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Drawn from nature. From deep beneath the surface, filtered through ancient rock in the lush volcanic region of Auvergne. Volvic, natural spring water.

Created by volcanoes


Among the animals




Green Executive Officers




How to track tigers in India and Nepal, schmooze with elephants in Botswana, and more. By Judy Koutsky PLENTY BUSINESS SPECIAL 56 . . . . GREEN THINGS TO LIFE General Electric has launched an environmental campaign called “ecomagination. Is the notorious polluter finally cleaning up its act? By Richard Bradley 60 . . . . THE GEO AWARDS Five green executive officers who prove that you don’t need to compromise your values to succeed. By Amy Cortese


Organic crops measure up; ethanol-fueled racecars; Greenpeace vs. Harry Potter, and hybrid taxis. 18 . . . . RETREADS How secondhand shopping is thriving online. By Christy Harrison 22 . . . . ON TECHNOLOGY Engineers find a new use for algae. By Nicole Davis 26 . . . . WHEELS Sure, your Prius is efficient, but a group of tinkering car enthusiasts have found ways to get even better gas mileage. By Justin Tyler Clark 30 . . . . INVESTING The hidden economic dangers of global warming—and how you can protect your 401(k) portfolio. By Amy Cortese 34 . . . . BOOKS Two coming-of-age stories—one involving a giant squid, the other, an ashram in India. By Ann Landi 37 . . . . GREEN GEAR Plant perfect tomatoes; play a recycled mandolin; plus a lightweight bike and a sailcloth messenger bag.













Eco-chic at the office

The bicycle wars

66 . . . . TRYING TO FIT IN

Wal-Mart is updating its look to blend in better with the community. But will the change help it win over new shoppers? By Lisa Selin Davis 70 . . . . A FAST ORGANIC NATION? Can fast food be healthier— and gentler on the planet? By Sarah Rose 76 . . . . COSMIC ENERGY To solve our energy problems here on Earth, some experts suggest we look to the moon. By Christy Harrison 80 . . . . SINCE WHEN IS BICYCLING A CRIME? Critical Mass cyclists take to the streets to promote their eco-friendly lifestyle. But some people don’t like their tactics— including the police. By Jennifer Block

88 . . . . FASHION

New eco-friendly (and office-appropriate) fashions that offer both style and substance. 94 . . . . SHELTER Dutch architect’s ingenious solution to flooding problems. By Steve Kemper 96 . . . . HEALTH Tend to your body, home, and garden with six natural remedies. By Laurel Maury 98 . . . . INDULGENCES Fudgy brownies get an organic makeover. By Sarah Hackney 100 . . STYLE PROFILE Eco-designer Linda Loudermilk gets her inspiration from nature and her fabric from recycled soda bottles. By Ann Landi 102 . . OFF THE GRID Green entrepreneurs are trying out bikepowered blenders and soap churners. By Joshua M. Bernstein 104 . . THE BACK PAGE What shade of green are you? A personality test. By Bari Nan Cohen

ON THE COVER: Coat in Hemp and silk by Earth Speaks. Model is Lindsey Huizenga with New York Model Management. Hair by Daniel Martin for Aveda. Makeup by Clelia Bergonzoli and Styling by Ise White, both at Code Artists. Photography by Francis Murphy.



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ifty years ago, General Motors was the largest industrial corporation in America. The company’s president, Charlie Wilson, was nominated to become the secretary of defense in 1953; during his Senate confirmation hearings, he said, “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa.” He has been famously misquoted ever since as simply saying, “What’s good for GM is good for America.” Still, what Wilson seemed to be saying was that there was no conflict between GM’s profitability and the public interest. There has always been tension between private profit and the public good—and there always will be. But with the launch of its “ecomagination” campaign, America’s largest manufacturing corporation, General Electric, has more or less said that what’s good for the world is good for GE (see Green Things to Life, p. 56). In some ways, GE is simply restating what GM said 50 years ago. What’s different is that GE has committed itself to developing cleaner technologies that should make the world a more environmentally-friendly place. If GE is successful, all of us will likely be better off. GE won’t merely be adding tail fins to its jet engines. Make no mistake: GE is not being completely altruistic. The company builds many of the products that keep our global economy running, and it believes there is money to be made in helping to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But we can’t rely on GE to solve all of our problems—it doesn’t have the market power that GM did in the 1950s, when it accounted for half of the cars sold in the United States. Fortunately, GE isn’t the only big corporation changing its strategy. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is starting to look a little greener (see Trying to Fit In, p. 66). Companies that won’t necessarily surprise you, like Whole Foods and Wild Oats, are going to great lengths to ensure that they have the best in organic and locally grown produce; but if you don’t want to cook it yourself, healthier fast food is becoming more readily available (see A Fast Organic Nation, p. 70). Other visionary business leaders from companies such as Patagonia and Seventh Generation are reinventing the products we buy and transforming how we live (see The GEO Awards, p. 60). And according to the Social Investment Forum, there is now more than $2 trillion under management in socially responsible investment funds (see How Global Warming Will Burn Your 401(k), p. 30). So while businesses are still concerned with profits—as they always have been—there is a clear change in their attitude and approach. In advocating for the increased consumption of organic products, Gary Hirshberg, founder of O’Naturals and Stonyfield Farm, says, “the biggest impact we have is as purchasers.” This contrasts sharply with Henry Ford, who supposedly said that you could have any color Model T you wanted, as long as it was black. Consumers are demanding more from the business world. And when they can’t get what they want, they are finding new ways to make their voices heard. Each month in cities around the world, bicyclists take to the streets to advocate pedal power as one cheap and immediate solution to our energy woes (see Since When Is Bicycling a Crime?, p. 80). And if all of this forward thinking doesn’t work out, there are a few cosmic environmentalists who think we should start focusing our attention on the stars (see Cosmic Energy, p. 76). Mark Spellun Editor in Chief & Publisher


October/November 2005

GLOBAL WARMING WE CAN. The science is documented. The threat is real. But now there is a weapon you can use to help undo global warming: Sign the online petition supporting vital legislation, discover a few modest lifestyle changes, and more. To learn all about global warming, and how you can help undo it, go to

PLENTY Publisher & Editor in Chief Mark Spellun Creative Director Catherine Cole Senior Editors Jennifer Block, Christy Harrison, Christine Richmond Editor at Large Sarah Rose Political Editor Richard Bradley Science Editor Michael W. Robbins Music Editor Jesse Kornbluth Staff Writer Kate Siber Associate Editor Sandra Ban Researcher Carmen Johnson Contributing Editors Justin Tyler Clark, Lisa Selin Davis, Ann Landi, Cristina Merrill Staff Photographer Francis Murphy Contributing Designer RJ Gambale PLENTY Advertising, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 1915, New York, NY 10107 Deborah Gardiner, National Sales Director (Tel: 1-212-757-3794) Midwest and Detroit: 31555 West Fourteen Mile Road, Suite 313, Farmington Hills, MI 48334 Susan L. Carey, Regional Director; Sue Maniloff, Regional Director (Tel: 1-248-539-3055) West Coast: 1972 Green Street, San Francisco, CA 94123 Susan M. Werner, Regional Director (Tel: 1-415-441-2762) Published by Environ Press, Inc. Chairman Arnold Spellun

PLENTY 250 West 57th Street, Suite 1915 New York, NY 10107 Tel: 1-212-757-3447 Fax: 1-212-757-3799 Unsolicited manuscripts, photographs, and other materials must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. PLENTY will not be responsible for unsolicited submissions. Send letters to the editor to or to PLENTY, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 1915, New York, NY 10107. Copyright Š2005 by Environ Press, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited. Views expressed herein are those of the author exclusively. PLENTY has applied for membership to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. PLENTY (ISSN 1553-2321) is published bimonthly, six times a year, for $12 per year by Environ Press, Inc., 250 West 57th Street, Suite 1915, New York, NY 10107. Periodical postage paid at New York, NY and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Plenty, P.O. Box 437, Mt. Morris, IL 61054-0437 or call 1-800-316-9006. PLENTY is printed on 30% post-consumer recycled paper and manufactured with elemental chlorine-free pulp. Please recycle.








“...even greenies don’t have to be limited to sandals and yoga pants.”

LETTERS IN ROSEBANK, SOUTH AFRICA, I purchased PLENTY from a back issues retailer this week. After reading your June/July 2005 issue, I sent information about the BMW H2R, Tokyo Gas fuel cells, and the MDI Air Car to Special Assignment, a local investigative TV show. I am hoping they will run a two-part feature on the likely impact of hydrocarbon depletion. While there are thousands of pages of relevant information relating to the crisis on the web, general public awareness in South Africa is virtually non-existent. I am very impressed with the style and content of PLENTY, and I wish you all continued success. Given the imminent global energy crunch, your magazine has a distinct poignancy. Congratulations to the team at PLENTY. GORDON BORLASE SOUTH AFRICA

YOUR MAGAZINE BLEW ME AWAY. Its positive nature has encouraged me to stay open-minded about how I approach my business and the challenges of renewable energy. Keep up the good work. RANDY KAUFFMAN PRESIDENT NEXT ENERGY CORP. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

I THINK YOUR MAGAZINE IS INCREDIBLE! Your fresh, creative take on environmentalism is great. It’s really smart of you to use a trendy approach to try to reach out to people who might otherwise ignore such an important magazine. Way to go! Keep it up!

10 | P L E N T Y

WE LOVE YOUR MAGAZINE. You’re doing a phenomenal job. Each issue gets better and better. The layout is very pleasing, and the articles are interesting and written with flair. The ongoing discussion on your reader’s page about your models caught my attention. I was so excited to see—starting with the first issue—that you weren’t afraid to include appealing women and sexy clothes (or sexy women and appealing clothes) in a green magazine. It’s one of the main reasons my boyfriend picks up PLENTY; then he reads and becomes eco-enlightened! I’m happy to see the gorgeous models and cool clothes in your pages. Individualism and self-expression are alive and well, and even greenies don’t have to be limited to sandals and yoga pants. I hope for (and work toward) a greener planet everyday, but I also look forward to the day that the multiply-pierced, dreadlocked hippies at the food co-op treat me with equal pleasantries whether I show up in black patent heels or Birkenstocks. I can’t wait for them to become as welcoming and open-minded as they wish everyone else would be. As constructive feedback, I encourage you to include women of color among your models. Keep up the good work.





I HAVE BEEN RECEIVING PLENTY SINCE ISSUE NUMBER ONE, I and absolutely love it! I get so excited when a new issue arrives in the mail. It’s refreshing to know that there is a whole magazine dedicated to something I am so passionate about. One thing I have been having a hard time finding information on is carpet recycling. I did find an organization called C.A.R.E., and I heard that there is a law in the works about it, but I’m not sure how consumers can actually go about recycling their carpeting. I would really enjoy reading an article about this topic. Thanks for considering and thanks so much for providing this fabulous resource. LESLIE KURZINSKI VALPARAISO, INDIANA

Top and skirt (above) by Mara Hoffman; silk wrap and necklace by Aditée. Model is Anka with Major Model Management. Styling by Ise White, Makeup by Corrine Vegter for MAC cosmetics, and hair by Sarah Silvia all with Code Artists. Photograph by Francis Murphy.

Send your letters, comments,kudos, and critiques to October/November 2005

CONTRIBUTORS LISA SELIN DAVIS “If Wal-Mart stores will inevitably dot the country, they might as well look good,” says Lisa Selin Davis, who writes about the big-box retailer and its attempt to blend into the neighborhood (see page 66). Selin Davis has a keen eye for how architecture shapes society and last wrote for Plenty about the small-house movement. She also recently published her first novel, Belly (Little Brown, 2005), which is set in Saratoga Springs, New York, and delves into the impact of consumer culture on the community. Selin Davis lives in Brooklyn with her partner, his four-year-old daughter, and a cat named Hugo.

CHRISTY HARRISON Plenty senior editor Christy Harrison explores the environmental philosophy of filmmaker Chip Proser, who is on a galactic mission to find renewable energy (see page 76). Forget earth, Proser and others say, and move to space. “I’ll admit that at first I thought these people were all going to be kooks,” says Harrison, “but the research was fun.” While captivated by the science behind the ideas, she is still hoping we can stay on the planet a little longer. Harrison is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area.

AMY CORTESE Amy Cortese can attest to Niman Ranch organic meats. “They are soooo good!” she says. In this issue Cortese profiles five of the top environmental CEOs, including Niman Ranch founder Bill Niman (see page 61). “I was surprised at how down-to-earth they were—for CEOs,” says Cortese. A former editor at BusinessWeek, she is a frequent contributor to the New York Times. Writing about eco-friendly corporations was a pleasure, she says. “It’s nice to finally write a positive story about business.”

FRED ASKEW Fred Askew has been snapping pictures of anything and everything since age 12, but recently he has focused his lens on antiwar protests and other forms of political dissent. During the past two years he has shown his work in Bucharest, Milan, and Paris. In this issue Askew captures images of New York City’s Critical Mass, the monthly bike crusade to promote alternative transportation (see page 80). Askew says he has been surprised by the city’s reaction to cyclists. “The only word to describe the way the police have handled the bike riders is ‘absurd,’” he says. 12 | P L E N T Y

October/November 2005


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Hydrogen Happenings ars powered by hydrogen fuel cells won’t be taking over the streets anytime soon, but auto manufacturers are inching closer to making these vehicles available to consumers (or at least the wealthy ones). In late June, Honda Motors began leasing a fuel-cell test car to a family in Redondo Beach, California, the first one to drive such a car. Before then, fuel-cell vehicles had only been tested by municipal fleets and private companies. Over a two-year lease period, members of the Spallino family will report their rants and raves about their new FCX, a miniature sport-utility vehicle, to Honda. The company pledges to use these comments to perfect its fuel-cell vehicles for wider commercial release in the coming years. Honda’s announcement of the lease comes on the heels of Toyota’s declaration in June that it will release its first commercial fuel-cell vehicle in 2015—with a hoped-for “low” price tag of $50,000 (down from the current rate of $1 million). General Motors plans to have a fuel-cell car ready for the public by 2010; other automakers, including DaimlerChrysler and Hyundai, are testing the technology as well. At the moment, though, hydrogen production, which uses electricity to separate


hydrogen from other elements, still creates emissions at the power plant, because most electricity is produced by burning coal or petroleum-based fuels. “The Honda fuel-cell car is not even as green as the [hybrid Toyota] Prius,” says Joseph Romm, author of The Hype About Hydrogen (Island Press, 2004). “If you run the Honda on hydrogen, which now is almost always produced by burning natural gas, it actually has higher greenhouse gas emissions than if you run a Prius on gasoline.” Hydrogen also suffers from an energy deficit: it takes 75 percent more energy to use electricity to make hydrogen than it does to use the electricity alone. Romm calls Honda’s lease to the Spallino family a “stunt” to gain visibility and says that Toyota’s 2015 estimate is implausible because fuel-cell cars are far from being commercially viable or cost-effective. “In the energy business, it normally takes several decades for a technology to drop by a factor of 20 in price,” he says; his own projection is “post-2030.” With so many kinks to work out before hydrogen becomes a viable fuel, and with so few filling stations in the country today, perhaps it is greener not to envy the Spallinos’ new ride. —Christy Harrison


Four Easy Ways to Save Fuel Besides the well-known tricks of turning off the air conditioner and obeying the speed limit, here are four simple ways you can make your car more energy efficient: Keep the tires in good shape. Tires that are out of alignment or underinflated eat up energy through friction, reducing gas mileage by as much as 3.3 percent. A quick trip to the air pump or an alignment shop can lead to significant savings. Use the right motor oil. Using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed for 5W-30 can lower gas mileage by 1 to 2 percent and reduce engine life. Change the air filter at least once a year. Not only will this protect the engine, but it can also improve mileage by 10 percent. Get a tune-up. It may be a big expense over a short period of time, but by fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune, you’ll improve its gas mileage an average of 4.1 percent. Tuning up a faulty oxygen sensor may improve mileage by 40 percent—that’s 88 cents a gallon at current prices. (Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) —Justin Tyler Clark October/November 2005

Organic Possibilities keptics who claim that organic farming doesn’t produce enough food are now eating their words. A team of scientists reported in the July issue of the journal BioScience that organic corn and soybeans actually outpace conventional crops in both yield and revenue. The researchers, led by Cornell University agricultural scientist David Pimentel, summarized findings from the 22-year Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial, the first long-term study of organic agriculture. Although organic corn yields were about one-third lower during the first four years of the study, the organic systems produced higher yields in the long run, especially when water was scarce. The reason for this difference boils down to soil quality, the researchers say. The soil in the organic fields was healthier—it contained more moisture and beneficial chemicals, and produced less runoff than the soil in the conventional fields. The benefit of organic practices, however, may depend on the crop. Grains such as corn, soybeans, wheat, and barley give conventional agriculture a run for its money, according to Pimentel; but organic might not be as competitive when it comes to growing crops that have greater pest problems, such as grapes, apples, cherries, and potatoes. —C.H.


P L E N T Y | 15




GO, GREEN RACER he Indy Racing League (IRL), which runs the famous Indianapolis 500 race annually, has announced that its race cars will operate entirely on ethanol, a green fuel, by 2007. Made from fermented corn and other grains, ethanol is a clean-burning, biodegradable alcohol. It will replace methanol—which is made from coal, natural gas, and wood fiber—as the official fuel of the IRL. League representatives say they want to promote energy independence and improve the environmental impact of car races. Of course, Indy cars are a relatively small market for ethanol: they will use only 160,000 gallons of the 3.5 billion produced each year. But the IRL is making a symbolic gesture to show that the corn-based fuel is not only good for the planet but also high-performance enough to power some of the world’s fastest cars. —C.H.


Hybridizing the Big Apple f all goes well, New Yorkers could be hailing hybrids by December. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission approved a bill in July to introduce six models of hybrid vehicles into its fleet of cabs, a week after the city’s hybrid-hugging mayor, Michael Bloomberg, signed a bill requiring the commission to approve the new cars. The commission was scheduled to take a final vote on the measure in September and could implement hybrid taxis this fall. There are nearly 13,000 taxicabs tooling around New York City. Replacing all of them with brand-new hybrids would reduce air pollution in the city by more than 3 billion pounds over the five years that the cars are in service, according to a Department of Energy calculation tool. While the potential reductions in pollution


16 | P L E N T Y

are huge, some lawmakers worried at first that the hybrids would not be as comfortable. Matthew Daus, chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, initially said that hybrids would not provide enough leg room for passengers. (The six hybrid models in consideration all have significantly less space in the backseat than the current model, the extended-cab version of Ford’s Crown Victoria.) But Daus has since seen the light: at a commission hearing in June, he said, “Too often, the debate on this issue has seemed to boil down to more passenger space versus cleaner vehicles. It does not have to be either/or. We can push for both.” —C.H.

