Archive for July, 2008

“Stirring it Up” by Green Entrepreneur Gary Hirshberg

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

For decades Gary Hirshberg has been a true leader of the green business world, producing top notch yogurt that is tasty, healthy for consumers, and good for the environment.  As the Ce-YO of the organic yogurt producer Stonyfield Farm, he has proven that making money and doing the right thing can and do go hand in hand.  For any of the doubters still remaining out there, questioning whether green business works, all they have to do is see what Gary and other’s have done.  The proof is in the yogurt.  The Stonyfield website tells the story of their sustainability efforts: (

Gary Hirshberg chronicles his journey and the lessons he learned in his book “Stirring It Up”:

This book is a great read on many levels.  First off, it’s just plain well written, engaging, and a good read.  Second, Gary does not just tell us what the problem us, but shows many examples, himself included, of how entrepreneurs can successfully build businesses that do the right thing for the planet. 

Finally, the lessons he describes are valuable for present and future eco-entrepreneurs. 

For example, Gary emphasizes quality as the key feature of their yogurt.  By never sacrificing quality, and being committed to the environment as well, they created a loyal base of customers who spread the word about their product and kept coming back for more.  He describes this as “the handshake”, reaching out to each consumer and forming a unique link that stays with them, connecting them to the brand.  Having a brand they can believe in helps, one that allows consumers to feel as though they are also part of the story, helping to make the change.  By focusing on their product, and how it is made, Stonyfield does not have to spend the massive sums on advertising that many food products do, decreasing their costs so they can continue to produce a great product rather than cutting corners to spend more on ads.

Which isn’t to say that Stonyfield doesn’t promote themselves - they just find clever and relatively low cost ways to do it, reaching out to their consumers through avenues other than expensive media ads.  Their lids always tell a story, and when money was precious they grabbed attention by bringing camel manure to disc jockeys or by pumping tires to help people save fuel. 

The efforts at Stonyfield, and at the other companies profiled, include waste reduction, using renewable energy, cutting carbon emissions, energy efficiency, using organic material, and many other ways to go green.  Their promotional efforts extend beyond the yogurt they sell to promoting a greener way of doing business and living.

The bottom line is that Gary and the other green entrepreneurs in Stirring It Up have built a variety of businesses in many fields while helping the planet.  And if they have done it, you can too. 

Pumping Ethanol

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Although some might think that high gas prices spell money for gas stations, one casualty of the high price of oil has been independent gas station owners.  While independent gas station owners are generally able to buy fuel at low prices on the open market, lower than branded gas stations, in recent months they have been consistently forced to buy fuel at higher prices, causing them to lose money or even close in some cases.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune, June 24 2008:

Opportunity #67 in “75 Green Businesses” is to establish alternative fueling stations.  If fueling our cars is going to transition away from oil, they need something to transition to.  Millions of flex-fuel cars have been sold in the US that can run on ethanol, but most of them don’t; their owners power them with gasoline because ethanol is not readily available where they live or they don’t use it. 

Pearson Fuels in San Diego ( provides a variety of alternative automobile fuels, including ethanol, biodiesel, propane and natural gas.  Mike Lewis, the co-owner of Pearson Fuels, reports that ethanol sales are up, and that ethanol has provided a better margin than gas for station owners in this difficult time period.  “E85 sales are at record levels due to the price differential between E85 and gasoline,” Lewis says.  Pearson Fuels is helping other stations to go through the California permitting process for pumping ethanol, and he has also seen an increase in the number of station owners who want to work with them to start pumping ethanol themselves.

And where is the price of gasoline headed?  Lewis has a pretty good perspective on this question:

“The price will go up and down and I have no idea, nor does anyone else, what the price will do next week, month or year. However, before all the hairs on my 42 year old head are gray, $10.00 per gallon. The bottom line is that we know what is going to happen to demand over the next 20 years and we know that oil is a finite resource. It is really pretty straightforward to figure out what those two things interacting will do to the price.” 

In the short term, no expert can say what is going to happen.  In the long run though, it is inevitable that oil, gas, and diesel will get more expensive. 

