebuild a future on.

Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, N.C. became the first hospital in the nation to install its own biodiesel pumping station. A growing number of health care providers and emergency service operators across the country that are powering their diesel vehicles with biodiesel, but Pitt County was the first hospital to do so.

“The American Lung Association of North Carolina is delighted to be part of this event heralding the conversion of emergency vehicles at Pitt Memorial to biodiesel,” said American Lung Association of North Carolina President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah C. Bryan. “In that vehicles are still the single biggest source of air pollution, which accounts for about 60,000 premature deaths each year, this conversion from a major health provider sets a tremendous precedent in our state and the country for using alternative fuels and reducing emissions. It also reduces the need to import oil, creates jobs for Americans, and gives our farmers a viable crop for the future. We encourage other hospitals to follow their lead.’

“Because of its air quality and human health benefits, biodiesel fuel is a perfect fit with Pitt County Memorial Hospital’s public health mission,” said Joe Jobe, NBB executive director. “By choosing a homegrown fuel made from U.S. soybeans, the hospital is also supporting the local farm economy and helping to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.”

San Francisco could become the first city in the nation to favor "green" products in purchases from window cleaner to electricity to playground equipment. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering implmenting the philosophy known as the "precautionary principle," which shifts thinking about environmental impacts from how much harm products can cause to how little damage is possible. The Board of Supervisors and former Mayor Willie Brown enshrined the principle in San Francisco's environmental code in 2003, but the most recent purchasing plan is the first practical application of the idea. It coincides with The City celebrating World Environment Day from June 1 to 5.

We are seeing alarming increases in asthma, in cancer and chronic illness, but we don't why. We do know that many of the products we buy contain hazardous ingredients that are perfectly legal," said Debbie Raphael, toxics reduction program manager for The City. The precautionary principle has been guiding environmental policy in a number of European countries, but is just gaining attention in the United States, where cities in Oregon, New Mexico and a handful of other states are looking at creating similar plans.

Through the use of its purchasing power, San Francisco could influence the market toward environmentally preferable technologies and products.

Even on Wall Street, the idea of "socially responsible" investing has become a growing field where money managers buy and sell stocks based on a company's environmental record, labor relations and other issues, and lobby as major shareholders to promote a cause.

Such investment styles, also called "ethical" investing, have their roots in religion. Quakers and Methodists have for centuries refused to buy into businesses selling arms. Islamic Shari'a law frowns upon owning companies that earn interest on loans or that sell pork products.

Since ministers created the first modern social fund, the Pax World Fund, to avoid companies that profited from the Vietnam War, the funds have amassed $36.6 billion in assets. In just the past decade, assets increased eightfold, or nearly three times the rate of growth in all mutual funds, according to Morningstar Inc., a Chicago firm that tracks funds.

The movement has gained recognition and to some extent gone mainstream. Domini was named this year to Time magazine's list of the world's most influential people with corporate titans Rupert Murdoch and Martha Stewart. Firms such as Charles Schwab & Co., the biggest discount brokerage in the United States, are offering more funds with a societal purpose.

And influential executives such as General Electric Co.'s Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO at one of the largest companies in the world, have been talking lately about "corporate responsibility." In a letter to shareholders this month, Immelt said "opportunities to do business and do good are not mutually exclusive." Also this month, he unveiled plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Straws in the wind, maybe, but perhaps a harbinger of a sea change in thought that will be fertile ground for growth when the human economy reaches the limits of its growth.


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