Can Potter Save the Planet? Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the latest installment in J. K. Rowling’s wildly popular book series, is also wildly bad for the environment—at least in the United States. Scholastic, the novel’s American publisher, printed 13.5 million copies of the book but will not disclose the exact percentage of recycled fibers in its pages (which means that it certainly is not 100 percent). If Scholastic had printed on 100 percent recycled paper in its first print run, 217,475 trees would still stand today, according to Greenpeace, which is urging Potter fans to buy their books from the Canadian publisher Raincoast Books. That company used 100 percent postconsumer recycled paper in printing the latest Potter adventure, which was released worldwide in July. Raincoast’s decision saved 1,884,926 pounds of paper from going to landfills, the weight equivalent of 262 elephants. Despite Greenpeace’s efforts, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince broke publishing industry sales records, selling 6.9 million copies in the United States in its first 24 hours on the shelves. But the Harry Potter campaign may at least raise awareness of needed improvements to the publishing industry’s environmental standards. Barely 5 percent of all books published in the United States are printed entirely on recycled paper. Currently, 84 publishers have committed to using 100 percent postconsumer waste paper, but they have been mostly small to midsize publishers. Last year, however, the Environmental Protection Agency challenged publishers to increase the amount of recycled material in their books and eliminate the use of endangered forest fibers in their paper by July 2008. —Carmen Johnson October/November 2005


FROM THRIFT STORES TO BIDDING WARS How the Internet has made trash hip THE ONLINE TRADE OF USED STUFF turns ten this year, as the auction Web site eBay, the book behemoth, and the multicity virtual bulletin board Craigslist celebrate a decade of existence. It’s no secret that these sites are hugely successful, but they have also helped inspire a trend in reuse that few environmentalists predicted in the mid-1990s, when many worried that all of the extra shipping involved in online shopping would increase pollution of the planet. The sites have inspired a widespread interest in 18 | P L E N T Y


retreads of all kinds; quirky furniture, grandmotherly knitwear, dusty books, and old computers that were once considered junk are now hot commodities that can command staggering prices. The experience of shopping for castoffs has changed radically over the past decade, in the real world as well as the virtual one. Craigslist was born in January 1995 as a San Francisco–based message board devoted to “getting the word out about everyday, realworld stuff,” including job and apartment list-

ings as well as items for sale. That September, eBay—called AuctionWeb in its early days, when it operated out of founder Pierre Omidyar’s apartment in the Silicon Valley— came onto the scene as a hub for collectibles traders. The site listed many rare, coveted used goods, including thousands of Beanie Babies, the plush toys that became one of the hottest commodities on the collectors’ market in the mid-1990s. Due in large part to the Beanie Baby craze, eBay took off; today it has over $3 billion in revenue and more than 135 million October/November 2005




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“People used to understand that with a garage sale, they were fortunate to be able to give old things a new life,” Hoff explains. “But now they’re really mercenary about their prices, and they’ll stand there and fight with you.” stores out of business. But in fact, traditional anymore,” says Hoff. She attributes this users worldwide. In addition to Beanie Babies, listings of used-goods outlets are thriving. High-volume dearth of choices in part to eBay, as well as to supremely weird used items have con- eBay sellers have to get their thrifty finds from the increasing number of magazines and teltributed to the company’s visibility, and they somewhere, and many turn to antique stores, evision shows that paint vintage as valuable. have also turned shopping into a more cre- yard sales, and their local Salvation Army “Ebay allows people sitting anywhere in the ative, exciting exercise for buyers. Last shop. That store has experienced continued world to see what kind of value things have,” so prices in even the remotest November, a woman sold a thrift stores have skyrocketed 10-year-old grilled cheese as shop owners have realized sandwich that resembled the what city hipsters are willing Virgin Mary for $28,000 on to pay for vintage finds eBay. In 2001, John Freyer, online. “People don’t see junk an art student in Iowa, used as junk anymore,” she says. eBay to auction off most of And that’s a bad thing? his worldly possessions— “People used to understand including an opened box of that with a garage sale, they taco shells and half a bottle of were fortunate to be able to mouthwash—in order to pregive old things a new life,” pare for a cross-country Hoff explains. “But now move. (Freyer catalogued all they’re really mercenary of the items and their final about their prices, and they’ll destinations on his Web site, stand there and fight with you. I think they know that These sites provide a conpeople are going to buy their venient way for people like stuff in order to resell it, and Freyer to get rid of excess they don’t want to be taken baggage. “EBay is like a yard WELCOME BACK, STRANGER: This used neon sign is one of many like it in the collectibles advantage of.” In other words, sale that you can turn on and category on eBay. the excitement of finding a off,” says secondhand shopping guru Al Hoff, who wrote Thrift Score annual growth over the past decade; Savers, an good home for your junk has given way to (Perennial, 1997). It also allows users to international chain of secondhand stores that greed and self-interest: the dark side of thrift ensure that their once-beloved items don’t recycles its unsold inventory, has doubled its shopping. Yet the e-thrift boom has been a boon for end up clogging a landfill somewhere. number of retail outlets since 1995. One of the “Personally, I really hate waste,” says Craig secrets to its success is that it has embraced stay-at-home parents and small businesses. Newmark, the founder and namesake of the online platform, posting unsold used Many people now support their families books on eBay and’s British site. entirely on revenues from online auction Craigslist. It seems that the growing legions of visitors “The strength of our company will always be sales, and a proliferation of how-to books to Newmark’s site feel the same way. In July our retail stores, but these sites provide us and videos have helped sellers become savvi2000, Craigslist had 4,365 for-sale ads in seven with another opportunity to reach more cus- er. Rekha Sharma, the owner of Paisley categories, with 1,014 listings for cars and tomers and to make sure those books don’t Antiques, a modest New York–based shop 1,519 in the catch-all category “general.” Five get thrown away,” says Tony Shumpert, that has been in business since 1998, began years later, in July, the site had nearly 1.6 mil- Savers’ recycling director. Online outlets using Craigslist and eBay after her lion listings in 21 categories. Furniture is by far have had some effect on the company’s busi- Manhattan storefront was turned into the the biggest segment, with 311,884 listings, fol- ness, Shumpert concedes: “People who lobby of a condominium complex. She now lowed by cars (286,572) and electronics would have donated things to us now often sells her treasures from a warehouse by (134,493); and now there is also a sizable num- sell those items [to eBay], so it’s more diffi- appointment, using Craigslist and eBay to ber of ads in the “free” category (69,583), sug- cult for vintage buyers to find treasures in the showcase the goods. The entry of hand-me-downs into the gesting that Craigslist users not only are out to store. But I think the size of used clothing make a buck but also actually want to find donations is so large that the nominal effect mainstream has taken some of the romance good homes for their stuff. The bulletin board of eBay hasn’t changed our selection of vin- out of secondhand shopping, but it seems that sellers have benefited as their market has tage or retro items.” now has sites for 175 cities around the world. Some resale shoppers would disagree. moved online, giving them new ways to With such high traffic, these Web sites could have driven brick-and-mortar thrift “There’s not really anything in thrift stores reach the thrift-hungry masses. ■ 20 | P L E N T Y

October/November 2005

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O N T E C H N O LO GY BRIMMING WITH BIOFUEL: The algae-filled pipes atop MIT’s power plant help clear the air, while their inventor, Isaac Berzin (facing away), chats with the press.

POWER PLANTS Algae make their debut as a combined greenhouse gas scrubber and energy generator. NICOLE DAVIS WHILE THE TOXIC PHYTOPLANKTON known as red tide bloomed along the New England coast this summer, contaminating shellfish beds from Maine to Massachusetts, a species of innocuous algae continues to perform miracles at the Massachusetts Institute of 22 | P L E N T Y

Technology, in Cambridge. Day and night the unicellular organisms whoosh inside clear, triangular pipes on the roof of the campus’s power plant, which resemble a fantastical green machine. Into the bioreactor go smogproducing chemicals from the smokestack,

and out comes green sludge that can be processed into every kind of clean fuel imaginable, from biodiesel to biocoal. Algae absorb greenhouse gases much as we absorb nutrients or inhale air. The gases, along with sunlight, give the microscopic plants energy to produce oils that protect them—and that also happen to make great replacements for any fossil fuel. “Right now, power plants think of emissions as pollution,” says Isaac Berzin, founder of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, company GreenFuel Technologies, and the man behind the bioreactors. “Not algae. Algae think they’re great food.” Unlike macroalgae—“the kind in your sushi,” says Berzin, jokingly—microalgae are only a few microns wide, even thinner than even a strand of hair. The key to their emissions-eating, oil-making success is photosynthesis. Like all plants, microalgae convert the sun’s energy and carbon dioxide into proteins, starches, and lipids (or oils). All three of these components are equally necessary in forming the structure of the plant’s single cell, but different algae make varying ratios of the three. (The same diversity occurs in the produce section of your local grocer: think of oily avocados or starchfilled potatoes.) Berzin, of course, favors the oil-rich algae for his start-up, which has already raised $2.4 million from private investors. His business plan borrows a bit from a nowdefunct program at the Department of Energy (DOE). Engineers there first used microalgae for fuel production and greenhouse gas reduction in the late 1980s, until deep budget cuts led to the program’s demise, in 1996. John Sheehan, a senior chemical engineer at the National Renewable Energy Lab, in Golden, Colorado, says the department would still like to see the idea develop. “We made sure we documented [all of the research] that had been done, so that it would be available to anyone who was interested in picking it up.” Berzin, a 37-year-old Israeli-born chemical engineer, read the DOE’s report after designing an instrument that could condition organisms like microalgae to grow in zero gravity. After his invention was used in an experiment on the International Space Station, Berzin realized that his device was perfectly suited to preadapt algae to work with a specific mix of pollutants. He designed a bioreactor that MIT agreed to test, October/November 2005




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O N T E C H N O LO GY and for the past year, students walking down Vassar Street have been able to catch glimpses of the 30 plastic tubes atop the power plant, churning quietly with green goo. (GreenFuel won’t disclose which types of algae they use, aside from what you’d find “in fresh- or saltwater bodies, brackish water, estuaries, etc.”) The pressure from the plant’s exhaust moves the algae around inside their waterfilled, triangular chutes, ensuring each organism the perfect amount of time in the sun. Throughout the day, the number of algae increases as the smog-producing nitrogen oxide spurs reproduction. Excess nitrogen oxide can cause a red tide, but the right amount will create a thriving colony of beneficial algae that breathe in pollutants and exhale oxygen as waste. The same process occurs on the ocean’s surface, where microalgae produce half of the world’s oxygen. The algae’s lifespan is about a day. Once they die, they are drained from the pipes and dried by the excess heat from the plant’s exhaust; then their use as a biofuel begins. Through a process called gasification, the dried algae can be refined into a biogas or biodiesel for use in internal-combustion or diesel engines. Left as they are, they can be burned in power plants along with coal, or in its place. Compared with all of these possible fuels, biodiesel has the most economic potential. Algal biodiesel could run in any diesel engine, ultimately for less than the going rate—$2 and change per gallon—of other biodiesels. “Ninety percent of the cost of biodiesel is the feedstock,” says Berzin. The majority of our green diesel now comes from soybeans, but to produce it, he points out, “you need to have the root and the stem and the leaves and the beans”—as well as the arable land, water, and manpower. Algae, on the other hand, “are just little bags of oil, and they double their mass every couple of hours. They don’t need fertile land, they don’t need freshwater. They get so many goodies from the power plant.” Berzin doesn’t expect that his algae will altogether replace fossil fuels, but he does plan to clean up our current process for generating power. If GreenFuel’s bioreactors were installed at a coal-burning power plant—the source of 55 percent of our power today—the dried algae could be burned alongside the coal, thereby reducing the amount of fossil fuels burned and the level of harmful emissions.


Don’t be afraid to ask me.

If you ask me . . . I’ll tell you. Go to Learn about healthy lifestyles and sustainable living.

EMISSIONS BUSTER: Isaac Berzin’s algae eat pollution for breakfast.

GreenFuel hopes to lure utility companies with this last feature. In order to comply with new EPA regulations, power plants must spend hundreds of millions of dollars to scrub the nitrogen oxide from their flues or purchase credits for every excess ton of nitrogen oxide they let escape. Utilities expect that eventually they will also have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, as the government

Algal biodiesel could run in any diesel engine.


inches closer to acknowledging its role in global warming. GreenFuel’s bioreactors, by comparison, would cost companies a tenth of what they now spend on emissions reduction. The organisms do have their limitations, though. Because they only feed on carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, they need plenty of sunshine. Colder, cloudier parts of the country aren’t suitable for algae to work their oil-producing magic, and nighttime halts production no matter where the bioreactors are installed. Berzin rebukes this caveat by pointing out that not every power plant operates 24-7. For those that do, there are options, such as sequestering the carbon dioxide produced at night for consumption during the day. Moreover, the 30 to 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide that Berzin achieves at MIT far exceeds the recommendations set by the Kyoto Protocol for decreasing greenhouse gases. Even though the algae clock out at sunset, they still do the equivalent of working overtime. While no one is willing to ditch proven emissions-reduction technology to invest in a bunch of algae-filled pipes, a utility company in the Southeast has agreed to test GreenFuel’s bioreactors this fall. (Berzin has yet to announce its exact location or name.) In the meantime, his $2.4 million in financing and his new source of biodiesel should keep GreenFuel running just fine. ■ October/November 2005


How to achieve


gas mileage Justin Tyler Clark

WHILE SKEPTICS SCOFF THAT ALTERNATIVE-ENERGY VEHICLES AREN’T SEXY ENOUGH to woo the average SUV-loving American, a small but growing subculture of car enthusiasts disagrees. Call them conversionists: green-minded car owners who take a perfectly functional vehicle and install the environmental equivalent of hydraulics, custom rims, and a backseat wet bar. Not content with simply snapping up the latest model of the Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight, the conversionist yearns to transform an already sensible car into a beast of efficiency. So what does it take to green your ride? We asked advocates of the three most popular types of conversions to spell out the costs and challenges, as well as the benefits.


BIODIESEL AND STRAIGHT VEGETABLE OIL Hybrids simply aren’t large or powerful enough to haul around the equipment for Jules Dervaes’s Pasadena, California, gardening business, but he wanted to do his part for the environment. Instead of selling his gas-guzzling Suburban, Dervaes decided to make his own diesel engine fuel from waste vegetable oil—and anyone stuck with a diesel truck or car can, too. There are a couple of options.


26 | P L E N T Y

STRAIGHT VEGETABLE OIL You can skip the brewing and simply use straight vegetable oil (SVO) by installing a heating system in the fuel tank to warm the oil and reduce its viscosity to usable levels. The installation costs between $300 and $1,000, and takes only a day if performed by an experienced mechanic. SVO can also be mixed with regular petrodiesel and used to increase mileage, but this tends to clog engines in the long run. October/November 2005


Brewing your own biodiesel—refined vegetable-oil fuel— is time intensive, requiring two hours for a 30-gallon batch. Safety is also an issue: biodiesel brewers have to work with methanol and lye, two highly toxic chemicals. But setting up your own lab is relatively simple; all it takes is a converted water heater and around $300 in distillation equipment similar to that used in making liquor (available at most hardware stores). At a cost of only 50 to 75 cents per gallon, with no need to buy a new vehicle or do a conversion, Dervaes says, the refined-biodiesel route is worth the effort.


HYBRID HACKS What do you do if you want the range of a hybrid but don’t want to use any gas on short trips around town? The newest and most exciting option on the horizon—if you can afford it—is the pluggable hybrid, or the PHEV. While current hybrids recharge their batteries using only their brakes, alternative-energy enthusiasts in California have created a prototype for a hybrid that can be recharged directly from the power grid. But hybrid manufacturers are reluctant to spend the extra $3,000 per vehicle to install plugs. Automakers have sought to convince consumers that hybrids have a range superior to EVs and don’t require the chore of finding and using an electrical socket. “Toyota is spending millions of dollars telling people you don’t have to plug in,” says Felix Kramer, founder of the pluggable-hybrid advocacy group CalCars. “It’s hard for them to make a 180-degree turn.” In the meantime, California start-up EDrive Systems plans to produce a conversion kit for the Prius that will go on the market next year for a staggering $10,000 to $12,000, to be followed by a kit for the Ford Escape hybrid.

THE PLUG CONVERSION KIT The kit will allow drivers to travel 50 miles gasfree or obtain 100 mpg for 50 miles on the freeway. But make sure you have someone else to do the labor for you. “It’s not practical for people to do the hack on their own,” explains Kramer. It isn’t only about the amount of time it takes, he explains; a hybrid conversionist also has to obtain components that people “don’t normally have access to.” But if interest in pluggable hybrids continues, then the mass production of the conversion kits could lower their price dramatically.

CLOUD EV CREW: The gang of mechanics at Cloud EV can make your green dream car a road-ready reality.

P L E N T Y | 27



GAS-TO -ELECTRIC CONVERSIONS While a reasonably efficient gasoline-fueled car like the 2004 Honda Accord will cost around $9 per 100 miles of city driving, electric vehicles (EVs) can travel the same distance for about $1.50. EVs also require little in the way of maintenance; recharging is as simple as plugging in. The South Korean start-up GEO EV is only a year away from producing its GEO EV1 (unrelated to GM’s Geo Metro), but in the meantime—with the demise of Toyota, Honda, Ford, and GM’s electric vehicle programs—EVs are becoming scarce. No worries: EV-loving mechanics like Roy LeMeur of Cloud EV in Washington State will build one for you. For years LeMeur has been yanking the engines and fuel tanks and exhaust systems from petrolburning cars and replacing them with batteries and electric motors. In 1999, after the Seattle mechanic broke up with his girlfriend and had his truck and tools stolen, he “put everything into a backpack and went wandering,” he says. On the road, he met EV pioneer Steve Heckeroth, who trained him in the art of gas-to-electric conversions. LeMeur was finally able to combine his long-standing interest in the environment and his love of mechanic work; now he offers his custom conversions and car advice to the public.

Size matters: the lighter the car, the more range and power its battery will have. If you don’t mind driving a clown car, a Ford Fiesta or a Geo Metro is the best choice, though, LeMeur says, even a light pickup can be made electric. He also recommends boxier cars with more room for battery racks. Because electric systems don’t mesh well with the proprietary computer systems of late-model cars (the computers operate everything from acceleration to braking to climate control), he suggests converting cars manufactured in the early 1990s or before.

THE BATTERY A larger battery pack, (below) priced at around $4,000, will allow 75 miles of driving range but requires about 50 cents per recharge. A smaller pack, costing around $1,000, allows up to 40 miles per charge and costs only 20 cents to recharge. LeMeur urges clients to choose the smaller pack, which allows drivers to travel 200 miles on every dollar. With a standard 110-volt outlet, the smaller batteries recharge in eight hours.

H OW TO GET CONVERTED (WITHOUT JOINING A CULT) The growing interest in greener vehicles means that it’s easier than ever to find a mechanic to perform a conversion on your car— or the parts to do it yourself.

GAS-TO -ELECTRIC CONVERSIONS In the Northwest, try Cloud EV at (800) 648-7716 or; in New England, Electric Vehicle Systems at (508) 799-5650; in British Columbia, Electric Vehicles Ltd. at (250) 954-2230; in Florida and Nevada, Grassroots Electric Vehicles at (702) 277-7544. Also, check out the Electric Auto Association on the web at BIODIESEL For a map of locations of biodiesel fuel pumps, visit the Web site of the National Biodiesel Board at Learn how to make your own biodiesel at, or buy a lab kit from Biodiesel Gear at The German engine company ELSBETT ( is a leading supplier of SVO conversion kits. To locate a diesel car and a biodiesel distributor near you (if DIY is not your thing), check out BioBling ( PHEV CONVERSIONS For now, only EDrive Systems is planning to offer a PHEV conversion kit ( For conversion mechanics, try Cazadero Supply ( in Northern California or Greasel Conversions ( in Missouri. 28 | P L E N T Y

THE WORK In addition to the hefty cost of parts, which run from $3,500 to $7,000, you’ll probably also have to pay a shop like Cloud EV as much as $5,000 in labor. (Mechanically gifted folk may be able to avoid this additional cost, but the conversion is too tough for most amateur car buffs.)

THE DIVIDEND Buying a car and the necessary parts for conversion will cost a minimum of $14,000, while the price of replacement batteries and electricity is roughly equivalent to the cost of gassing up a conventional car. The primary advantage, therefore, is not cost but environmental benefits (assuming that emissions from power plants really are cleaner than tailpipe exhaust, as EV advocates argue). LeMeur points out that EVs are also more durable because they use fewer moving parts. And they free their owners from having to visit the gas station or get smog checks—perks that not even hybrid owners can boast. ■

October/November 2005

Use Re-Refined Lube Oil Hydraulic oils, engine oils and other lubricating oils for your car or truck can be formulated from re-refined base lube oil at the same quality and price. We collect used lube oil in California from a variety of sources. Used lube oil is a hazardous waste, polluting the ground and water and when burned gives off offensive metals and other pollutants. Our collected oil is brought to our state-permitted refinery in Newark, CA, distilled and hydrogenated to produce a water white, superior lube base oil. The base oil is then formulated with additives, compounded and blended to produce standard lubricants that meet or exceed industry standards. Evergreen congratulates the users and producers of re-refined oil. The State of California has promoted its use which carries through counties, cities and related agencies, like CalTrans. Blender/compounders such as Coast Oil of San Jose, Rosemead Oil of Santa Fe Springs and Lubricating Specialties of Pico Rivera are examples of leaders in production of environmentally friendly lubricants.

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Will Burn Your

The natural world is not the only thing to suffer from climate change: your investment portfolio is also at risk. AMY CORTESE IT’S



scientific consensus has emerged that the earth is warming, largely thanks to man-made greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which form a barrier in the atmosphere and trap heat. The effects of the earth’s warming are hard to predict, but experts have issued a drumbeat of alerts about issues ranging from melting ice caps and vanishing coral reefs to severe storms, droughts, and the spread of virulent diseases. And as if that weren’t enough, there’s another potential threat to worry about: a meltdown in your investment portfolio. Just as companies and shareholders were hurt by accounting “surprises” from the likes of Enron and WorldCom, they may also get burned by the hidden risks of climate change. When a company has to pay for its direct ecological impact, compliance with environmental regulations, and higher energy costs—or even, in some cases, its reputation as a polluter and lawsuits that arise from its un-green practices—its stock price can plummet, leaving investors in the red. The companies most directly affected, of course, are electric utilities, oil firms, and automakers, which account for the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions and will bear the burden of future regulations and higher costs associated with carbon. These companies may also be held accountable someday for damage from climate change, much as tobacco and asbestos companies are liable for the harm caused by their products. A group of Northeastern states has already sued coal-burning utilities in the Midwest. It’s also not hard to see how the agriculture, tourism, and insurance industries could be negatively impacted by climate change. Coastal and ski resorts could find their business damaged by altered weather patterns, for 30 | P L E N T Y

example, while insurance payouts will rise. Those are the most obvious targets. But the repercussions from climate change could be felt by “every industry from tobacco to ice cream,” according to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a collaborative investor initiative that has pushed companies to report on how they are addressing climate risk. There’s a flip side to the doom and gloom: global warming also brings opportunities for companies to prepare themselves for the future by developing and using renewable energy sources, reducing emissions ahead of regulations, and producing more environmentally friendly products. Still, the response from businesses has mostly been to ignore or fight the campaign to reduce global warming. A report issued last year by the CDP found that only 35 to 40 percent of companies were taking steps to address the financial risk of climate change to their business. And some companies, most notably ExxonMobil, still contend that the science is uncertain and, therefore, action is premature. That leaves companies—and their shareholders—open to unpleasant surprises down the road. Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, a New York–based investment advisory firm, estimates that as much as 15 percent of the total market capitalization of major companies may be put at risk by climate change. Companies in emissions-intensive sectors failing to take precautions could see their value drop by up to 40 percent, according to the CDP. That has big investors paying attention. Climate change has become a burning issue, so to speak, for pension funds such as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), which has invested $180 billion in assets. The CDP is backed by 143 institutional investors representing more

than $20 trillion in assets. And investment gurus such as Abby Joseph Cohen, at Goldman Sachs, have been sounding the alarm. The issue has been slower to reach individual investors, in part because they have less money at stake than, say, CalPERS. But climate change is “every bit as relevant to a concerned individual investor,” notes Douglas Cogan, deputy director of the Social Issues Service for the Investor Responsibility Research Center, in Washington, D.C. What can you do to prepare? Research your holdings. Do you own a company that is in a high-risk industry, such as oil, utilities, transportation, or tourism? How is it managing the risk? To find out, see if the company is one of a growing number that publish a social report. Similar to an annual financial report, a social report details the social and environmental performance of the company, such as how much greenhouse gas it emits and the steps it is taking to reduce the level. Some companies, such as General Electric and Cinergy, one of the largest electrical utilities, have won praise from investment pros and environmentalists alike for taking a lead in addressing the risks of global warming. General Electric, for example, will double its investment in green-tech research and development to $1.5 billion per year over the next decade, while significantly reining in carbon dioxide emissions. To find out more about other proactive companies, take a look at the Climate Leadership Index, a list of 50 businesses that are best addressing climate-related risk and opportunity, published by the CDP. It’s probable that you, like most individuals, own some sort of fund, whether a 401(k), a mutual fund, or a pension. If you have a pension (and that’s becoming less common), you’re in luck: pension managers have been some of the most active on the climate issue. October/November 2005

American ingenuity is everywhere.