Local Food Grows With the Price of Diesel

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

The soaring price of oil has rippled through the economy, raising the cost of transportation for consumers and businesses.  While this has hurt many businesses, it has actually helped others, often in surprising ways.  The high price of gas has hammered sales of trucks and SUVs, but sales of fuel efficient small cars are soaring.  People are staying closer to home to go shopping, hurting sales at some stores that require a long drive, but benefiting others in local neighborhoods.  Another place where the high price of oil has hit home is in food distribution costs. 

The rising price of diesel is causing some stores to rethink their food distribution, working to source food locally rather than trucking it across the country.  Mega retailer Wal-Mart is one of them, announcing it will increase its sales of locally grown produce (July 1, 2008):

Not everyone is thrilled.  The goals of Wal-Mart are probably not exactly the same as the local food movement, in general.  While the local food movement has been focussed on small local farmers, Wal-Mart does things big, and will be buying huge quantities of food, generally from large farms.  While the local food movement is focussed on buying food that travels as little as possible, Wal-Mart is seeking food grown in the same state or the same region. 

Check out tree-hugger for both sides of the argument:

The bottom line though is that Wal-Mart is influential, and where they go others follow.  By buying food closer to their stores, they are cutting food miles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and saving money at the same time.  And by doing it on a large scale, they may stimulate the support for local food produced for others as well, including those who want small scale, sustainably farmed, food that is grown within 100 miles of home. 

The high price of oil once again is a problem for some, but an opportunity for others.  Entrepreneurs who get involved in the production, packaging, and distribution of locally grown food may find themselves on the winning side.

The Biodiesel Coop Next Door

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Many people are engaged in the search for new renewable energy alternatives to the use of oil to provide fuel for our cars and trucks.  The high cost of oil is hitting a lot of people in their pocketbooks, accelerating the urgency of the quest.  Some are even taking matters into their own hands, producing their own fuel with small scale “backyard” biodiesel producing from used vegetable oil (Opportunity 3 in 75 Green Businesses).

Recently I found out that my neighbor is helping to build a biodiesel coop with 20 other like-minded Southern Californians.  With the high price of gasoline, particularly diesel, this is no surprise  - the surprise is that there are not more people doing this. 

One key is getting a reliable source of used vegetable oil from a local restaurant.  Another key is figuring out how to process it.  Finally, the coop is figuring out how to structure itself to produce and use the fuel.

One interesting trend my neighbor told me about is that the quality of cooking oil from restaurants is declining, with the oil getting used more.  With dirtier oil, the biodiesel produced from it can also be dirtier if it is not cleaned up before it is used.  To clean the oil, people like my neighbor are increasingly adapting centrifugation systems used to purify fuel for ships.  This trend appears to be spreading through the biodiesel community, providing reliable, cost effective biodiesel production more readily than other methods like filtration.

Over time some biodiesel coops like Piedmont Biofuels ( expand to produce fuel to the public, sustaining themselves from the proceeds.  If the cost of oil stays high, or goes higher, biodiesel producers large and small will have their hands full keeping up with demand.

Microbial Fuel Cells for Developing World Power

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Although reliable electrical power is taken for granted in the developed world, there are many regions where electrical power is still not common or unreliable.  Bringing power to places like rural Africa can make a huge difference in the lives of people, bringing light to the night so children can study, or providing refrigeration or power for small businesses, for example.  Solar power is one solution, but it is not always the answer.  Even small panels can be relatively expensive for many.

Another answer is being developed by Lebônê Solutions- microbial fuel cells to power lighting in sub-Saharan Africa.  The only fuel they need is organic material like garbage or manure, unlike lamps powered by expensive kerosene.  Microbial fuel cells can run at night, with and help to cleanup waste even as they generate power.  In the developed world microbial fuel cells might help provide power for waste water treatment even as they clean up water, as described in Opportunity 7 in 75 Green Businesses.

The group includes students and researchers at Harvard, and it won a place in the World Bank’s Lighting Africa Competition, including $200,000 to help the group move their microbial fuel cell power forward.  If the result is local, clean, reliable and low cost electricity, their solution may make a real difference in the lives of many.