Just not in AmericaÕs energy policy.

TodayÕs energy policies disregard American know-how and compromise our national security. America is a nation of innovators, but youÕd never know that from the plans that Washington is cooking up. They rely on yesterdayÕs polluting technologies and do almost nothing to free us from Middle East oil or create jobs at home. ItÕs time for a real solution. American technologies exist that could save millions of barrels of oil and billions of dollars every month. Go to and learn about an energy policy that strengthens our economy, protects the environment, and actually makes us more secure. Natural Resources Defense Council


When a company has to pay for its direct ecological impact, compliance with environmental regulations, and higher energy costs—or even, in some cases, its reputation as a polluter and lawsuits that arise from its un-green practices—its stock price can plummet, leaving investors in the red.

Mountain Hardwear Link In the how’d-they-do-that category, this plush microfleece is totally windproof and highly breathable at the same time.

Salomon XA Comp Made for off-road adventure, these lightweight, waterproof and breathable trail runners are built with GORE-TEX® XCR® fabric technology and a finely-tuned suspension system.

Mutual funds, on the other hand, have been silent when it comes to the issue of climate risk. Of the 100 largest mutual funds in America, only 2 percent (based on assets) voted in 2004 to support shareholder resolutions calling for more corporate disclosure on the financial impacts of global warming, according to a recent study by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES). Instead, firms including Fidelity, Vanguard, and American Funds, which together manage about 70 percent of those assets, either voted against or abstained on all global warming proposals. Only three investment management companies—American Century, Columbia Funds, and the Janus Funds—voted in favor of any global warming proposals in 2004. “Mutual funds are ignor-

ing the growing evidence that global warming will have far-reaching fiscal impacts on a wide range of business sectors,” says Mindy Lubber, executive director of CERES. You can contact your mutual fund and ask for its position on climate change. Or, better yet, look into one of the growing number of socially responsible investment (SRI) funds, which screen companies to weed out those with poor environmental, social, or governance records. The companies that make the cut are thought to manage risk better and turn in superior results. SRI funds vary widely in selection criteria, so inquire about their stance on global warming. Investing is inherently risky, but a little homework can help assure that global warming won’t fry your nest egg. ■

Finding an SRI Fund There are a number of useful Web sites that can help guide the socially responsible investor. Here are a few to get you started. — Carbon Disclosure Project, an investor collaborative focused on the business implications of climate change. Publishes the Climate Leadership Index.

REI The Mini Your go-everywhere, don’t-forget-anything organizer. Ergo-comfort disguised in this totally hip sling. — First Affirmative Financial Network, a national group of financial professionals engaged in socially responsible investment. — Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, a leading investment research firm specializing in climate change, as well as social and environmental performance. Reports available for download. — CERES, offering comprehensive information on climate-change investment risk, including reports on mutual-fund voting and a report to be released by the end of the year ranking 100 of the largest publicly traded companies on their climate risk management. — The Pew Center on Global Climate Change, providing For a free catalog, or to find a store near you, call 1-800-426-4840 or visit

background information on climate change, as well as how companies and policy makers are dealing with it. — Social Investment Forum, a nonprofit industry group promoting socially responsible investing. 32 | P L E N T Y

October/November 2005




F O R A F R E E C ATA L O G , C A L L 1 - 8 0 0 - 4 2 6 - 4 8 4 0




CHILDHOOD HABITATS Growing up among giant squid and spiritual fanatics THE HIGHEST TIDE BY JIM LYNCH BLOOMSBURY, $23.95

MILES O’MALLEY, A 13-YEAR-OLD BUDDING is the narrator of this fine first novel by Jim Lynch, a coming-of-age story set in a small town on Washington State’s Puget Sound. One moonlit night in early summer, while exploring the tidal flats near his home, Miles becomes the first person ever to spot a live giant squid. The discovery of this creature—which measures “thirtyseven feet from the top of its mantle to the end of its longest tentacle” and is thought to live only in the depths of the Pacific—turns Miles into a local celebrity. When he opines to a reporter that “perhaps the earth is trying to tell us something,” the statement is quoted far and wide by the press and environmental groups, eventually making him an object of veneration by a local cult. Amid the buzz, unsettling events begin to happen in the natural world, culminating in a freak tide that nearly washes away the town. As Miles navigates the watery world around him, he also makes the sometimes painful, sometimes comical passage toward adulthood. His parents’ marriage is falling apart; the troubled teenage girl next door becomes an object of consuming fascination; and his best friend, an elderly woman, is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Miles’s sidekick on many of his adventures begins to indoctrinate him into the mysteries of sex, and Lynch has an admirable way of capturing the comically prurient dialogue of curious adolescents. He also has a gift for describing the natural world, making sea creatures come alive even for those who have never seen a geoduck clam, a ragfish, or eel grass. (In a battle between a pair of hermit crabs, “two of the biggest bullies, a hairy hermit and a bluehanded hermit, faced off in a tug-of-war over a lurid rocksnail shell, which at the time was the shiny castle of a smaller hermit who’d been minding its own business.”) In less skillful hands, the narrator of The Highest Tide could have come across as a precocious but obnoxious know-it-all, spouting passages by Rachel Carson from memory and delivering oracles with laughable selfimportance. But Lynch delicately limns a


34 | P L E N T Y

character who struggles to understand the unpredictable vagaries of the adult world, even as he strives to decode the ominous signs that wash up around him.


MANY A MEMOIRIST HAS SURVIVED A “DIFFICULT” CHILDHOOD and lived to tell the tale, but few can lay claim to the truly weird territory Rachel Manija Brown stakes out in her recollection of five formative years spent at an ashram in India. In 1980, when Brown was seven, her hippie parents moved from Los Angeles to a spiritual commune in Ahmednagar, nine hours east of Bombay by train, to devote their lives to the worship of a mysterious sage known only as Baba. Though the guru has been dead for eleven

years by the time the girl and her family arrive at the ashram, his spirit infuses a band of loyal followers, who attempt to indoctrinate her into the ways of Baba worship. The cast of characters includes several memorable crazies, among them a vicious librarian, a jive-talking white guy, and a registered sex offender. Life among the faithful means near-squalid living conditions, incomprehensible mantras, and classes at a local convent school, where the nuns take peculiar delight in beating their charges. Brown survives by losing herself in books and in fantasies of becoming a woman warrior, such as those she encounters in the local folklore. Some of the more memorable passages in the book touch on the adventures of heroes from legend and history, like Shivaji, the Indian equivalent of Robin Hood. When she turns 12, Brown escapes from the commune with her father, still a Baba worshiper but clearly the more sensible of her out-there parents. In four “interlude” chapters, she recounts what happened to her family after she left India, hoping to understand how “the present sometimes sheds light on the past.” The most horrifying of these chapters reveals a family secret that helps explain her mother’s fragile and childlike character. In narrating her strange history, Brown maintains a light touch, and the almost girlish tone, from a woman now in her early 30s, is curiously right. The underlying message is also in line with what other memoirists, from Frank Conroy to David Sedaris, have discovered: children are usually sturdier than we think, and the most resilient will rise above untold indignities. That a few also grow up to write about them so winningly is all to our —ANN LANDI gain. October/November 2005

we share the sky

we share the future

Now is the time to join together to protect our world or we could lose all it gives us. To learn how you can help, order your free World Wildlife Fund Action Kit. 800.CALL.WWF

w w w. w o r l d w i l d l i f e . o r g / a c t

To g e t h e r, w e c a n b e a f o r c e f o r n a t u r e .



Fab Items for a Greener World

If living green wasn’t easy, you wouldn’t do it. Here are some new ways to show how cool it is to care.

C L E A R LY October/November 2005




WINDOW ON THE WATER $1,149 ( In this clear hybrid kayak/canoe, you can view the glory of the depths while you paddle on the surface. The Molokini model from Blue Hawaii will fit one or two people and is made from the same high-tech polymer as bulletproof glass.

P L E N T Y | 37




$12 ( The world’s most famous paper cup has gone renewable. Graham Hill, founder of the green blog, sells these iconic New York coffee cups to spark debate: is paper or porcelain better for the earth?

design wise

THEY’LL FLOCK TO YOU $175 ( All the chicks in the neighborhood will want to stay at your house.



4 COME SAIL AWAY $98 ( Wind and water resistant, these roomy sailcloth bags had a previous life affixed to a sailboat’s mast.

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October/November 2005

G E T D O W N A N D D I R T Y F O R A M E R I C A. One out of every three acres of America’s land – 600 million acres – is public land, your land. Lands where you can hike, bike, climb, swim, explore, picnic or just plain relax. And when you get your hands dirty in programs like National Public Lands Day, you help spruce up your beautiful lands. Last year on this day, nearly 80,000 volunteers built trails and bridges, planted native trees and removed trash. To find out how you can help, go to or call 1-800-VOL-TEER (800-865-8337). H E L P I N G


© 2005 Muench Photography, Inc.


A M E R I C A ’ S





CORELLIâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S NEW TOY


$1,500 ( Recycling has never sounded so good. This mandolin is handcrafted by artist Ronald Cook from recycled and salvaged wood.



EXECUTIVE MATERIAL $5,800 ( 17â&#x20AC;? flat-panel monitor, keyboard, and mouse Chained to your desk? This high-tech trio, custom-made from a solid piece of hardwood, will help you remember the beautiful outdoors, while preserving it. All of the lumber comes from forests that are responsibly managed.


October/November 2005


BOWLED OVER $210 ( Bamboo is a rapidly renewing wood—it can grow as much as two feet per day. These bowls from the hip boutique IIKH are the grooviest we’ve seen.


PERFECT YOUR PRACTICE $42 ( This all-natural yoga mat, made from rubber and jute, has no toxic PVCs and is fully compostable.



HARVEST HELPER $70 ( Perfect for balconies and fire escapes, this tomato planter has an elevated bed that lets your vines grow down, so there’s no tending or staking involved. October/November 2005

P L E N T Y | 41


jump into gear TREAD LIGHTLY Frame w/Fox Float RP3 shock: $1,699 XT w/Fox Float 100RLT fork: $3,899 ( Its all-carbon frame makes the Kestrel Edge one of the lightest mountain bikes on the market—with shock it only weighs 5.5 pounds. If you like hitting the hills hard, you’ll be happy to hear that the frame has a lifetime no-fault warranty—just don’t forget your helmet.


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October/November 2005

Roam With the

BEASTS The animal lover’s guide to the top ten vacations worldwide By Judy Koutsky

One of the fastest-growing areas in travel is adventure vacations—and what better adventure than getting cozy with wildlife? From swimming with the whale sharks in Belize to trekking with the mountain gorillas in Uganda, there’s no shortage of options open to the animal-loving traveler. Here are our picks for the ten best programs around the world. They are environmentally sound for the animals and provide an amazing experience for the traveler.

SWIM WITH THE WHALE SHARKS IN BELIZE FOR DIVERS AND SNORKELERS, floating alongside whale sharks is an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. The whale shark is the world’s largest fish, weighing up to ten tons and reaching up to 45 feet in length. It’s no Jaws, though: the whale shark never uses its minuscule teeth for chomping; instead, it simply opens its mouth and swallows its diet of tiny sea creatures or sucks them in through strainerlike mesh attached to its gills. Hundreds of whale sharks migrate to the shores of Placencia in Belize, to a spot called Gladden Cut, during the full moon each April, May, and June. During this time, divers, snorkelers, and swimmers can get a

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close-up view of these mammoth fish, sometimes from just inches away. The sharks are harmless to humans—but don’t try to reach out and touch them: there’s a $10,000 fine for contact with the protected creatures. Belize knows that whale sharks are a tourism gold mine, so the government limits boats to two dives a day (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) and strictly controls the number of people in the water at any time. Additionally, dive boats are only allowed to dive in government-appointed areas. All of this adds up to great wildlife encounters for vacationers and strict environmental protection for the whale shark.

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CONTACT Seahorse Dive Shop at 011 501 523 3166 or for bookings. Request dive master Brian Young: he has been diving for more than 20 years, and his experience finding the elusive whale shark cannot be beat. STAY at Francis Ford Coppolas’s Turtle Inn (; (800) 746-3743); all of the vegetables served at the inn’s Mare restaurant are grown organically on the premises. Guests can walk around the gardens to see what will be on their plate for dinner. Also, the inn works closely with local fisherman to serve fresh, local fish, and the wine is made with certified organic grapes from Coppola’s vineyards in California. ROOM PRICES start at $175 per night and include continental breakfast buffet and the use of mountain bikes and hiking trails. FOR MORE information, call the Belize Tourism Board at (800) 624-0686 or visit for more information. October/November 2005

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PRICES start at $1,099 for a two-week trip and include all meals and accommodations in a double room. TO BOOK A STAY, visit Worldwide Experience at or send an e-mail to

RUN A GAME PARK IN AFRICA IT’S NO SECRET THAT AFRICA boasts some of the best opportunities for animal encounters in the world, but you can get a closer look than your fellow tourists by helping to run a game park. You’ll see firsthand how conservation works while interacting daily with nature’s big five—elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, lions, and buffalo—when you take a learning vacation at Shamwari Game Reserve or Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in South Africa, through Worldwide Experience. For a period of 2 to 12 weeks, students work alongside some of the world’s leading conservationists and wildlife experts to learn about the local ecosystem, the role of humans in sustaining it, and the principles of wildlife and game management. Activities include monitoring fauna and flora, rehabilitating animal populations, building shelters, overseeing safaris, patrolling for illegal activities like poaching, and participating in day-to-day reserve maintenance. In addition, volunteers have the opportunity to teach local children about wildlife and visit neighboring cities.

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TRACK TIGERS IN INDIA AND NEPAL TIGERS ARE AMONG THE MOST ELUSIVE ANIMALS in the world, but as their habitat shrinks, spotting them is becoming important for their protection. Mountain Travel Sobek’s “India & Nepal: Save the Tiger!” wildlife program allows visitors to take part in tiger conservation efforts—and offers the promise of seeing one of these enigmatic creatures up close. Fly to India and trek for tigers by jeep or on the back of an elephant in Bandhavgarh National Park. In addition to game viewing, the 18-day trip includes a meeting with a conservation expert from the Wildlife Protection Society of India who will educate travelers on the plight of the tiger. Next, fly to Nepal and roam with the tigers at Royal Chitwan National Park. There, Charles McDougal, a prominent tiger researcher, will accompany your group on elephant safaris, walking tours, and game drives. Travelers will have a rare glimpse into the world of Asia’s vanishing tigers, and they’ll sleep peacefully knowing that all of the profits from their trip will be donated to The Fund for the Tiger. This California-based nonprofit charity is dedicated to preventing the tiger from disappearing from the forests and jungles of Asia. During the past eleven years of operation, the fund has raised more than $80,000 through the trip to support antipoaching and tiger conservation efforts in India and Nepal.

SCHMOOZE WITH ELEPHANTS IN BOTSWANA ELEPHANTS CAN LIVE FOR 70 YEARS, so when Doug and Sandi Groves adopted three African pachyderms, they knew they were making a lifelong commitment. The couple, who met in South Africa ten years ago while studying wildlife there, began a small rescue operation to save orphaned baby elephants whose parents were victims of “culling,” a government strategy of selective killing to ease the rapidly growing elephant population. “Living with Elephants” is the fruit of their labor: the program, based on an island in the Okavango Delta region, allows travelers to interact with the three elephants as the animals go about their daily activities. Elephants and humans come into conflict in certain parts of Africa because the elephant population has exploded in recent years, sometimes leading to competition for resources. “Living October/November 2005

PRICES for the trip start at $4,090 per person and include all meals and accommodations. FLIGHTS between the two destinations are an additional $345. TO BOOK A STAY, contact Mountain Travel Sobek at (888) MTSOBEK or visit

with Elephants” is designed to help foster a harmonious relationship between the two species. The program is open to local children and helps teach them the importance of protecting their pachyderm neighbors. Travelers stay at Stanley’s Camp, a swanky and eco-friendly collection of eight luxury tents that house handcrafted beds, fine linens, antique furniture, and oriental rugs. The main building has a raised deck that offers extensive views over the surrounding floodplains. Abercrombie & Kent offers the tour as part of its eleven-day “Wings over Botswana” safari, which starts at $5,425 per person. TO BOOK A STAY, contact Abercrombie & Kent at (800) 323-7308 or Or create your own itinerary by visiting and sending an e-mail to

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ROUND UP CATTLE IN THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK URBAN- AND SUBURBAN-DWELLING COWPOKES have long been strangely interested in experiencing life on a ranch. While many dude ranches are for show—meaning the cattle are there purely for the entertainment of tourists—Wrotham Park in Australia is the real deal, with a herd of 35,000 Brahman cattle. Owned by the Australian Agricultural Company, the ranch spreads across 1.5 million acres and has a lodge on the premises. Jackaroos and jillaroos (the Aussie version of cowboys and cowgirls) watch over the herd year-round, but they muster the cattle in April and September, rounding up thousands of the animals on horseback and by helicopter. The 33 ranch employees also educate guests about wildlife, geology, and native flora, in addition to showing them the ins and outs of life on the range. Don’t think, though, that you’ll be spending your nights in a tent and eating stew. Wrotham Park Lodge is a luxury accommodation, offering guests the chance to get down and dirty by day and be pampered in five-star private quarters by night. Set high above the Mitchell River, the resort affords some of the best views in the outback. And the cuisine is fit for royalty: enjoy fresh fish, steaks, delicious salads, and mouthwatering desserts. Other daytime activities include fishing, horseback riding, nature walks, and biking around the ranch.

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PRICES start at $1,600 per room per night, double occupancy, and include all meals, accommodations at the lodge, a 24-hour open bar, a half-day ranch tour, horseback riding, canoeing, and transportation between the park and the airport. TO BOOK A STAY, contact Wrotham Park through its parent company, Voyages, at (800) 225-9849 or For more information, visit

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ALL OF THE CHIMPANZEES ON THE UGANDAN ISLAND OF NGAMBA are refugees, and most are orphans. Despite their difficult backgrounds—they were rescued from illegal dealers trying to sell them as pets or smuggle them out of the country—these chimps roam freely throughout their forest environment. Established by five nonprofit groups, including the Washington, D.C.–based Jane Goodall Institute, the Ngamba Island Sanctuary now houses 34 chimps. The environment on the 97-acre island is the perfect habitat for chimpanzees: an African tropical rain forest with more than 50 species of plants, on which Ugandan chimps love to chow down. But the forest is not quite large enough to provide long-term sustenance for all of the sanctuary’s hungry primates, so staff members feed them four times every day. Two of these meals take place on a viewing platform, providing an opportunity for visitors to observe and photograph the chimps.

PRICES start at $170 per person and include all meals and accommodations in tent cabins overlooking the lake. Luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent also offers a Ngamba Island trek as part of an eleven-day tailor-made tour of Uganda, with prices starting at $4,800 per person. TO BOOK A STAY, visit, or make a reservation through Abercrombie & Kent at (800) 323-7308 or October/November 2005

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GO ON SAFARI IN ALASKA OUR 49TH STATE IS CHOCK-FULL OF WILDLIFE, both on land and in water. While you’ll never see them all in one vacation, the best way to get your fill of the region’s animals is to take a cruise through the Inside Passage. Princess Cruises offers a good one, allowing passengers to spot a variety of animals including sea lions, humpback whales, orcas, otters, bald eagles, and dolphins. Daily excursions from the boat help maximize your animal sightings, but often the best views come simply from sitting on the ship’s balcony. Some excursion highlights include dogsledding on Norris Glacier, where visitors can meet a world-famous Iditarod team; watching black bears devour salmon in Ketchikan; and searching for whales and sea lions in Skagway. “Heli-hiking” is not to be missed: travelers are flown by helicopter to the top of a mountain to hike in remote locations, often encountering moose and caribou. And Princess land tours in Denali National Park afford views of bears, Dall sheep, and a variety of birds. All tours include in-depth education on Alaska’s environment and wildlife.

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PRICES start at $849 per person and include accommodations and meals. TO BOOK A STAY, contact Princess at (800) PRINCESS or visit

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PRICES start at $2,898 per person for the trip and include all meals, accommodations, and internal transportation. TO BOOK A STAY, contact Country Walkers at (800) 464-9255 or visit

HIKE WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE IN COSTA RICA COSTA RICA IS PRACTICALLY SYNONYMOUS WITH ECOTOURISM. In a country that is home to more than 850 species of birds alone, almost any kind of vacation offers close encounters with wildlife including monkeys, toucans, parrots, sloths, coatimundi (part of the raccoon family), and sea turtles. Tour operators abound in this region, and the best ones, like the Country Walkers, give something back to the environment that they explore. This company’s “Costa Rica: From Rain Forest to Reefs” tour introduces travelers to the region’s diverse ecosystems: tropical rain forests, volcanic mountains, coastal plains, and beaches. October/November 2005

The eight-day tour includes snorkeling trips that bring you up close with aquatic life and horseback-riding and rafting excursions into the jungle. In addition, the company works in partnership with a local conservation group to preserve the habitat of the mono tití, or the Costa Rican squirrel monkey. Starting in 2006, visitors will be able to help plant trees to create a corridor for the mono tití along the Naranjo River, an important habitat for the animal, so vacationers not only experience the wildlife of Costa Rica but also can actively participate in preserving it. Accommodations include mountain bungalows and a rain forest lodge. P L E N T Y | 51

TASTE THE BIODIVERSITY OF THE AMAZON THE AMAZON IS OFTEN SAID TO BE THE LARGEST RESERVOIR of wildlife and biodiversity on the earth. While visitors have been exploring this region for decades, conservation-based tour operators are looking at the Amazon not only as a moneymaking destination but also one that must be preserved for future visitors, as well as for its biological richness. To that end, International Expeditions (IE) established the Canopy Walkway in Peru, making the life of the rain forest canopy accessible to scientists, educators, students, and other travelers. Their â&#x20AC;&#x153;Amazon Voyage: The Greatest Voyage in Natural Historyâ&#x20AC;? program offers abundant opportunity for wildlife encounters in the jungle. Visitors on the nine-day tour may meet primates such as howler monkeys and monk sakis, along with other land and water creatures like sloths, caimans (reptiles related to alligators), capybaras (tailless rodents often more than four feet long), and pink river dolphins. Expert guides show travelers the plants and wildlife of the region, lead walks in the rain forest, and take IE guests to visit local communities. PRICES start at $2,198 for the trip and include all meals, accommodations, and a cruise. TO BOOK A STAY, call (800) 633-4734 or visit

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CHILL WITH GORILLAS IN RWANDA VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK IN RWANDA is home to 340 of the 720 mountain gorillas that exist worldwide. (You may also recognize it as Dian Fossey’s base camp in the movie Gorillas in the Mist). Ker & Downey, a luxury safari tour operator that helps promote research on the gorillas’ threatened ecosystem, offers a “Gorillas in the Mist” tour that gives visitors two full days searching for the apes.

PRICES start at $1,860 for the four-day, three-night tour and include accommodations and most meals. There is an additional charge of $375 for each “gorilla permit,” which you’ll need in order to meet the animals. TO BOOK A STAY, call (800) 423-4236 or visit October/November 2005

Mountain gorillas typically live in small groups, and their movements depend on the food supply in each area. Treks to visit the four local gorilla groups range from two to seven hours, and most days there are several groups within a two-hour trek of the park’s headquarters. During the wet season, hikes can be as short as 20 minutes, because the gorillas move to lower elevations to feed. While the gorillas are habituated to humans, they are still wild, not captive, and this makes for a powerful experience. Humans must stay 15 yards from the gorillas and must not approach them. The gorillas, however, have free rein, which means they may approach—and touch—the visitors. Don’t worry, though: naturalists will give you an in-depth primer on how to behave around the gorillas. Actual time with the apes is one hour and allows for ample viewing. ■

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From the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, business and the environment were at odds. Nature was something to be exploited, with little regard for the consequences. Now we’re confronting the limits of our ecological system, and nature’s constraints are figuring into the bottom line. Consumers are demanding greater accountability from the companies they buy products from. Governments are tightening regulations to protect the environment and ward off global warming. To survive under these new conditions, businesses need to rethink their core processes and examine not only their environmental policies but also how their actions are perceived. It’s too early to declare a second Industrial Revolution; the global economy is still heavily dependent on oil. Yet there has clearly been an awakening. In the pages that follow, Plenty profiles some of the leading companies on the front lines. October/November 2005

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GREEN THINGS TO LIFE Against a legacy of pollution, General Electric


launches “ecomagination,” a campaign for greener business. Is it only our imagination, or is the corporate giant changing? By Richard Bradley

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competitive.” Green, Immelt concluded, “is green.” OMETIMES THE WORLD CHANGES WITH A BANG, and Even to an audience hearing this news for the first time, the implisometimes it changes with a whisper, or at least with a cations of Immelt’s talk were profound: the head of one of the world’s speech, delivered well and calmly by a middle-aged largest companies was rejecting any tension between being environbusinessman in a dark suit. That is how change came mentally responsible and making money. In fact, not only was there this year on Monday, May 9, in the auditorium of the no contradiction, but you could make money, lots of money, by operGeorge Washington University School of Business, ating in an environmentally friendly manner. GE’s paradigm shift when General Electric’s 50-year-old chief executive would have a ripple effect as well. GE is one of the business world’s officer, Jeffrey Immelt, stood in front of a podium in that aforemenmost admired companies, with its practices taught in business tioned dark suit, a blue shirt, and a power-red tie. schools and imitated by companies of all sizes. If GE believed that The challenges of the 21st century are coming into stark relief, green is green, other businesses would surely follow its lead. Immelt declared. At GE “we’re taking a long look around, and here’s No wonder that when Susan M. Phillips, dean of George what we see: a diminishing domestic oil supply and natural gas Washington University’s business school, took the stage after reserves. . . , our continued dependence on foreign sources of enerImmelt’s speech, she turned to him and gushed, “Bless your heart.” gy. . . , increasingly scarce resources, like water, in an ever more popNot everyone shares that sentiment. GE hasn’t exactly been a ulated world. . . , and the signs of global climate change.” friend to the environment in the past, and some environmentalists Because the world had changed, Immelt said, his company— have a hard time trusting the company to change so dramatically. some 300,000 employees strong, and, in terms of market capitalizaThey note GE’s past environmental abuses, such as contributing to tion, the world’s biggest business—would change as well. He then between 75 and 100 Superfund sites as well as polluting New York’s announced a company-wide initiative called “ecomagination.” With Hudson River with toxic chemicals, and they wonder if ecomaginathe ecomagination campaign—whose name is a play on one of GE’s tion is only a corporate public-relations gimmick. “Until GE really corporate slogans, “imagination at work”—GE has committed to deals with its toxic legacy,” says Rich Schiafo, of Scenic Hudson, a focusing on the environment in two broad ways. First, Immelt promNew York environmental group, “to go out there and publicly tout ised to improve GE’s environmental practices. Most significant, the themselves as this eco-company is nothing but eco-procrastination.” company, which had projected a 40 percent increase in its emissions It is a fair question: can you trust the company that helped pollute of greenhouse gases by the year 2012, would instead reduce those the world to help clean it up? emissions by 1 percent of its 2004 total. Second, he announced that GE would double its investment in energy-efficient and environmenPERHAPS ECOMAGINATION IS A BELATED RESPONSE to Bill McKibben’s tally friendly products—such as photovoltaic cells, turbines for wind power, more fuel-efficient jet engines, even energy-saving dishwashvisionary 1989 book, The End of Nature. The environmental writer ers—to $1.5 billion annually by the year 2012. argued that because humanity’s involvement with nature had become But perhaps the most startling aspect of Immelt’s talk was his so disruptive, the very idea of nature as an autonomous force was explanation of the motive behind obsolete. Humanity was affecting ecomagination: profit. not only local environments but Most American companies that also the very forces of nature have adopted environmentally itself: the light, winds, currents, friendly practices have done so temperatures, and seasons. And because of shareholder pressure, not in a good way. Our coal activist agitation, tort lawsuits, or mines, power plants, factories, state and federal regulations. On logging—all were altering the occasion they’ve gone green to areas in which they were situated buff their image and reposition as well as the world as a whole. themselves as companies that proMcKibben’s thesis was hotly gressive consumers can support. debated when the book was first Sometimes the makeovers work; published, with critics accusing sometimes they don’t. When him of exaggeration and British Petroleum began advertisalarmism. But ten years later, ing itself as an oil company that DANCING IN THE RAIN: one television spot for ecomagination features a dancing ecomagination effectively conwas looking “beyond petroleum,” elephant, while a print campaign offers a new course in phrenology (left). cedes that McKibben was right; industry skeptics sneered, but conafter all, the premise of the camsumers loved the pitch. Before becoming Ford’s chief executive offipaign is that environmental problems have grown so huge and so cer in 2001, Bill Ford Jr. frequently talked up the need for fuel-effiglobal that addressing them is now profitable. “General Electric was cient cars. But after taking the top job, he found his company increaslooking at this issue of climate change and thinking two things,” ingly dependent on sales of gas-guzzling SUVs, and environmentalexplains Andrew Aulisi, a scientist at the World Resources Institute ists treated him like a traitor. (WRI), an environmental group that has endorsed ecomagination. Immelt, however, didn’t talk about morality or corporate respon“One thought was that they need more information,” he says (which sibility; he stressed money. “Ecomagination,” he said, “is driven by they could get from working with environmental groups like WRI). our belief that applying technology to solving problems is great busi“And the second was that a world moving toward clean energy sysness. . . We’re launching ecomagination not because it’s trendy or tems was a world in which GE could compete very effectively.” (WRI moral, but because it will accelerate our growth and make us more receives funding from GE but says the financial support is unrelated

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to the endorsement because the group often partners with businesses to address environmental issues.) The more tangible origins of ecomagination lie in a series of meetings Immelt initiated with his top executives in early 2004. “Jeff first thought up the word in one of these brainstorming sessions,” explains Peter O’Toole, a GE spokesperson. “He realized that, hey, [ecomagination] would be doing good, but we can make money, too.” GE, which enjoyed spectacular growth during the 1990s, had hit a rough patch. Its stock had plummeted from a high of about $60 in August 2000 to a low of $23 in early 2003. (It’s now hovering around $35.) Under Immelt’s predecessor, capitalist titan Jack Welch, GE grew mainly through acquisitions and a massive push into consumer financial services. Fearing that the company had strayed from its signature expertise of manufacturing, Immelt wanted to refocus on research and development. Looking around the company, he saw numerous projects that fell under an environmental umbrella. Wind power was one example: GE had bought Enron’s wind-power division in 2002 for some $300 million, instantly becoming a major player in that rapidly growing field. (By 2020, for instance, China hopes to produce 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources, especially wind power.) Desalination was another area of growth: GE sees huge markets for water purification plants, particularly in Africa, China, and the Middle East. In addition, they were developing jet engines, locomotives, cleaner coal-burning technology, even longer-lasting lightbulbs. Immelt believed there was a market for all of these products and services that hadn’t existed a few years earlier. He also saw that the rest of the world, and Europe in particular, was more focused than the 58 | P L E N T Y

United States on producing clean energy. That’s because European governments, particularly those that ratified the Kyoto Protocol, are less ideologically opposed to weaning themselves off oil. Their policies are creating new opportunities for alternative-energy products. If GE wanted to remain competitive overseas, it would have to ignore the Bush administration’s lack of interest in global warming and take matters into its own hands. And so ecomagination was born: a way of branding GE’s recognition that the time had truly come when you could clean up by cleaning up. Since announcing the initiative, GE has been pushing it through a high-profile publicity campaign—reported to have a $90 October/November 2005


A STUDY IN CONTRASTS: a print campaign with Audubon-style birds is in sharp contrast to the Hudson River plant in Hudson Falls, N.Y., which harbors PCBs dumped by GE.

million budget—featuring newspaper inserts, magazine advertisements, and a series of slick TV spots. One such ad for coal-burning technology, called “Model Miners,” portrays a series of intermittently dressed male and female models working in a coal mine and looking oddly happy about it. Reviews for the ad campaign have been mixed—the New York Times called “Model Miners” “hopelessly conflicted”—but taken as a whole, it makes being green look sexy, modern, and desirable. And if showing buffed bodies in a coal mine achieves that effect, then GE can live with a little eco-exaggeration. MORE



“At times in the past,” Immelt admitted during his speech, “when much less was known about how to protect our environment, [environmentalists and GE] have been at odds over how to address historical contamination of waterways and other issues. Some of those disagreements continue today.” That was a mild way of putting it, but everyone knew what Immelt was referring to. The highest-profile blight on GE’s record, the issue that keeps environmentalists from wholly embracing ecomagination, is the company’s role in polluting New York’s Hudson River. From the 1940s to the 1970s, GE discharged PCBs—toxic chemicals believed to cause cancer and other illnesses in animals and humans—into the Hudson while building and operating factories along its banks. The chemicals contaminated the river, poisoned birds and fish, made consumption of fish from the Hudson dangerous, and, until recently, made it hazardous to swim in the Hudson. For years environmentalists have fought to force GE to dredge the contaminated sites and remove the PCBs. Former CEO Welch vigorously resisted that idea. Arguing that the chemicals were effectively “entombed” and dredging would exacerbate the problem, he spent tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and on public-relations campaigns. He should have saved the money. In 2002 the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that the PCBs should be removed and ordered GE to pay for the job. Since then, the EPA has been studying the best way to clean up the chemicals, and the agency’s casual progress has some environmentalists wondering if GE isn’t slowing things down behind the scenes. (GE says any delays are the result of EPA requests for additional data.) “I have no doubt that they want to sell their customers on environmentally friendly products,” says Robert Goldstein, the Hudson River program director at the environmental group Riverkeeper. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I hope they’re genuine about it, and I have no indication that they’re not. The difficulty is that if they’re going to put forward a campaign like ecomagination, and there’s a toxic waste dump in their backyard,” (GE is headquartered in nearby Fairfield, Connecticut) “it seems a little disingenuous.”

O’Toole explains that things aren’t so simple. “Wrapping up [the Hudson River problem] is going to take time,” he says. “It’s a long, involved process, and the EPA is the driver in this whole program. To lump things together and say that because of the Hudson, GE shouldn’t be doing ecomagination, is a mistake.” The Hudson may be a separate matter, the legacy of a prior CEO and the source of sincere disagreement. In the meantime, perhaps the most persuasive sign that ecomagination is for real is antienvironmental conservatives’ dislike of it. Wall Street Journal columnist Alan Murray, for example, accused GE of caving in to nongovernmental organizations hoping to “subsume the primary mission of the corporation—making profits—within a host of other goals, from the promotion of biodiversity to the protection of indigenous rights.” GE, said Murray, is “their biggest catch.” The dilemma for such ideologues—and, more importantly, for the White House—is that conservatives have been arguing that global warming either doesn’t exist or that if it does, addressing it would cause debilitating economic damage to the United States. Ecomagination rebuffs those arguments. Not only does the campaign acknowledge the reality of global warming, it also says that in order to stay economically competitive, U.S. business has to go green. And this isn’t a start-up alternative-energy company saying so. Ecomagination puts the White House in the untenable position of asserting that they’ve heard from businesses that global warming would hurt the American economy, even as a giant of American capitalism says that addressing global warming will help the economy. Of course, GE, which has no desire to irritate the Bush administration or Republicans in Congress, won’t come out and say that it disagrees with their policies. “This wasn’t a rebuke to the White House,” insists O’Toole, “just an acknowledgement that we have to talk about things that appear to be happening. This is a nonpartisan stake in the ground.” Yes and no. Describing himself as a businessman and not a policymaker, Immelt has refused to endorse any particular legislation, such as the bill by Arizona’s John McCain and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman that proposes caps on greenhouse gas emissions. But GE’s decision to cut its emissions goes further than any White House plan, largely because there is no White House plan. And Immelt’s repeated references to market developments in Europe and China imply that while the United States has been led by an administration whose energy policy prioritizes oil drilling, other countries have aggressively moved to fill the vacuum. Ecomagination suggests that the White House’s current position on global warming is, simply, wrong. That’s a powerful statement, and skeptics on both sides of the political spectrum will invariably take a waitand-see position on ecomagination. But so far, it looks as though GE really has brought a good thing to life. ■

Not only does the campaign acknowledge the reality of global warming, it also says that in order to stay economically competitive, U.S. business has to go green. October/November 2005

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These eco-entrepreneurs didn't like the rules. So they changed them. Their innovations and commitment to sustainability are transforming the way everything from food to energy is produced and consumed—and they’re turning a profit while they’re at it.

Five green executive officers and how they made it to the top By Amy Cortese

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ichael Crooke likes to begin speeches by declaring what a big polluter his company is. “The bigger we get, the more we pollute,” he says. No matter that Patagonia, an outdoor-apparel maker, is one of the most environmentally progressive and pioneering companies you’ll find. Patagonia uses 100 percent organic fiber in its cotton garments and recycled plastic in its fleece products. Its buildings are constructed with recycled materials and the latest green building methods, and powered in part by wind and solar energy. No matter. In Crooke’s mind, he still has a long way to go. While many business leaders are more concerned with polishing their corporate image than helping preserve the environment, Crooke takes a hard-nosed look at his company’s decisions. Organic cotton? Great. But it is still a water-intensive monocrop, he’ll tell you. Recycled plastic for fleece? Fine. But that involves melting down the material, which generates greenhouse gases. “We need to get past the superficial level,” says Crooke. “You have to look at the whole thing as a system.” That holistic view has driven many of the company’s innovations. The latest is a fully recyclable waterproof jacket, coming out this fall. “If you can’t compost it, you should be able to recycle it,” says Crooke. “Our goal is a closed loop.” Crooke grew up in Oregon, where he spent his youth camping, fishing, and skiing. After a stint as a Navy SEAL, he studied forestry. “I wanted to save the world and be a forest ranger,” he says. Realizing that the job involved more bureaucracy than October/November 2005



Michael Crooke President and CEO, Patagonia Expertise: Technical outdoor clothing Eco-boast: First in the industry to switch to 100 percent organic cotton Green inspiration: Watching trees get cut down Unconventional wisdom: Synthetic materials are more eco-friendly than cotton Employee perk: $2,000 bonus for buying a hybrid What’s next: Fully recyclable clothing

world saving, he joined a family-run timber company in Northern California that practiced sustainable forestry. The family eventually sold out to a larger firm, which promptly cut down the old trees that had been spared. The experience led him to pursue an M.B.A. “It cemented my opinion that business can be used for the greater good,” he says. October/November 2005

After working at various outdoor sporting companies, Crooke was offered the top job at Lost Arrow Corporation, which owns Patagonia, by Yvon Chouinard, its founder. Chouinard began making technical gear for himself and his rock-climbing buddies in the 1960s, later expanding into clothing. Today the company sells garb for everything from biking to boarding. Despite its success,

Patagonia has never lost its laid-back and eco-conscious style, and Crooke sees the company as the perfect place to put his environmental ethos to work. At Patagonia’s campus in Ventura, California, employees are encouraged to indulge their passions, whether that means joining the weekly Friday bike rides around the lake or surfing in the nearby Pacific. Employees who buy hybrid cars get a $2,000 bonus and preferred parking. Though employee perks like these and sustainability practices could take a bite out of the bottom line, Patagonia is financially successful, funding its growth from cash earnings. Indeed, the company proves that eco-friendly policies can be good business. Patagonia has become an industry benchmark, spurring apparel companies into rethinking what goes into their clothing (hint: a lot of chemicals). Titans such as Nike and Timberland are now adding organic fibers and recycled materials to their lines. “Until Patagonia, most people didn’t know about organic cotton,” says Jeffrey Swartz, CEO of Timberland. When he’s not riding a bike or running the company, Crooke is working on a Ph.D. dissertation that merges his ideas about integrating environmental and social concerns with product quality and profits. By looking through what he calls a “multicultural lens”—that is, at the many-layered effects of corporate decision making—you can end up with an optimal decision, he says. Crooke is low-key, shrugging off the notion that his ideas have made Patagonia a success. The triumph of Patagonia, he says, “is about the collective power of 1,000 people. It’s not about Michael Crooke.” ★ P L E N T Y | 61


Tom Dinwoodie Founder and CEO, PowerLight Expertise: Affordable solar energy technology Eco-boast: World’s largest solar installation Lightbulb moment: Bay Bridge traffic Early sacrifice: Three years in a garage Unconventional wisdom: Solar panels can make attractive—and practical—roofs


om Dinwoodie first heard about the greenhouse effect in 1968, when a prescient eighth-grade biology teacher explained that the condition existed on Venus and, if we weren’t careful, could happen on this planet, too. “That kind of stuck with me,” says Dinwoodie, an Omaha, Nebraska, native. Dinwoodie went on to study and practice engineering and architecture until 1991, when an epiphany of sorts led him back to the problem of greenhouse gas–induced global warming. On a mission to find a particular bathroom fixture for a house he was designing outside San Francisco for a client, Dinwoodie found himself stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge. As he sat idling in his car, watching the exhaust fumes rise, he thought, “I could be making a bigger difference.” The best way to do that, he figured, was to work with solar power. Using his engineering and architectural knowledge, Dinwoodie set out to develop affordable 62 | P L E N T Y

solar photovoltaic technology for large-scale projects, which he believed would have the greatest impact. Photovoltaics convert sunlight—which is abundant and emissions free—into energy. When Dinwoodie started, however, photovoltaic systems were clunky and expensive. Holed up in a garage in Berkeley, Dinwoodie spent three years developing a prototype while living off research grants and a pile of credit cards. He emerged with a low-cost, light-weight, rooftop-mounted solar-powered system that, for the first time, did not puncture the rooftop. It had the added benefit of providing insulation and extending the life of the roof, protecting it from the damaging effects of weather and ultraviolet light. From the start, Dinwoodie stressed economics—PowerLight can save companies up to 50 percent on energy costs. That appealed to businesses, and he began assembling an impressive roster of clients, which today includes FedEx, Toyota, the U.S. Postal

Service, and San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center. In 1996 Dinwoodie moved out of the garage and hired his first employee, Dan Shugar, a solar veteran who became the company’s president three years ago. Together, the two have turned the privately held PowerLight into a powerhouse. The company has grown an average of 60 percent a year, they say, and is now the country’s largest provider of commercial solar electric systems. It has installed enough photovoltaic arrays to provide daytime power to about 50,000 homes and recently completed the world’s largest photovoltaic installation, a ten-megawatt system in Bavaria, Germany. PowerLight has also announced plans to enter the residential market. For all of its potential to provide clean, reliable energy and lessen dependence on foreign oil, solar power faces big obstacles in the United States. “I don’t think the U.S. has woken up to the fact that although it invented this technology, which someday will be bigger than oil, it has lost its lead,” says Dinwoodie. Private interests and states such as California are developing solar and other renewable energy sources, even without help from the federal government. The market for solar power reached $7 billion last year and is expected to hit nearly $40 billion by 2015. “Supporting this technology now is critical,” says Dinwoodie. Twenty years from now, the sun will become our primary source of peak generating power; at that point it will be a wedge against the harmful impacts of global warming, he says. His biology teacher would be so proud. ★ October/November 2005

Amy Domini CEO, Domini Social Investments Expertise: Socially responsible investing Eco-boast: Persuaded companies to report on their social and environmental performance Green inspiration: Former bird-watching client Biggest risk: Ditching a weapons manufacturer Unconventional wisdom: Well-behaved companies make wise investments What’s next: Putting the heat on Whole Foods



he idea of aligning socially responsible values with profitable investing seems common enough today—there are $2.6 trillion in assets invested in socially responsible funds— but when Amy Domini started Domini Social Investments more than two decades ago, it was almost unheard of. Working as a stockbroker in Boston in 1980, Domini was struck by the growing number of clients who refused to invest in companies they disapproved of. One client, an avid bird-watcher, balked at investing in a large paper company whose use of a defoliant destroyed the habitat of birds. Then, gathered around the squawk box one morning, Domini and her fellow brokers were urged to push the latest hot stock tip: a weapons manufacturer about to receive a big contract. “I thought, ‘I can’t call people about a weapons company,’” recalls Domini. She didn’t—and the world of investing has never been the same. Domini published her ideas about the fledgling socially responsible investing (SRI) movement in a 1984 book titled The Ethics of Investing, which coincided with the height of the antiapartheid movement. “I suddenly found myself an expert,” she says. Still, Wall Street wasn’t convinced that well-behaved companies were a better investment; on the contrary, many believed they carried a penalty. So in 1989, with partners Peter Kinder and Steve Lydenberg, she created the Domini 400 Social Index, which tracked the performance of 400 largecap corporations selected for their social and environmental practices. The trio also formed a research firm, Kinder, Lydenberg, Domini & Co., to collect and publish the type of research that wasn’t being done on Wall Street. “We wanted to remove the barriers to SRI,” says Domini. Today Domini presides over the oldest October/November 2005

and largest social-investment index fund and roughly $1.9 billion in assets. The New York–based firm has also added investment vehicles to spur development in underserved communities. Thanks to the efforts of Domini—a mother of two, who was recently named one of the 100 most influential people of the year by Time—and other shareholder activists, a growing number of corporations now publish reports disclosing information that ranges from working conditions at overseas factories to the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. And several have been goaded into adopting better environmental and social practices. Yet the notion that good social and environmental behavior reflects good management—and, ultimately, performance—is still a subject of debate. The Domini index has held its own: since 1990 it has risen 484 percent, versus 416 percent for the S&P. The thornier issue these days is what exactly constitutes a socially responsible

company. Most SRI funds screen out companies that produce weapons, tobacco, or alcohol; but beyond that, the process gets tricky. On its Web site Domini lists its criteria for including companies in its index, acknowledging, “there are no perfect companies.” The index, for example, includes McDonald’s, a company blamed for everything from obesity to animal cruelty. But McDonald’s, notes Domini, has worked with groups ranging from the World Resources Institute to PETA to improve the way it sources its food (PETA, for example, recently won a promise from the company that it would require its suppliers to use more humane slaughtering standards). There are no sacred cows, either. Domini launched a dialogue with Whole Foods to urge the company to disclose the use of GMOs in its private-label products. Says Domini, “I’m not trying to buy perfection. I’m trying to buy companies that are making progress.” ★ P L E N T Y | 63

“Growing up in the ’60s, I could never let go of the feeling that we all have to do our part to make the world a better place.”

Jeffrey Hollender CoFounder and CEO, Seventh Generation Expertise: Eco-friendly household cleaning products Eco-boast: Saved 1.3 million gallons of petroleum and 327,800 trees over the past decade Green inspiration: Iroquois philosophy Unconventional wisdom: Your home can make you sick What’s next: Demanding clarity on cleaning-product labels


n the late 1980s, after selling his adulteducation company, Jeffrey Hollender began to work on a book called How to Make the World a Better Place. Though cofounding a green cleaning products company was not listed among the 116 ways he suggested people could make a difference, that is what he eventually did. “Growing up in the ’60s, I could never let go of the feeling that we all have to do

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our part to make the world a better place,” says Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation, based in Burlington, Vermont. Since its inception in 1988, Seventh Generation—whose name was inspired by the Iroquois belief that every decision must take into account the impact on the next seven generations—has grown from a tiny mail-order business to the largest maker of natural and ecologically safe household

cleaning products. Because asthma, cancer, and allergies are on the rise, researchers are increasingly suspicious of the chemicals present in everyday cleaning products. Hollender, a passionate advocate of natural products as well as socially responsible businesses, stays up-to-date on the latest research. Did you know, for example, that the air inside your home is likely to be two to five times—and as much as 100 times—more polluted than the air outside? Studies have shown that much indoor pollution is caused by common household cleaners that containing toxic ingredients, such as chlorine and benzene, which have been linked to disease. The chemicals find their way into the air, earth, and water, from where we absorb and store them in our bodies. Yet manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on the labels, explains Hollender, who explores such issues in his latest book, Naturally Clean, due out next March from New Society Publishers. Seventh Generation’s products contain no toxic chemicals. Its cleansers, which range from dish and laundry detergents to bathroom cleaners, use plant-based cleaning agents rather than chemicals derived from petroleum, and they biodegrade rapidly. All of the ingredients are clearly labeled. The company’s line of paper products and disposable diapers is produced without chlorine bleach, thereby avoiding dangerous by-products such as dioxin, which has been linked to cancer. Most important, in household tests the products stack up well against leading consumer brands. In keeping with the Iroquois philosophy, Seventh Generation considers the total impact its products have on the environment. For example, the company realized that its laundry detergents were designed for use with hot or warm water, thereby contributing to global warming, so it is creating a detergent that will be effective in cold water. With Seventh Generation, Hollender has helped grow the natural cleaning products market to roughly $150 million in sales today, from almost nothing 20 years ago. Even mainstream supermarkets have begun to stock Seventh Generation and other natural cleaning products. That’s still a drop in the bucket compared with the $12 billion spent annually on conventional cleaners. But seven generations from now, the impact will surely be felt. ★ October/November 2005

Bill Niman Founder, Niman Ranch Expertise: Naturally raised meat Green inspiration: Bland steak Humble beginnings: Hippie homestead Animal perk: Free roaming What’s next: Labeling standards



ou don’t have to be a member of PETA to be disturbed by the state of the meat industry. Animals are fed antibiotics, hormones, and unnatural diets; confined to tiny indoor stalls for the better part of their lives; then slaughtered in terrifyingly inhumane fashion. And meat produced this way is often lacking in the flavor that comes from natural diets, exercise, and fat. Many concerned gourmands are looking for more natural and humane alternatives, but unless there’s a small farm nearby, they can be hard to find. How to bring the mom-and-pop farm ethos to the masses? Enter Niman Ranch. Based in Oakland, California, Niman is the largest provider of naturally raised beef, lamb, and pork in the United States, thanks to a network of small farmers who adhere to Niman’s strict animal husbandry standards. Niman products are widely available, even in mainstream outlets like Trader Joe’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill (see page 70), a restaurant chain owned by McDonald’s. Niman’s farmers raise animals in traditional environments, allowing them to roam and graze outdoors and feed on diets free of hormones, antibiotics, and other additives. “That’s what’s best for the animals, people, and the environment,” says Bill Niman, founder of the company and patron saint of conscientious carnivores everywhere. Still, the main goal is to produce the “finest-tasting meat in the world,” Niman says. Put a mouthful of Niman Ranch clover-fed lamb in your mouth, and you will understand the difference. Thirty years ago, Niman probably couldn’t have imagined where his sustainable farming practices would lead. Drawn to California in the late 1960s, he joined with other like-minded young souls “skeptical about government and how food was produced” to establish a countercultural community in Bolinas, California, an hour’s October/November 2005

drive north of San Francisco. There, they built their own homes, lived off the grid, and produced their own food. Niman, a Minnesota native who studied anthropology at the state university, raised cattle. Niman’s naturally raised beef soon gained a reputation among foodies in the Bay Area and began appearing on menus at trend-setting restaurants. The chef at one such establishment, San Francisco’s Zuni Café, asked him if he could supply lamb, too, and Niman found himself in the lamb business. A similar bit of serendipity involving a friend of a friend got him into hog farming. “It was not exactly a business plan,” says Niman, laughing. “Now we’re a little more strategic about things.” From such humble beginnings, Niman has expanded the company to about $60 million in annual sales, and he hopes to increase that to a couple hundred million in short order. To do so, he’s focused on “growing and mobilizing the supply network,” which currently comprises 500 farms and ranches. In Nimanian logic, the network serves several purposes: it provides

a better living for more farmers, a healthier planet, and better-quality meat to more people. “We’re trying to change how people eat and what happens in the rural landscape,” says Niman, who still lives on the ranch in Bolinas with his wife Nicolette, an environmental lawyer. Nowadays his countercultural ideas are finding a mainstream audience. “People are asking about where our meat comes from and how it’s raised,” notes Niman. While Niman is encouraged by the growing public awareness of and attention to the source of our food, there is more work to be done. One of his chief beefs, you might say, is the proliferation of misleading labels devised by the industry and the government. A new “certified humane” label set by the federal Department of Agriculture, for example, has such low standards, he fumes, “it’s corrupt.” “There’s a lot of confusion around what’s natural, sustainable, humane, and free range,” says Niman. “That’s the next challenge.” ★ P L E N T Y | 65


Will Wal-Martâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s new look make it more welcome in suburbs and cities? By Lisa Selin Davis


object to the real issue: the social, economic, and psychological 1.65 DAYS, A NEW WAL-MART SUPERCENTER opens impact of Wal-Mart. somewhere in America. The stores are going up like, The new 195 comes in eight styles: Main Street, Alpine, well, like Starbucks cafés—except they’re much bigger. Industrial, Coastal, Ranch, Colonial, Mission, and Mediterranean. In Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, with more than addition, there are custom-designed Wal-Marts. Westminster, 3,600 outlets worldwide, 1.6 million employees, 138 California’s Wal-Mart has a Tudor design, with faux half-timbering million weekly customers, and an annual revenue of along a stucco facade. In Montcross, North Carolina, there are plans more than $285 billion. Its supercenters (the regular-size shop and a to construct a Gothic-style Wal-Mart to mesh with the nearby supermarket, called Always) are the biggest of the “big box” stores; Belmont Abbey campus. In Evergreen, Colorado, the Wal-Mart sign each takes up around 220,000 square feet—that’s about four football has a forest-green backing and an alpine-style timber framing (yes, fields. And until recently, almost every one of those Wal-Marts real logs) inside the pediment. A looked the same: a big gray big pink Mediterranean-style warehouse surrounded by an Wal-Mart with a pitched, tiled ocean of parking lot. roof is in the works for Des What began in 1962 as a Moines, Iowa. There’s even an regional retail outlet for rural Amish-friendly Wal-Mart in communities has moved to the Middlefield, Ohio, with hitching suburbs and cities, places with posts for horse-drawn buggies strong architectural identities. In and fabrics for homemade doing so, Wal-Mart has faced clothes. For all of these stores, organized community resistthe company abandoned its traance, not only to its low wages, ditional colors and reduced the outsourcing, and deleterious size of its sign. effect on surrounding businesses While sure to be more pleasbut also to the inescapable fact ing to the eye than the old bluethat the big box is, well, ugly. and-gray ones, these new WalLately, Wal-Mart has been Marts raise some questions. paying more attention to its Why is there Mediterranean looks. About five years ago, the DRAG RACE: The Lakewood, Colorado Wal-Mart, opposite page, was designed to evoke architecture in the middle of the retailer changed its prototype— a Cadillac; above, the supercenter in Evergreen, Co., tries to blend in with the forest. Midwest, for example? And from the 192, that all-too-familsince when is the architecture of the Rockies and the Alps interiar gray warehouse with the massive blue Wal-Mart sign, to the 195, changeable? an earth-tone supercenter box that can be modified to help soften, or Wal-Mart is also making surprising concessions to get into the camouflage, its entrance into a new area—addressing community downtown areas of larger cities. In 2003, after massive community concerns about the eyesore that was the old Wal-Mart. The company protest, Wal-Mart agreed to build a supercenter in the Lower Garden calls this new prototype the “store of the community.” “The idea is to District of downtown New Orleans that was reminiscent of the verbring a very large building more toward a human scale,” says Bill nacular architecture in the area, which consisted mostly of brick Correll, Wal-Mart’s director of architecture. cotton warehouses. The company tore down an existing cotton warePerhaps Wal-Mart finally took heed of complaints like those from house and built a replica of one, with a faux-brick facade and blind Lakewood, Colorado, a Denver suburb of 144,000 people. In 2004, arches (windowless arches filled in with brick). But in an urban when the discount giant wanted to build a new supercenter along U.S. center, neither the 192 nor the 195 solves the problems of a big buildRoute 40, city planner Frank Gray objected, not to the potential trafing in a small downtown. “How do you fit a 220,000-square-foot box fic problems, to the low-paying jobs, or to how the old Wal-Mart into an existing neighborhood?” asks Nate Cherry, vice president of would sit empty across town as result, but to how it didn’t fit in with RTKL, a planning and design firm specializing in downtown the remnants of 1950s roadside architecture. revitalization. “It’s the big-box, single-story, suburban paradigm. You “You couldn’t even build it in Arkansas it was so ugly,” says Gray. can’t just drop it in.” So he persuaded Wal-Mart to hire a Denver architect, Chad Cox, to The Wal-Mart in New Orleans changed the neighborhood signifcome up with a design for a supercenter that would fit in. And when icantly, even though the architecture might look similar. Hundreds of the Wal-Mart opened in April—designed to evoke a Cadillac, with people were displaced during the construction of the store and the fins and a slanted roof—it looked, vaguely, like something that redevelopment of the surrounding area. “I worry about not only the belonged in Lakewood. Gray was happy, as was Wal-Mart. loss of small businesses but the change in a community,” says Critics of Wal-Mart insist that a new look is simply “painting the Norman. “In New Orleans it’s the shift from a pedestrian-friendly pig,” as the Massachusetts-based anti-Wal-Mart activist Al Norman, neighborhood to a huge, flat-roofed, windowless, dead piece of archifounder of the Web site, puts it. And they argue tecture with an enormous parking bib in front.” that appeasing people’s aesthetic sense will render them less likely to



WAL-MART QUICK FACTS: Wal-Mart stores and parking lots occupy 75,000 acres of land in the United States. Today Americans drive 40 percent more miles to do household shopping than they did in 1990. Source: Institute for Self-Reliance October/November 2005

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SPRAWLING CHANGE: (clockwise from top) WalMart’s new 195 prototype is earth-toned rather than gray; Wal-Mart goes deco in Baldwin Hills, L.A.—one of the few supercenters that occupies an original structure; Al Norman, author of The Case Against Wal-Mart and founder of; an abandoned Wal-Mart in Bardstown, Kentucky, one of hundreds of “dark stores” across the country.

Even with Wal-Mart’s modifiable 195 prototypes (and Correll says that the new ones are only altered 30 percent of the time), some problems still remain, such as where to place the stores, what happens once they go in, and what is done with the old ones. As Wal-Mart spawns new, customized superstores, it often closes their “neighborhood markets” (118,000 to 138,000 square feet), creating a graveyard of abandoned 192s that the company calls “dark stores.” IN BARDSTOWN, KENTUCKY (POPULATION: 10,000), THERE ARE THREE WAL-MART BUILDINGS, each of the first two discarded in favor of another, leaving two vacant Wal-Marts in a small town. “I call Wal-Mart the king of dead air because they’ve left behind more dead stores than most retailers ever fill,” says Norman. There are between 350 and 400 empty Wal-Mart stores at any given time—as much as 30 million square feet of unused space—and a whole division of the company, Wal-Mart Realty, is devoted to trying to fill them. Planners and architects are increasingly concerned about what’s called “adaptive reuse,” or how a building will be used after its occupant leaves. Small shops along a downtown main corridor, for instance, can be used for any kind of modest business—a restaurant, a doctor’s office, an office supply store. But what 68 | P L E N T Y

can you do with an empty Wal-Mart? Julia Christensen, an upstate New York artist originally from Bardstown, has been posting answers to that question on her Web site, In Bardstown, one of the dark stores was eventually torn down and a courthouse was built in its place—but not before that area of town had suffered from many years of damage. “When the first Wal-Mart was left empty, that entire side of town was completely abandoned,” she says. A dead Wal-Mart leaves a blight on the landscape not only because of the big box’s ghostly appearance but also because of the accommodations that had to be made when it moved in. “When a Wal-Mart comes into town, the town shifts to adapt to the building,” says Christensen. “They add stoplights; they widen roads; they add highway exits. When Wal-Mart moves, all of those artifacts are left behind.” For Wal-Mart, architecture is temporary; for the townsfolk who must live among the big-box graveyards, Wal-Mart architecture is forever. “Until recently, we didn’t realize the inevitability of the abandonment of these structures,” Christensen says. “In most of America, Wal-Mart is welcomed. Nobody really realized that in five to seven years they’re definitely going to move across town to a bigger building.” Correll counters that the supercenters are not temporary. “We intend to be in those locations for a very long time,” he says. “As far as relocations from an existing store to a new location for a supercenter, and leaving a building behind, we have a lot of people working very hard to lease those buildings for other uses. It’s certainly our strong desire to have those buildings used appropriately.” Gray doesn’t worry about big-box abandonment. In fact, he gives a presentation called “Why I Like Big Boxes” to planners and developers. “They are nothing but a pile of concrete blocks and steel beams,” he says. “It might take them six months to put them up, but it only takes six hours to take them down. They basically hold large pieces of land open for future development.” But Gray’s utopian vision of the big box is premised on a company’s willingness to relinquish the buildings and the land; Wal-Mart doggedly clings to its dark stores. Even though Christensen has found some fascinating examples of reuse—gokart tracks, churches, museums, elementary schools, flea markets—one of the reasons the Wal-Mart stores often remain empty is that the company is very choosy about what takes their place. “A Wal-Mart building will never become a K-Mart building,” says Christensen. “A building will sit empty for eight years because Wal-Mart hasn’t been approached by the right bidder.” Norman puts it another way: “They’ve wasted vast tracts of land in a completely frivolous manner, leaving behind the carcasses of their greed in the form of these empty stores.” IT’S





(you can see both sides fight-

October/November 2005


ing their battles on Web sites such builder, sensitive to the needs of as The individual communities, some store’s architecture has an undenimunicipalities are legally binding able physical impact, but that the company to its promises. architecture—a giant concrete They’re protecting themselves stamp, which imposed itself first against the prospect of a Wal-Mart over farmland and now over existgraveyard and pressuring the coming urban infrastructures—has a pany to do more than paint a pretty psychological impact as well. It face on a warehouse. In Dunkirk, leaves a legacy of sameness—a Maryland, Calvert county officials legacy that some say will not be fixed a 75,000-square-foot limit on changed by simply altering the big boxes, forcing the Wal-Mart to color palette or adding a cupola. split up into two buildings—a And it doesn’t matter what busi74,998-square-foot store next door ness moves inside the store. It creto a 22,689-square-foot garden ates what architect Rem Koolhaas center—making it easier to reuse GREENER PLANS: The McKinney, Texas, Wal-Mart has introduced porous called the “generic city.” He likens the buildings if Wal-Mart were to cement parking lots with trees. our modern cities to the contemleave. And in Mission, Kansas, the porary airport: all the same. planning commission requires that And this generic architecture, big-box stores more than 100,000 THE GREEN SELL this culture of sameness, can affect square feet be three stories high. This “store of the community” is not only revamping its architecture, our expectations and behavior. We There are a number of examit’s also positioning itself as a green designer. Wal-Mart has added begin to believe that everything ples of “sensitive integration,” says organic produce to many of its stores and has even dabbled in energyshould look the same. We travel Cherry, from which Wal-Mart can efficient architecture, like the new Wal-Mart in McKinney, Texas, around the country, comforted by draw. He points to big boxes in which is partly powered by a 120-foot wind turbine and has a pond knowing that we can find an Australia, where parking is often to harvest rainwater for irrigation. In Rogers, Arkansas, the new WalApplebee’s, the “neighborhood bar on the roof, thereby decreasing the Mart includes skylights and light sensors that adjust according to the and grill,” in every strip mall. “The amount of land needed for the amount of daylight entering the store. And to underscore its standardization of thinking is ultistore; the use of the “travelator,” community-oriented stance, Wal-Mart gave $26,850 in checks to mately the biggest concern,” says which allows shopping carts to be local community groups, a practice it regularly engages in. Norman. “It creates a sort of culcarried up an escalator; and big In early 2005 the city of Vancouver, Canada, rejected a plan for a tural fascism in which everyone is boxes settling into existing strucWal-Mart because it wasn’t environmentally friendly enough and expected to adhere to the standard tures (Wal-Mart’s brilliant example didn’t fit in with the community. So Wal-Mart hired architect Peter of the culture.” Wal-Mart, he says, of this is in the neighborhood of Busby, who specializes in sustainable design, to create a green Walis not about shopping. It’s about an Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles, where Mart—complete with geothermal heating, windmills, and an orchard architecture, and a culture, of it moved into an abandoned Art alongside the parking lot—but the city rejected it again in June. The intolerance. Deco building and created a neon 28,000-square-foot store would have cost the company twice as If that seems reactionary, sign to match the architecture; the much as the average Wal-Mart, but for a captive audience of 2 million remember that Wal-Mart is the structure is downright beautiful). people, Wal-Mart was ready to pay. biggest retailer in the world, and it Cherry says that if communi“[Wal-Mart is] certainly willing to make any cosmetic change that regularly engages in a kind of culties demand these changes and won’t cost them significant dollars but that will get the store built,” tural censorship. The company is make design elements—not only says Norman. But no matter how green a store is, the other issues very selective about which books, how the appearance of the buildare still on the table, and in Vancouver it was the traffic that did the CDs, and magazines it sells (don’t ings is altered but also how they project in. “It is like giving an elephant a nose job,” says Norman. expect this one to appear in its are placed and used—part of local “From the front it looks different, but behind it’s still the elephant.” aisles). Often Wal-Mart is the only zoning codes, “then the big box of major retailer in a large area, as the future would not look at all well as the most popular, and it determines what products will be like what we’ve got.” available to consumers based on what it thinks is acceptable. And But for Wal-Mart opponents like Norman, the big box is inherentnow its cultural reach has been extended. Earlier this year Wal-Mart ly flawed, and no amount of alteration will cure it. “It’s still a massive heiress Alice Walton unveiled plans for Crystal Bridges, a museum box with all of its problems,” he says. “The large expanse of asphalt of American art, to open in 2009 in Bentonville, Arkansas, the comand concrete, the light pollution, the noise pollution, the storm-water pany’s headquarters. It’s unlikely that any Robert Mapplethorpe or runoff, and the traffic are not mitigated by a different facade.” Paul McCarthy will be on display in the galleries. In addition, WalNorman would like to see Wal-Mart radically changed. A couple of Mart is global; it’s exporting select aspects of American culture to fins and a slanted roof are not the solution, he says, but the slow nine countries, including China, Korea, Mexico, and Brazil. phasing out of the big box altogether is. “Where are you going to put As Wal-Mart positions itself as a good neighbor and community them?” he asks. “My answer would be nowhere.” ■ October/November 2005

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Forecasting the fast food of tomorrow: Health. Convenience. The Environment. And a side of fries. By Sarah Rose

A Fast Organic Nation?

$100 BILLION ANNUALLY but we are increasingly shopping organic when we do eat at home. The market for organic foods has grown faster than that of all other food segments, an average of 20 percent per year against 2 to 4 percent per year for total food sales. Is it possible we are on our way to bimodal eating—healthy at home and hopeless at restaurants? Why hasn’t our desire to eat healthier and live longer found its way into the behemoth fast-food industry? It’s starting to. Two contenders stand to change the face of American fast food: Chipotle Mexican Grill and O’Naturals, both chains that serve natural and organic meals. While there are a mere 450 Chipotles and only 4 O’Naturals—with 200 perspective franchisees—against about 30,000 McDonald’s worldwide, it’s possible that the harried consumer who wants to make healthier, better choices is tired of the lack of options in a crowded category and will seek out these newcomers. If there is a niche in the market for sustainable fast food, Chipotle and O’Naturals are the likeliest candidates to fill it—largely on the strength of their CEOs, both of whom have both built companies from the ground up and have experience raising money from large corporate backers. But even on some utopian highway, where there are organic and natural choices next to every McDonald’s, will Chipotle and O’Naturals make any inroads to solve the problems of the fast-food industry? Can these noble chains really make a difference to our waistlines, our economy, or to the moral and ethical consequences of our dining choices?




“When we started Stonyfield, it was a hypothesis too: could you green a business, stay loyal to your [ecological] principles, and still make money?” Given that Hirshberg made a reported $35 million from the 2001 sale of Stonyfield to Groupe Danone, the French food giant, the answer would seem be yes. Now Hirshberg has taken his hypothesis to one of the last redoubts of the American food story: he is trying to prove that fast food need not equal junk food. If Hirshberg can grow O’Naturals the way he grew Stonyfield, it will have a positive effect on the supply chain, more farms will give up conventional farming practices, and prices on organics will decrease across the board. “The biggest impact we have is as purchasers—that’s the bulk of our dollars,” Hirshberg says. Buying organic, he suggests, means nothing less than saving the family farm.

FLAVORFUL INTEGRITY Where O’Naturals made moves toward sustainability from day one,

FRIES, FRIES EVERYWHERE Driving with his family, held hostage to the limited dining options along interstate exits, Gary Hirshberg got angry that there was no fast food restaurant that spoke to his personal eating preferences, that there were no healthy or organic options for travelers. Shortly thereafter, he started O’Naturals, a fast-food chain in the Northeast that uses sustainability as its foundation. Hirshberg is the charismatic leader of Stonyfield Farm yogurt— the employees call him their CE-YO—the third-best-selling yogurt brand in America. That the third-best-selling anything in this country is an organic and all-natural brand shows how far the sustainability movement has come. At O’Naturals, everything from the building materials on up emits a low-emissions vibe. There are compact fluorescent lightbulbs and info disks on the wall advertising the use of low-V.O.C. (volatile organic compound) paints, as well as posters educating you about the farms where your meal was grown. The food is homey, with a selection of sandwiches on addictive low-gluten bread, sustainably raised meats, a wide array of organic salads, and Asian noodles. There are markers indicating the vegan and vegetarian options, and no soft drinks. Hirshberg is a leader in the field of socially responsible business practices in America. In addition to starting Stonyfield Farm, he serves on the boards of other organic titans such as Honest Tea and is a former cochair of the Social Venture Network, a networking organization for sustainability entrepreneurs seeking to raise cash. Stonyfield even tithes—10 percent of corporate profits go to good causes. October/November 2005

SIMILAR, BUT DIFFERENT: The new face of fast food, with Chipotle (opposite page) and O’Naturals (above) taking the lead in what could be a profitable new field.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, a fast, casual burrito brand now owned by McDonald’s, came to the idea of “food with integrity” after the company was already serving up thousands of burritos a day. Chipotle CEO Steve Ells is a classically trained chef who studied at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and apprenticed to a world-renowned leader of California cuisine, Jeremiah Tower. Ells left the rarefied world of fine dining to start a burrito joint, Chipotle, in 1993. With fancy spice blends and marinades, he sexed up the usual fare of rice, beans, guacamole, and meat. Suddenly, burritos were quite haute. As Ells tells his story, long after he sold a majority stake to McDonald’s in 1999, he still had not gotten the carnitas, the pork option, quite right. The carnitas were dry, lacking in flavor, dispirited. He went home, dipped into his culinary toolbox, and tinkered with the recipe. But most important, he tried a different kind of pork—naturally raised, hormone-free pork from Niman Ranch. P L E N T Y | 71

“We now buy more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country,” Ells boasts. Niman Ranch (see page 65) is the country’s leading purveyor of naturally raised meat. Every time Chipotle adds a new restaurant— and it’s growing at a pace of 100 new restaurants a year—Niman Ranch can invite another family farm into the fold. The scales fell from his eyes, and Ells began to rethink the direction of his restaurant. If he could sell pork with integrity, why not make everything else with integrity? He has introduced humanely raised beef and chicken in select markets, as well as organically raised beans, and is constantly looking for new avenues for his consciousness, such as designing new stores under the low-impact rubric of “buildings with integrity.” But the supply chain has yet to catch up, organic ingredients are still pricey, and supply is limited. Chipotle calls it an “incremental revolution.” “If we went all-organic and natural now, a burrito would be like $17 or $18,” Ells says.

tainably raised food is less harmful to the environment, because it won’t leach poisons into the soil or groundwater. (And that makes it even more appealing for the farmers.) Allowed to grow naturally, rather than with chemical growth agents or ripeners, organic and naturally raised food typically tastes better, too. But are organic foods actually healthier for you? “Keep the issues straight,” warns Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and the James Beard award-winning author of Food Politics (University of California Press, 2003). “Organic is about environmental issues, how it’s grown. And to some extent that’s very important. But it’s a separate argu-

DOING GOOD BY DOING (LUNCH) WELL The new takes on fast food by these companies are in many ways improvements over the more traditional methods of their competitors—in sustainability, nutrition, ethics, and employment opportunities. But just how different are these new restaurants? And how much do they resemble their less self-conscious kin? A look at some of these issues shows the positives but also where there is room to do better—if the restaurants can continue to find a market for doing better. Organic and naturally raised foods are healthier for us in myriad ways. The supply chain is transparent: from point of growth to point of sale, every move an item makes is documented. Marketers know whether chemicals or hormones are used and how their food is raised, harvested, and slaughtered. Lacking chemical pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, sus72 | P L E N T Y

BURRITO ME: Steve Ells, CEO and classically trained culinary chef steers Chipolte in a new direction—one that includes naturally raised meats and organic beans.

ment from whether it’s good for you.” The nutritional arguments for organics over conventionally grown foods are notoriously hard to make. “If they are better nutritionally, they are so marginally better that it’s not going to make any difference,” Nestle says. Nonetheless, organic and naturally raised foods have come to symbolize a whole basket of benefits. It would seem as if choosing organic ipso facto makes you healthier and helps improve the world. October/November 2005

Both Chipotle and O’Naturals have aligned their marketing to capitalize on this notion: the slogan of O’Naturals is “Fast food, naturally”; Chipotle wears its “food with integrity” campaign on its T-shirt sleeves.

KIDS IN QUESTION Among the greater crimes of the fast-food industry is its history of systematic and reckless marketing to children, a captive and susceptible audience. Brand loyalty is decided young, very young. Parents’ dining choices respond strongly to the “nag factor”—that is, when kids whine for a preferred burger, it has the ability to impact the entire family’s dining decisions. Given the competitive realities, it’s tempting for these new chains to try to win over the youth market. But a decision by Chipotle or O’Naturals to market to kids would cause some consumers to question their various moral claims. “If you try to keep up with the Joneses, you become one of the Joneses,” warns Morgan Spurlock, director and subject of the fastfood documentary Super Size Me. “An all-natural food chain that mass markets their products to kids, shoving it down a kid’s throat, risks falling into line with everyone else.” Hirshberg, through Stonyfield Farm, markets to children in the space critics find most objectionable: the sacrosanct school cafeteria. Yet the alternative—not marketing healthy products to kids—might be worse. Hirshberg’s son came home from school one day reporting a lunch of pizza, chocolate milk, and Skittles candies. “I had no idea that Skittles were a food group,” Hirshberg says. “He said if it was healthy, the kids just wouldn’t eat it,” Hirshberg recalls. So he came up with the idea of healthy vending machines. Now, in school lunchrooms across the country, right next to the Coke and candy machines, a kid can buy Organic Valley milk and string cheese and Newman’s Own pretzels, as well as Stonyfield Farm Smoothies. “I am a little uncomfortable with [marketing to children],” Hirshberg admits. “But basically I’m marketing to adults. I did it just to prove them wrong.” O’Naturals has a play area, but it is utterly unlike the one with the clown and the golden arches. There are, for instance, books to read to the kids while they eat. None of the toys are plastic; there is, instead, an all-wood Duplo-esque train set. Restaurant play areas have been criticized for bringing children into a market situation, one that could influence preferences in their young, susceptible minds. But it is an unavoidable fact that children also dine out. The O’Naturals offerings for kids humanize the experience of dining; it is also just plain nice to interact with happy kids while you eat. Chipotle, on the other hand, stays entirely outside the fray, making no overtures to children whatsoever. Chris Arnold, director of Hoopla, Hype, and Ballyhoo at Chipotle, (organic fast food loves cutesy job titles) says, “Our policy on marketing to kids is to ignore them.”

CALORIES, CHEAP AND FAST By serving up a balance of the essential (fast) food groups—grease, salt, sugar, and meat—the Goliaths of the restaurant industry know how to make our mouths water. But fast food has also found its way into the hearts and stomachs of America because it is cheap food, in every sense. Often, it is more affordable than buying food from other restaurants or preparing it at home. What’s more, as we work more hours and as our time has become more valuable, the opportunity October/November 2005

ASSEMBLY LINE TO DINING FINE: There’s a method to the madness in the efficient serving line at Chipotle (above left) that allows good food to be served fast and easy.

costs of cooking a full meal—or even sitting down to one—have skyrocketed. There are more calories available to us now, for less money and in less time, than there have ever been in human history. Fast food became popular when America saw an overall fall in food prices. Deflation in the cost of food has come from a combination of factors, including government subsidies to food producers and a decline in real wages, particularly the minimum wage, against inflation. Subsidies to producers have led to inexpensive additives—such as corn sweeteners (in colas) and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a vegetable lard (and the leading source of heart disease–causing trans fats)—beloved by fast-food companies. With ever-cheaper materials, fast-food companies were able to sell more for less, “supersizing” portions. As their bottom lines grew, so too did our own bottoms. Opting to dine at a natural fast-food joint means choosing to pay more for food—at the very minimum, the ingredients are more expensive. But companies aren’t stinting on portion size to compensate. Indeed, the burritos at Chipotle are gigantic. An average chicken burrito at the restaurant weighs in at a hefty 1,000 calories, based on lab analysis, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.–based food-advocacy foundation. A slogan on the Chipotle Web site shows a burrito with the caption “beeps when it backs up.” The customer has a great deal of control over portion size at Chipotle, Ells counters. “We provide quality, wholesome ingredients, and the customer must put it together in a way that is right for their own diet.” Ells points out that there are slimmer options on the menu; for example, a customer can choose to order only one taco. But there is no price on any of the menu boards for that single, small-portion P L E N T Y | 73

says. “To ask someone to exercise self-control and restraint in that situation requires an educated consumer, great strength of character, and probably someone more compulsive than you’d want to have dinner with.” Natural fast food, for all its good intentions, is unlikely to stave off the obesity epidemic unless the companies make a decision to slim down portions.


SERVICE WITH A SMILE: Portions are reasonably sized at O’Naturals, but served up with a personal touch that can make the dining experience better.

taco. Prices are listed for three or four tacos, as if a single taco weren’t even an option. Studies repeatedly show that portion size helps determine how much we eat. If we’re offered more, we eat more. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University fed subjects different-size portions of mac and cheese. In each session the size of the entrée was increased. With the increase in entrée size, the subjects ate more, though their reported hunger levels never changed. Those offered the biggest portions ate an average of 27 percent more. A researcher at the University of Illinois found that moviegoers ordering the extra-large bucket of popcorn ate nearly twice as much as those who ordered the next size down—even when the popcorn was stale. Though it goes without saying, we’ll say it again: the more we eat, the fatter we get. The social consequences of weight gain are tremendous. Obesity increases health care costs by 36 percent, and the cost of medicine by 77 percent, according to estimates by the Center for Disease Control. Nutritionists are quick to rebut Ells’s “personal responsibility” argument about portion control. “Even if you’re not hungry, even if you don’t like food much, even if you’ve eaten an hour ago—if you’re human, you’ll eat more if more is put in front of you,” Nestle 74 | P L E N T Y

“Do you want fries with that?” is a punch line, a forbidding symbol of the dead-end, low-skilled reality of a teenage fast-food employee. It hints at a subject both Chipotle and O’Naturals shy away from speaking about on the record: wages and benefits. Will these sustainable fast-food brands also perpetuate the kind of deathly, mindless job that cycles through teenagers and high school dropouts? Chipotle does not franchise, which means the company owns and operates all 450 stores itself and manages its own employees. Ells can say, with certainty, “no one in this company earns minimum wage.” With corporate ownership of stores, Chipotle has retained a great deal of control over employee life, and in that vein has started a program of foreign-language education for employees, in both Spanish and English. O’Naturals, on the other hand, is franchising, seeking private operators for quick growth around the country. Hirshberg realizes that he will not necessarily be able to keep tabs on how the franchisees treat and pay staff, but he remains realistic. “Of 200 quality franchisees, there are at least a dozen who will want to do the right thing. They’re good people, too.” Labor is a worrisomely easy margin in which a struggling company could find efficiencies. “It’s true there is a magic threshold [below which] food and labor costs must go, or it’s not going to be a profitable business,” says Hirshberg. “There’s so much that a company can do right,” says Spurlock. Using organic food is only the beginning of the sustainability story, he adds; companies have to privilege their human capital, not only the quality of their materials. “If they pay well from the beginning, if they treat employees well—give them a chance to own part of the company, a chance to grow, retirement benefits—they may not be a billion-dollar company, but they can build a couple-hundred-million-dollar company packed with employees so loyal it doesn’t make a difference.”

AN ORGANIC FUTURE So what chance, really, will the do-gooders have of giving the big guys a run for their money? “That’s a big elephant you have to move,” warns Steven Hoffman, president of Compass Natural Marketing, a Colorado-based consulting firm for the natural-products industry, and a cofounder of LOHAS Journal, a magazine targeting the “health and sustainability” consumer. “But these guys are pioneers. They will definitely be an influence.” “It’s never going to be more than 3 to 5 percent of the overall fastfood market,” says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of WD October/November 2005

Partners, an Illinois-based food service consultancy. Unless something awful happens, that is. It is entirely possible that a catastrophic news story could drive consumers to organics. More than 700 people were sickened by a 1993 E. coli outbreak at Jack in the Box, which threw into sharp relief the dangers of the massive-scale sourcing and processing inherent in the fast-food industry. Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or B.S.E.) detected in U.S. cattle could cause Americans to run for the security of naturally raised animals. “A concern about safety in the food channel would drive people to singlesource beef, where the animal stayed under the control of one location,” rather than passing through the hands of several different farms, slaughter houses, and processing systems, says Lombardi. “There would be no question [that organic fast food would gain market share] if it came from a B.S.E. issue.” Barring disastrous events forcing a run on organic fast food, the very thing that makes O’Naturals and Chipotle different could be what hurts their growth

the most: fast food is cheap, and sustainability is expensive. “It’s a chicken-and-egg issue,” Lombardi says. “Demand isn’t that high, so the product stays higher in cost, and that thwarts consumer demand. It’s a vicious circle. But if [the sector] continues to grow, and grows faster than food service in general, supply will increase, and the cost difference will change.” This is entirely the direction in which Chipotle and O’Naturals hope to see things go. A real market for organic fast food would drive down the prices on organics overall and raise awareness of sustainability’s benefits. Profitability and doubledigit growth might make the most forgetful elephant of them all, the one with the golden ears; remember that a green and socially responsible business can also be a hugely successful one. “I know that this is the future,” Hirshberg says. “I know there will be some bumps and bruises along the way. But if it does take off and McDonald’s goes this way, if they do follow in our footsteps, if my gravestone read, ‘I helped them be more ecological,’ that wouldn’t be so bad.” ■

A green and socially responsible business can also be a hugely successful one.

GIVE ME SOME AMBIENCE: While the restaurants are still geared to take-out, the actual dining experience at the table has been enhanced by the thinking behind the design. October/November 2005

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Energy Some green-leaning space buffs think we should leave the earth—and its problematic power sources—behind. BY CHRISTY HARRISON

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These days, government officials and entrepreneurs are increasingly showing interest in the idea of space colonization. In July the House of Representatives passed a bill, backed by President Bush, to allocate nearly $35 billion for manned NASA missions to the Moon and Mars. President Bush’s vision includes creating a lunar colony and using lunar energy resources to send a crew to Mars by around 2030. But even if Congress continues to come up with funds for space power research—and if these far-out alternative-energy ideas actually work—space-based environmentalists will still have a hard time convincing their earth-based counterparts to join forces.

SCIENCE BEHIND THE FICTION Last year a team of Houston researchers simulated the moon’s atmosphere in a vacuum chamber and placed a solar-powered robot inside. The robot, better known as a rover, picked up a hunk of synthetic lunar soil and heated it with concentrated beams of sunlight, turning the rocky dirt into a molten, glassy liquid. The rover then molded the goo into a smooth sheet that could be used to make photovoltaic cells. The scientists were ecstatic: they had shown that building solar panels on the moon was possible—physically possible, at least. They reported their results in the astrophysics journal Acta Astronomica last March. October/November 2005


THERE IS PUNDIT THOMAS FRIEDMAN, who argues that achieving energy independence should be to President Bush what the moon landing was to President Kennedy; and then there is Chip Proser. For Proser the moon is no metaphor: the 59-year-old Los Angeles–based filmmaker says that in order to wean the world off fossil fuels, we actually need to go to the moon. “There are no earthly technologies that can solve the world energy problem,” Proser says in his new documentary, Gaia Selene: Saving the Earth by Colonizing the Moon. Call him a cosmic environmentalist. Proser believes that outer space holds the key to our ecological future. The philosophy sounds like something out of a science-fiction flick for a reason: Proser got his start producing sci-fi movies and TV shows. (He also has screenwriting credits on the 1986 hit Top Gun and the 1984 drama Iceman.) But kooky as the thesis of Gaia Selene may seem, the independently produced and distributed film is actually a roundup of current research from established scientists and aerospace engineers. These space-program advocates have said for years that outer space can provide solutions to our energy problems: solar panels on the moon’s surface would beam green energy back to the earth, and we could make clean nuclear power with helium-3 (3He) from distant planets. What’s more, some of these advocates say that such projects can be accomplished with known technologies.

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for decreasing fossil fuel use, from the immediate to the long term, and doing something now is very important,” he says. “But as we run out of energy, people’s charged preconceptions of space colonization are going to fall away.” For him space is the energy solution of the future; but the intermediate steps toward greenness are valuable now, because cosmic energy technology is only a glimmer in the eyes of scientists. Lunar solar power would also allow us to “keep the earth like a protected national park,” says Hoffert. “It would be far better for our planet if we pursued energy technology off the surface of the earth— on the Moon and on Mars.” Proser advocates another cosmic energy alternative: nuclear fusion in earthbound reactors using 3He imported from the lunar surface. On the earth, 3He is a naturally occurring but extremely rare variant of helium. When one 3He atom is fused with another, the reaction produces a generous amount of nuclear energy—without all of the radioactive waste. Gerald Kulcinski, a nuclear engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that we could theoretically build efficient fusion reactors and use 3He to power the world with minimal damage to the environment. The problem is that, he says, “there’s basically no [3He] on the earth.” For that, he adds, we must look to the moon. It’s not only about getting energy and bringing it back to the earth, though; cosmic environmentalists want humans to set up shop in the rest of the universe, and many believe that colonizing space is a matter of survival for the human race. “Once you have life spread beyond October/November 2005


In a theoretical moon-based alternative-energy system, these panels would convert solar power to microwaves in generators on the lunar surface. The generators would in turn beam the waves to receivers all over the earth. Each microwave beam, less intense than the midday sun, would be converted into electricity, becoming part of the regional power grid. Some alternative-energy watchers argue that finding ways to get power from space is imperative. “It’s clear that we need to come up with a different vision,” says Martin Hoffert, a physicist at New York University, who led a 2002 study of green-energy technologies and their power-production capabilities. His paper, published in the journal Science, argued that by the year 2050 the world will need to get between 50 and 85 percent of its energy from renewable sources if safe emissions levels are to be maintained and catastrophic effects of global warming are to be avoided. (Right now, about 85 percent of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels.) Hoffert’s team concluded that none of today’s green technologies can produce enough power and that we need to invest in intensive research and development, pronto. It was Hoffert’s research, Proser says, that got him interested in space-based alternative-energy sources. The Science article, which the filmmaker stumbled onto after nearly a decade of attending aerospace conferences, made him believe that “our current energy crisis is much greater than people know. There’s no way that putting in another dam or putting hydrogen in cars is going to solve anything— [energy reform] has to be a megaprogram.” Hoffert would not go quite so far. “You can do a range of things

Cosmic environmentalists want humans to set up shop in the rest of the universe, and many believe that colonizing space is a matter of survival for the human race. Earth, the species itself will be above being vulnerable to any manmade disaster,” Britain’s astronomer royal, Sir Martin Rees, told reporters in 2001. “It’s what I call the cosmic insurance policy.” Proser argues that space colonization could also serve as a massive social welfare program. “The only solution [to global poverty] is to expand the economy, and the only way to do that is by creating a new frontier,” he says.

LIGHT-YEARS AWAY If all of this sounds expensive, it should. Douglas Osheroff, a Stanford physicist, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in his field, says that the cost of even a small moon colony is prohibitive. “A lunar colony will serve only one purpose, and that is to further explore what is necessary for us to live for extended periods [in outer space],” he says. Some argue that putting a solar power system on the moon is out of the question. “Sending huge amounts of power from the moon to the earth is impractical; it’s never going to happen,” says a NASA scientist, who asked to remain anonymous. “Lunar solar power is doomed from the start because of its cost” and would be hugely inefficient, the scientist added. Mining 3He for fusion reactors is also a long way off. First, we would need to build a network of reactors capable of supplying power efficiently to buyers, and scientists say that process would take at least several decades. Then, there is the extraction problem: to get one ton of 3He from the moon, between 50 million and 200 million tons of lunar soil would have to be processed. Separating the 3He from all of that dirt would require large amounts of heat and energy—and it is unclear where that energy would come from. Space projects have a history of outstripping their budgets: the space shuttle, which was supposed to operate at one-tenth of the cost of nonreusable rockets, ended up being almost 30 times more expensive than estimated (and now it apparently doesn’t even work). The International Space Station has already exceeded its budget by nearly 600 percent and is still incomplete. President Bush’s proposed missions to the Moon and Mars could cost up to $70 billion and $1 trillion, respectively, according to some analysts. Many people agree that the birth of green consciousness was partly inspired by President Kennedy’s moon shot. The iconic photograph of the earth as seen from the moon provided a moving symbol for the burgeoning environmental movement. But that’s the thing: the perspective from space showed us how good we’ve got it here. Beyond the more cost-oriented arguments, some greenies say that colonizing space would be ethically wrong. “We’ve got to clean up our own October/November 2005

THE FUTURE OF GREEN ENERGY? Solar panels on the moon could provide power for long-term lunar colonies (above) and could beam energy back to the earth (left).

house before we go and mess up another one,” says Matt Banks, of the World Wildlife Fund. “I am trying to reach [environmentalists], but it’s tough,” Proser says. “I made Gaia Selene to get ecologists to understand that space technology will bring us clean energy.” Most environmental groups prefer to focus on developing the clean energy we already have. We can obtain the amount of emissions-free energy that Hoffert says we need by 2050, according to the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). But doing so will require government and private investment in conservation, increased efficiency, existing green technologies like wind and solar power, and some new research and development. “Spacebased technology certainly shouldn’t substitute for developing technologies that we have on the ground,” says Dan Lashof, the NRDC’s science director. Earth-based green energy sources “are much further along [than cosmic ones],” says Joel Makower, cofounder and principal consultant of Clean Edge, a San Francisco–based green energy consulting firm. “Some are on the verge of hitting critical mass and haven’t been fully exploited,” and we need to work on those before “throwing untold billions into the black hole of space.” To cosmic environmentalists like Proser, though, the next great frontier will always be infinitely more appealing. ■ P L E N T Y | 79

Critical Mass, the monthly bike ride that takes place in hundreds of cities worldwide, is environmentalismâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s answer to the sit-in. New York City is trying to make it illegal, but can a two-wheeled protest be stopped? By Jennifer Block â&#x2014;? Photographs by Fred Askew

Since When

is Bicycling a Crime? 80 | P L E N T Y

October/November 2005


or someone being sued by the city of New York, Matthew Roth is pretty relaxed. We’re drinking Brooklyn Lager at Art Bar in Greenwich Village on a Friday afternoon in June; I’ve asked him about Critical Mass, the monthly bike ride in which hundreds of cyclists ride en masse through the city—the very thing that’s got him in court—and it’s more like he’s recalling his best friend’s wedding or a beloved family pet. His blue eyes widen and there’s a sweetness to his smile, as if he’s about to describe something pure and magical. “What I love about Critical Mass is that it tells a story,” says the 28year-old media liaison for the pro-cycling environmentalist group Times Up! “Protests are always so negative. This is positive. It’s a powerful visual narrative of the ideal.” October/November 2005

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The ideal is essentially more bikes and less pollution. And unlike most protests, Critical Mass not only communicates its ideal, it achieves it: for the brief duration of the ride, which takes place on the last Friday of every month along an improvised route, the cyclists displace cars wherever they go. Poof!—more bikes, less pollution. I’ve not only seen the ideal achieved, I’ve participated in it, once out of curiosity and twice as a reporter for this story. And I must say that riding free from noxious exhaust and honking horns and the constant threat of a quickly opened driver’s side door appeals to both cyclists and pedestrians. The first time Roth saw the ride was in London’s Trafalgar Square, when suddenly the roundabout grew quiet and filled with a whir of gears and pedals. “I immediately got it,” he says. “This is what the streets could look and sound like if we promoted nonpolluting transportation.” Critical Mass may be wholesome, but the ride has attracted controversy since its inception in 1992, even among cycling advocates. For one, the bikes often blow through red lights, holding up vehicular and pedestrian traffic and, of course, breaking the law. While some cities love or at least accept their Masses—the mayor of Portland, Oregon, recently rode in one—riders and police have clashed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver, and Austin, among other cities around the world, resulting in hundreds of arrests. In each case, however, the tension eventually dissipated and the ride won: stopping and sanctioning cyclists tends to necessitate costly and aggressive tactics, and the image of cops pushing a cyclist off her bike and knocking her to the ground doesn’t do much for a city’s public relations. In New York City, however, cyclists are currently embroiled in the most protracted clash with law enforcement in Critical Mass’s history. For the past year, the ride has endured nearly 600 arrests and hundreds of bike seizures. Now litigation against Times Up! and four of 82 | P L E N T Y

its members could bring one of the most vibrant Masses in the world to a squeaking halt. The lawsuit, filed jointly in state court by the city, the police department, and the parks department, seeks to require a permit for cyclists to both gather and ride in a group. And there’s another facet that has civil libertarians worried: the city wants to prohibit Roth and anyone else from publicizing an unpermitted Mass. “We’re monitoring the situation very closely,” says Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). “It is only in the most extraordinary of circumstances that courts can block First Amendment activity before it even happens. We do not believe that the Critical Mass ride justifies such unusual court action.” The third claim, which would ban publicizing the ride, breaks new ground; in effect, it would equate protest with controlled substances and brothels, the advertisement of which is illegal. “The Supreme Court has always made it clear that you can prohibit advertisements for unlawful products and services,” says Geoffrey Stone, former dean of the University of Chicago Law School and author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (Norton, 2004). “There have certainly been unlawful demonstrations and protests and gatherings, but I’ve never known an instance where a person was prosecuted simply for publicizing it.” If the city prevails, a flyer announcing Critical Mass would be as actionable as an ad for ecstasy. Critical Mass would be criminal.

CONFLICTS RARELY ARISE OUT OF NOTHING. For Critical Mass, however, the turn seemed sudden, and politically motivated. For eight years the New York Police Department had tolerated the Friday night ride. “Most of the time they would leave us alone, or they would harass us a little bit,” says Bill DiPaola, executive director of Times Up!, who October/November 2005

and me, and I watched as about half of them were suddenly handis also named in the lawsuit. Then came the Republicans. The cuffed, their bikes seized, before any order to disperse was given— Republican National Convention, that is, which like a colossal mageven though such an announcement is required protocol before an net drew hundreds of thousands of lefty protesters from near and far arrest is warranted. My companion and I quickly flipped our bikes to New York City in late August 2004, transforming Manhattan into around and pedaled west. Luckily, we were ahead of another blockone huge anti-Bush carnival. Because the message of Critical Mass ade on 35th Street west of Ninth Avenue, where police hemmed in generally aligns with progressive causes—less pollution, less and arrested an entire block of riders, dependence on oil, less auto-machisabout 150 in total. mo, more peace, love, and understandBy the time we arrived at St. Mark’s ing—and because the last Friday of Church in the East Village, where the August happened to coincide with the ride was to conclude, the church’s gated Friday leading up to the RNC, the property had become a safe zone. August 27, 2004 ride became the de Riders were quickly passing their bikes facto overture to the weeklong show. over the gate so the police couldn’t That night, the police estimated that seize them, while the intersection of 5,000 riders showed up at Union Second Avenue and Tenth Street was Square Park, the ride’s starting point. teeming with bicyclists, onlookers, and Massers often wear expressive T-shirts cops. Overhead a helicopter scanned or signage, like “Bicycling: a quiet the crowd with a spotlight. “There were protest against oil wars.” But the tenor a lot of panicked faces,” says Frank of this ride was decidedly more partiMorales, assistant minister of the san, with “No to Bush” and slashed out church. “We were providing a very W’s decorating shirts, caps, and butpractical sanctuary.” It was clear that tons. Inside the park, supporters stood more arrests were being made, more and cheered for the cyclists; on the bikes impounded. The recent documenstreet, police in riot gear sat idling on tary Still We Ride, which is about the dozens of shiny new Italian scooters. RNC Mass and the ongoing policing, The NYPD’s blimp, loaned to the city shows cyclists lying down in handcuffs by Fuji, hovered overhead. With five with their faces pressed to the pavetimes the usual number of riders, it took ment. One is being kept down by the nearly an hour simply for everyone to black leather boot of a police officer. start pedaling. For the first time in Critical Mass’s history, the NYPD had promised a CRITICAL MASS WASN’T CONCEIVED AS A crackdown, and crack down it did: 264 PROTEST. The ride emerged, as many cyclists were arrested that evening. To the riders, it seemed obvious that the social movements do, out of sheer pracpolice had taken an interest only ticality. Primitive masses were held folbecause of the convention. The NYPD lowing the first Earth Day, in the 1970s, insists otherwise. “At some point in the when the bicycle became a symbol of summer, it appeared to us that Critical environmentalism and more people Mass had been hijacked by a more mil- MOVING PROTEST: (opposite page) Cyclists gear up in Union Square, started pedaling. “There’s just nothing itant group intent on disrupting traffic (above) T-shirt sales help with cyclists’ legal fees. more inherently ecological than the and taking over avenues,” says NYPD bicycle,” says Charlie Komanoff, a deputy commissioner Paul Browne, citlongtime New York bike advocate and ing an incident in July when some riders entered Franklin D. transportation consultant. “It was the limits on oil, the concern about Roosevelt drive, an expressway that is off-limits to bikes. pollution, and traffic congestion that really kind of erupted in the But Alex Vitale, a criminologist and professor at Brooklyn 1970s.” The bicycle, then as now, presented a cheap, viable solution College, whom the NYCLU hired to monitor police treatment of proto all three. testers during the convention, says it became political that night. In 1992 a group of San Francisco cyclists started what they called “The police overreacted, just like they overreacted to all the demon“Commute Clots,” a safety-in-numbers way to get home on two strations during the RNC,” he says, subjecting protesters to mass wheels using roads built for four. The idea caught on, and the name arrests and holding them in jail as much as 57 hours. “What’s politievolved, thanks to an obscure short film, Return of the Scorcher. cal about it is using force and holding people for days in jail,” which Documentarian Ted White trained his camera on roads in China, kept them away from subsequent protests. where bicyclists, instead of riding alongside cars, would gather at an I rode in the August 27 Mass and was almost arrested myself. At intersection and wait until there were enough of them to fill the lanes. 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, two blocks away from Madison “. . . And when the bikes reach critical mass, they go,” explained the Square Garden, where the convention would take place, police haltnarrator. The clotters saw the film and it clicked. That’s what they ed the ride using orange plastic netting, the kind used at construcwere doing. And a critical mass sounded a lot cooler than a clot. tion sites. There were about two dozen cyclists between the cops Over the next several years, Critical Mass appeared in hundreds October/November 2005

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The number-one complaint of riders in NYC is that they do not feel safe on their bikes. The city should encourage more people riding together until it comes up with proper infrastructure.

of cities, despite its having no organization, no leadership, nary a fax machine. And riders are adamant that it remain organic and routeless. “It’s the one surviving expression of the hippie ethos,” says Komanoff. “It’s noncommercial, it can’t be bought. And in that sense it is profoundly subversive.” Perhaps too subversive. Jeremy Varon, a historian of revolutionary protest at Drew University, observes that New York’s tough response to Critical Mass aligns with the Bush administration’s indifference toward reducing energy consumption. “Critical Mass provides a vision of a sensible alternative to our untenable reliance on automobiles,” he says. “Rather than promote this kind of behavior, the government is doing everything in its power to make sure that Americans don’t change their habits. There’s a tremendous irony embedded in the whole story.” In September 2004 police tried negotiating a route with cyclists. It didn’t work; the ride quickly devolved into a game of cat and mouse. This time, however, the police arrested more bikes than riders, using power saws to break locks. The police argued that the bikes were “abandoned” property, falling under a city statute that allows for the pickup of items left on the curb, like couches and toaster ovens. With the help of civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, the cyclists filed suit in federal court—and won. Bray v. City of New York prohibited the forcible seizure of bikes locked to public property and also denied the city’s counterclaim for an injunction of the ride. “After allowing the Critical Mass rides in Manhattan for ten years without permits . . . the Police Department has acquiesced to the very conduct it now seeks to prohibit,” Judge William Pauley III wrote in his decision. In response, the Halloween ride drew 1,000 riders, in costume. Thirty-three of them were arrested, and a postride party at the Times Up! storefront space on Houston Street turned into a 2 a.m. standoff with police that required waking Siegel up out of bed. The winter rides drew far fewer numbers, though they were as heavily policed as the previous ones. Forty riders were arrested between November and February. Then, in March, as the trees turned the palest shade of green, the city filed the lawsuit against Times Up! DiPaola calculates that the city has spent more than $1 million policing Critical Mass in the past year, though the city will not release a figure. Naturally, cycling advocates would rather see taxpayer money spent on bike infrastructure—dedicated bike lanes, for instance. New York is among the most dangerous cities in which to ride a bike: In 2004 there were some 3,000 cyclist accidents and 14 bike-related deaths; this year, there were already 11 deaths at press time, twice the number that occurred during the same time period in 2004. DiPaola argues that bicycling in a group makes for a safer ride. “The number-one complaint of riders in NYC is that they do not feel safe on their bikes,” he says. “The city should encourage more people riding together until it comes up with proper infrastructure.”

I HAVE TO ADMIT: RIDING IN CRITICAL MASS THIS PAST JUNE, I was taken by the emotional pull of the ride. It’s not just that it feels safe. The street, even a bustling thoroughfare like Broadway, becomes mercifully, joyfully quiet, with only the sounds of bells and brake squeaks and the occasional whoop and holler of riders relishing the 84 | P L E N T Y


streets to themselves. Not that it’s utopia, or even effective messaging; there are often shouting matches, especially between motorists and those doing the “corking,” when cyclists block side streets so the group can stay together in spite of traffic lights. Some riders even taunt irritated motorists, yelling, “If you were riding a bike, you’d be home by now!” Maybe the rebellion is part of the allure; running red lights as a group is fun. Some people on the street smile and clap, or yell, “Keep riding!” I’ve heard Critical Mass described as a more sensual experience of the city, and it is. It’s almost otherworldly; a portal to a quieter, less auto-centric future. “I think that’s one reason why it has captured the imagination of so many people,” says Varon, “It seems utopian and practical at the same time.” It’s pure joy, that is, right up until you hear a siren behind you. In the months following the RNC, police made their presence known in Union Square, often announcing over a loudspeaker that the ride was “unlawful” and making arrests in or near the park. But after the New York Times ran a picture of assistant chief of police Bruce Smolka grabbing a woman by the back of her shirt at the April ride—a middle school guidance counselor, it turned out—police seemed to have rethought their approach. Instead of locking down Union Square, they began focusing on the ride itself. In June about 500 cyclists gathered in Union Square, unhindered by police. Stopping at major intersections, the ride proceeded south through Greenwich Village, north through Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, around Columbus Circle, through Central Park, and then south along the Upper East Side—a spectacular tour of the city—and finally over the 59th Street Bridge toward the borough of Queens. Once over the bridge, and conveniently away from blocks of eyewitnesses dining al fresco, a black police cruiser drove into the ride. “Go, go, go!” shouted a cyclist to the riders ahead about to be cut off by the car. As I maneuvered around the cruiser, an officer bolted out of the passenger seat and chased after the nearest cyclist, a woman. I saw him grab her bike, then her, and then all three—cop, rider, bike—tumbled down. Mostly unscathed, the arrestee was charged with parading without a permit and disorderly conduct, as the majority of arrestees are. I asked Browne if perhaps this type of behavior is excessive, not to mention dangerous. Police can use appropriate force to make an arrest, he responded. Even for running a red light? “The point is,” he explained, “if you’re told to get off your bike and you don’t, somebody may take you off your bike.” Times Up! doesn’t advocate running through lights. “It even says October/November 2005

CRIMINAL EVIDENCE: NYC has impounded hundreds of bikes in the past year.

WHAT WOULD JESUS RIDE? Reverend Billy says a prayer for the cyclists.

STILL THEY RIDE: In spite of the city’s lawsuit, hundreds keep riding in Critical Mass each month.

so on our Web site,” says DiPaola. But cyclists argue that the ride is safer and smoother for everyone involved when it sticks together, which leads to traffic violations. “The police know this,” says Roth. “That’s why they escorted it through lights for so many years.” The police admit as much but point out, “There’s a big difference between a cop [stopping traffic] for a few stragglers and just hundreds or thousands of people deciding when they want to shut down intersections,” says Browne. And that point holds, particularly when there’s a huge Mass, such as the August 2004 ride. But the trust that once existed between cops and riders has since been broken: stopping for any reason now means getting arrested. The red lights are really a red herring, says Vitale. What the polic86 | P L E N T Y

ing is actually about is control. “The underlying operating philosophy [of the NYPD] revolves around the broken-windows theory, that if you allow any disorderly behavior to take root, more serious problems will emerge,” he says. “What that means in this case I don’t know, because what we’re talking about is a minor traffic disruption on a Friday evening.”


CRITICAL MASS SHOULD the city will have to prove that the ride is unlawful. “I never thought, especially in NYC, that riding a bike would become controversial or that riding a bike would get you to be conORDER TO CONVINCE THE COURT THAT


October/November 2005

Critical Mass exists in a kind of extralegal space, a space where no one person or organization can be held accountable. And that may be what allows it to survive.

sidered a criminal,” says Norman Siegel, who is now representing Times Up! “Critical Mass is traffic, and therefore they don’t need the government’s permission, providing that they follow the traffic laws.” Can a protest be only traffic? “It’s clearly organized,” says the NYCLU’s Dunn, even if not in the traditional sense. “A lot of bikes riding together would not be First Amendment protected,” he says. “The Critical Mass ride is clearly a First Amendment event because it’s people riding together to express a point of view.” Large processions expressing a point of view would normally require a permit for logistical reasons; if you want to march 1,000 people down Main Street, traffic needs to be safely diverted. But Critical Mass is not a group, and organizations like Times Up! are intent on October/November 2005

ing it that way. By remaining a decentralized collective phenomenon, Critical Mass exists in a kind of extralegal space, a space where no one person or organization can be held accountable. And that may be what allows it to survive. Varon calls that space a “gray area in-between legality and illegality,” one that allows for “modest transgression,” such as biking through red lights. And that gray area, he points out, “is where American rebels and reformers have done a lot of their best work,” where visionaries are able to challenge the status quo and present an alternative. “It’s a hallowed space within American political culture,” he says. “If you eliminate the gray area and see things only as black and white, you kill the space where meaningful resistance has lived and should continue to live.” Indeed, some of the most important social change of the 20th century arose out of that space. But perhaps the struggle today is for the space itself. Free speech is necessary to preserve the gray zone, but dissent also requires space in the literal sense—public space. In New York there have been several attempts to constrict that space: a proposed gate and curfew for Washington Square Park; a resolution to limit events on Central Park’s Great Lawn to six per year, with four of them reserved for the New York Philharmonic. As parks get locks and downtowns turn into strip malls, where are people to exercise their constitutional right to assemble? As Morales of St. Mark’s Church quips, “Dissent is not dissent if you’re sitting in your living room.” Meanwhile, citing terrorism concerns, New York City has made gathering in large groups exceedingly difficult. On February 15, 2003, as 10 million people around the world marched in protest of the war in Iraq, New Yorkers were penned in behind steel barricades to rally in freezing temperatures near the East River (the result was that protesters spilled onto side streets and avenues, overwhelming police and shutting down the East Side for an entire afternoon). “The city denied us a permit to march anywhere in Manhattan,” says Leslie Cagan, executive director of United for Peace and Justice, which organized the protest. In the months leading up to the RNC, the group fought again for a permit to march in Manhattan and rally in Central Park and was denied the rally permit. “That’s the trend,” says Varon, “to shrink the space for dissent by rigidly applying the letter of the law in such a way that the exercise of basic civil rights becomes all but impossible.” Critical Mass shatters the paradigm of having to ask for permission. It reclaims public space by simply moving through it. And in spite of the ongoing policing, the riders continue to gather each month, with the activist community at large cheering them on. “I don’t know that they set out to do this, but I think they have added another dimension to activism,” says Cagan. “That is, it doesn’t always have to be a march or a rally. Sometimes you can do it on a bicycle.” ■ P L E N T Y | 87

NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL Update your look with threads that are both fashionforward and ecofriendly.

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October/November 2005

MAKE AN IMPRESSION This page: Lindsey, below right, wears a turquoise geometric dress from Naturevsfuture in organic terry (; Nicola, left, gives a presentation in a double breasted jacket and sleek pants, both in a hemp/silk blend (Earth Speaks; They’re holding their meeting at the showroom of Steelcase, an office furniture manufacturer that is rapidly going green. Their most ecologically innovative product, the “Think” chair (shown below), is made from 41 percent recycled material and is 99 percent recyclable. Steelcase’s prototypical conference room features an interactive whiteboard by PolyVision that will transmit images via the web with the push of a button. Opposite page: Nicola, left, wears a hemp and silk sleeveless dress and Lindsey a 100 percent hemp suit with semiprecious stone buttons. Both outfits are from Earth Speaks. The beige leather “Stiletto” chairs are by Brayton International. October/November 2005

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The clothing and furniture designers featured here recognize that the future of business is green.

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October/November 2005

SUIT YOURSELF Opposite page: Nicola, left, contemplates the future of green living in a silk/hemp shirt and miniskirt by Earth Speaks; at right, Lindsey, who’s wearing an organic cotton blazer and corduroy skirt, both by Ecoganik (, inputs her ideas into Steelcase’s Universal Worksurface. They’re sitting on stackable BCN chairs by Brayton International. This page: Nicola means business in a hemp, yak, and wool blend suit by Earth Speaks ( Shoes are vintage Ferragamo and Bally. October/November 2005

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Recycled chairs, organic jeans... going green no longer requires that you sacrifice style.

STYLE AND SUBSTANCE This page: Nicola takes a break on Brayton International’s Ripple Lounge couch while wearing organic jeans by Loomstate ( and an organic cotton shirt and blazer by Ecoganik ( Opposite page: Nicola steps up in an organic cotton shirt and organic linen asymmetrical skirt by Naturevsfuture ( Her boots are vintage Sonia Rykiel in brushed cotton velvet. Behind her are stackable chrome “Kart” chairs by Vecta. Models are Nicola D. from Major Model Management and Lindsey Huizenga with New York Model Management. Hair by Daniel Martin for Aveda. Makeup by Clelia Bergonzoli and Styling by Ise White, both at Code Artists. Photography by Francis Murphy

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Faced with imminent flooding, Dutch architects take the plunge IN 1995

NETHERLANDS’ MEUSE RIVER forcing 250,000 people, including Anne and Karal van der Molen, to evacuate their homes. And yet, when the van der Molens decided to buy a new vacation home, they set their sights on the floodprone river’s edge, on the far side—the “wrong” side—of a 12-foot earthen dike that protects the village of Maasbommel. The couTHE

ple is anticipating the next flood, which they intend to enjoy from their living room. “I hope next winter we will go up and go floating,” says Anne, a jovial nurse in her 40s. The van der Molens’ waterfront home is amphibious, one of 20 in the world’s first such housing development, The Golden Coast near Maasbommel. When the Meuse rises, so will the semiterrestrial houses; and

when the water subsides, they will settle back to their spots along the riverbank. The design of the houses, by the Dutch architect Ger Kengen, is simple, ingenious, and elegant. They appear to be cheerful splitlevel duplexes, with 700 square feet of living space (including three bedrooms), sliding glass doors, curved roofs, brightly colored clapboards, and generous decks. But each




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duplex rests on a hollow concrete box that sits on invisible mooring poles, each about 16 feet long, with moveable rings around them. During a flood, the hollow base acts like a hull, and the buoyant house slides up and down the mooring poles on the rings. “It’s like with ships,” explains Kengen. “Heavy on the bottom and light on the top, so it can lie steady in the water.” While afloat, the van der Molens will still have electricity, water, and sewage disposal, which are tucked into flexible systems that rise and fall with the house. The couple will access their cars on the dike by boat. That’s the idea, anyway. Built in 2004,

the houses are awaiting their maiden voy- $50,000 more than comparable houses on age: so far, there hasn’t been a flood. “We the other side of the dike. But the first batch haven’t proved it yet,” acknowledges have sold, and Dura Vermeer is now building Kengen, with a chuckle, “but we are confi- another dozen. Although Golden Coast is the first dent it will work as planned.” Water has always been the mother of amphibious housing project, the Netherlands invention in the Netherlands. Much of the is awash with water-based ideas for the country lies below sea level. Over the cen- future. Last year the Royal Institute of turies, the Dutch have cleverly devised ways Dutch Architects mounted the exhibition to stay dry by using windmills, dikes, locks, “H2OLLAND: Architecture with Wet Feet,” and canals. Dutch engineers reclaimed sod- devoted to projects theoretical or in the den land from lakes, rivers, and the sea, cre- works—including floating hotels, churches, ating the vast flats called polders. and golf courses—as well as new designs This complicated hydro-control system for houseboats, stilt homes, and even an has served the Dutch well in their war with amphibious house built on a foundation of water, but now their ancient foe has a new permafrost that can be melted when the ally: global warming. The Intergovernmental owner wants to float the home to a new Panel on Climate Change, a joint effort of the location. The show’s organizers declared United Nations and the World Meteorological that Dutch architects “will no longer design Organization, predicts that sea levels could for a static environment, but for a dynamic rise 40 inches during this century. For the one where variable water levels play a diclow-lying Netherlands, that could mean disas- tating role. What will we build in zones ter—unless the Dutch can once again find where the question is not whether the waters ways to outsmart the coming floods. will arrive, but how often and how deep? “The Dutch have been fighting the water And what dwelling types can be conceived for centuries,” says Dick van Gooswilligen, for these conditions?” managing director of Dura Vermeer, the conDura Vermeer has been overwhelmed struction firm that commissioned Kengen to with inquiries from around the world about design an amphibious house, then built the its amphibious houses. “Our problem with development in Maasbommel. “But it is no the sea level is not exclusive to us,” says van longer useful to build higher dikes. The sea Gooswilligen. The firm recently finished a level is rising, and our land is sinking. How are floating 1,100-square-foot greenhouse, the we going to deal with this problem? Our chil- world’s first, in Naaldwijk, the heart of the dren and grandchildren—we can’t leave them a country that will be According to a 1995 study, a 1 meter flooded. Instead of losing all that sea-level rise would affect 6 million space to water, let’s think of somepeople in Egypt, 13 million in thing we can build on water. That is why we started [the development Bangladesh, and 72 million in China. in] Maasbommel. We are saying, ‘Let the water come.’” He adds, “It’s a new idea for the Dutch, and as you Netherlands’ greenhouse industry. Dura would expect, they are not sure.” Vermeer also plans to build a town whose In fact, the government forbids building schools, offices, shops, hospitals, and 12,000 on floodplains because they are too danger- houses would float; van Gooswilligen says ous. Officials don’t want to risk a repetition the company hopes to begin construction of the horrible flood of 1953 that killed near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in 2010. 1,800 people and destroyed 3,000 homes. Meanwhile, the van der Molens are Dura Vermeer received permission to con- spending as much time as possible in their struct the pilot project on the Meuse with the new home, whose basement is a boat. “We stipulation that the homes could not be pri- have such a very nice view over a big river,” mary residences—not exactly a sign of con- says Anne. People on the “safe” side of the fidence. Because of the unconventional con- dike, she points out, have a view of the dike. struction of the houses, they are expensive Far better, she says, to live on the water and for the area, costing around $350,000, about float into the future. ■



STARBOARD HO! Residents of Golden Coast, the first amphibious housing development, will watch the next flood from their back porches.

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The market for natural cleaning and preening products has exploded in recent years, but some of the ingredients in these goods have been around for centuries. Green health buff LAUREL MAURY introduces a half-dozen quirky natural remedies, from the age-old to the relatively new.


LEMON JUICE AS DEODORANT The Romans bathed with oil and vinegar. Though they probably smelled like mixed-greens salad, they didn’t reek: the coryneform bacteria that cause body odor prefer a basic environment, but vinegar is acidic. Lemon juice is also acidic, and it’s perfect for those of us who would rather give off the aroma of a dessert than that of a side dish. Rubbed in the armpit, then rinsed, it keeps those microscopic critters from flourishing. I started using lemon juice after realizing that conventional antiperspirants were damaging some of my clothing. Except for when I exercise in hot weather, lemon juice is enough. When it’s not, I add a few swipes of Avalon Organic Botanicals deodorant ( Another to try: Weleda’s line of all-natural deodorants with lemon juice (

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BEER AS HAIR CONDITIONER Oddly, my teetotalist grandmother swore by this remedy. For my first cotillion (no joke), Granny told Mom to rinse half a beer through my hair. It made my locks soft and ridiculously shiny; the frizz from the Chesapeake humidity was gone. I still use it, and I’m apparently in good company: actress Catherine Zeta-Jones also rinses her tresses in beer. Hair becomes shiny and manageable when the cuticle, comprising the overlapping scales that cover the core of each strand, lies flat. Weak acids, like beer, are great for smoothing the cuticle, and the foam in your average brewski seems to be supereffective in covering every hair. Guinness works well on dark hair; Stella Artois is recommended for blond hair. Just don’t get the beer in your eyes.

PERLITE Perlite is volcanic glass heated in a furnace until it puffs like popcorn. Used primarily to make lightweight cement, it is also a great soil conditioner for your garden. Perlite works by helping break up soil, much the way worms do. It also retains water, so plant roots can drink as they need to. Most hardware and garden stores carry it, and it is relatively affordable.


FOR CLAY SOIL 2 parts soil 2 parts peat moss or compost 1 part perlite


FOR SANDY SOIL 2 parts soil 2 parts peat moss or compost 2 parts perlite

ORANGE-PEEL CLEANERS Most household cleaners are as tough on the environment as they are on grime: OSHA lists chlorine and ammonia, found in bleach and window cleaner, as toxic and sets limits on allowed exposure to them in the workplace; detergents can harm rivers and lakes. An excellent alternative is cleaners made with dlimonene, a biodegradable solvent found in orange peel. Although flammable, its residue is harmless (and smells delightful). The FDA recognizes d-limonene as safe enough to use as a flavoring; you’ve probably eaten it in orange candy. Several natural-products companies make d-limonene cleaners. I tested CitraSolv at home: concentrated, it was powerful enough to dissolve chewing gum; diluted, it did a good job of cleaning sticky floors. Though it didn’t work as well as ammonia-based cleaners on windows, it removed an appalling amount of gunk from around my kitchen sink—gunk I didn’t even know was there. Try CitraSolv (, Ecover’s Natural Citrus Cleaner and Degreaser (, and Orange Plus from Earth Friendly Products ( October/November 2005

NIGHTINGALE DROPPINGS Geisha have used nightingale droppings, called uguisu no fun, in skin care for 250 years. In The Japanese Way of Beauty: Natural Beauty and Health Secrets (Carol Publishing, 1993), Michelle Dominique Leigh writes that when she tried using the dung as a facial mask, it made her skin “seem poreless, with a luster so silky [that] it felt brand new!” “It left my skin polished and glowing,” concurred Amy Greene, a 31-year-old Fulbright scholar. “I couldn’t have had more glowing skin if I were pregnant.” Melissa Walker, beauty editor at ElleGirl, also found that the droppings had a gentle exfoliating effect. Who’d have guessed that feces would find such a following among the beauty-conscious? Danyelle Scott, of the Ten Thousand Waves spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which offers a nightingale facial, suggests making a paste of one-eighth teaspoon nightingale scat and a few drops of water. Massage into the skin for 3 to 4 minutes, then rinse. Repeat weekly. Sterilized nightingale droppings are available through Chidoriya for $17.50 per fluid ounce (


SHEA BUTTER Shea butter, used by African healers for centuries, is among the richest moisturizers available. It smoothes rough skin, especially on knees and feet. Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc, clinical professor of plastic surgery at New York University’s School of Medicine, calls it an excellent daily moisturizer. It is “nongreasy and instantly absorbed, and effectively binds moisture to the skin’s surface.” It’s also great in cold weather, helping to combat that extra dryness. Shea butter comes from the nut of the plentiful shea tree. It’s good politics, too: women in African villages process it by hand, so buying it supports their craft and helps the African economy. L’Occitane ( makes purified shea butter; but you can find less expensive and strongersmelling raw shea butter in shops in African immigrant communities.


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THE GUILTLESS BROWNIE Reinventing an ethically complicated confection ORGANIC AND SUSTAINABLY GROWN FOODS have become the ultimate symbol of culinary responsibility. Brownies, on the other hand, are a guilty pleasure, the Us Weekly of the food world. In today’s increasingly healthconscious culture, brownies certainly don’t qualify as morally upright snacks. But what if they were made from organic, sustainable ingredients? Could brownies become respectable members of healthyfood society? And most important, how would these guilt-free brownies taste? This called for a taste test—two batches, bought, mixed, baked, compared. The ingredients were basic baking staples: butter, cocoa, eggs, vanilla extract, white sugar, salt, and flour. I bought the organic varieties in a natural-foods store, but many of them are available at conventional supermarkets.

THE CONVENTIONAL CONFECTION First, I melted a waxy block of margarine ($1.89/16 oz.) in a saucepan, pouring in nutbrown cocoa powder ($2.79/8 oz.). It gave off a subtle, familiar chocolate fragrance. Setting the chocolate mixture aside, I cracked the small, conventional white eggs ($1.89/dozen) with very little effort, releasing their watery insides into the mixing bowl. I poured in a cascade of sparkling, conventional white sugar ($2.19/5 lb.), adding a dash of imitation vanilla ($3.19/6 oz.) and a pinch of table salt. Finally, I folded the chocolate into the egg mixture, adding the bright white flour ($0.29/lb.).

THE SUSTAINABLE SWEET For the organic version, I bypassed the “healthy” margarine in favor of thrice-asexpensive organic local creamery butter ($4.19/8 oz.). Deep yellow and rich with the fat of Jersey cows’ milk, it melted beautifully into the organic cocoa powder ($5.99/7 oz.), sustainably grown in South America, filling the room with a strong, delicious aroma. In the mixing bowl, I whisked the organic free-range eggs—big and sturdy, with lightly freckled shells and plump yolks ($3.59/dozen). I added the unbleached, 98 | P L E N T Y


khaki-colored organic cane sugar ($1.89/ 24 oz.), the organic salt ($3.69/2 lb.) and the organic pure vanilla extract ($5.99/2 oz.), which had a decidedly more complex, genuine vanilla scent than the imitation version. Last, I folded the chocolate mixture and the organic flour ($0.89/lb.) into the bowl.

THE RESULTS The two mixing bowls, side by side, held nearly indistinguishable mixtures of gooey chocolate temptation. When the brownies came out of the oven, both batches looked fantastic—shiny crusts, deep brown color, soft to the touch. The organic brownies had a richer hue, with red undertones, while the conventional brownies were a straightforward umber. I cut large squares for my eager team of tasters, selected for their love of brownies and their various levels of palate sophistication (from lowbrow to highly discerning). Each taster sampled one brownie at a time, without knowing which was from which batch. Were there significant differences between the two treats? I scrutinized my friends’ faces for clues. As one woman tasted a conventional brownie, her expression

showed pure pleasure. But as she bit into the organic version, her brow furrowed. Chewing, she hesitated; then, finally, she smiled. Both were tasty, she said, but she preferred the first batch, as it evoked her favorite “sweet, boxed brownie mix.” A male friend disagreed; sampling the organic brownie, he nodded slowly, raising his eyebrows and revealing his preference. The tasters had distinct favorites: some loved the familiarity of the conventional brownies; others preferred the more complex flavors of the organic ones. The conventional brownies were traditional, those of childhood memory, with a mild chocolate taste and a soft crumb. The organic brownies had a chewier texture and a richer flavor, described by several tasters as more “chocolaty.” The quality of the cocoa showed in their deep mahogany color and almost piquantly intense flavor, and the cane sugar lent a pleasant, less pronounced sweetness than the conventional sugar. Ultimately, though, all of the tasters agreed that both batches were perfectly delicious. ■

Sarah Hackney is a part-time baker living in Hanover, New Hampshire.

SARAH’S BASIC BROWNIES These brownies walk the line between cakey and fudgy, and lend themselves well to additions like toasted walnuts or cinnamon. 3/4 cup butter 1 cup cocoa powder 3 eggs 2 cups sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon salt In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the cocoa powder, stirring until mixed. Set pan aside to cool. Beat the eggs in a large bowl with a whisk, gradually adding the sugar and vanilla. When the chocolate mixture has slightly cooled, fold it into the egg mixture. Add the flour and salt, stirring only to combine the ingredients—do not overstir. Spread the batter into a well-greased pan ( 9 by 13 inches for chewier brownies, 9 by 9 inches for denser brownies) and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (a crumb or two is OK; unbaked goo is not). October/November 2005


STYLE MAVEN The making of an eco-chic designer


THE NAME IS AN ODD ONE, but if Linda Loudermilk’s ambitions fall into place, her moniker may be right up there with the biggest brands. Think Martha Stewart with a social conscience. Or Donna Karan gone green. For the moment, though, the 40year-old designer has established a secure niche for herself in what she calls the “luxury eco-marketplace,” and her quirky but elegant clothes, made from sustainable fabrics and reworked vintage garments, have found a following among celebrities like Jane Fonda, Farrah Fawcett, Tori Amos, and Jill Hennessy (the star of NBC’s Crossing Jordan). Now based in Los Angeles, Loudermilk found her calling relatively late. After studying Shakespeare and costume design at Oxford University in England, she pursued a career as a sculptor until she was well into her 20s, when, she says, she realized that “I didn’t want to be an artist working in the basement for the rest of my life.” When Loudermilk started putting found objects on a dressmaker’s model, she knew that fashion design was the next logical step and enrolled at the Colorado Art Institute in Denver to learn the basics of pattern making and draping. But the impulse toward high style could not have been entirely alien; her greatgrandmother was a couturier at Maison Blanche, the most prestigious department store in turn-of-the-century New Orleans, and she handed down the rudiments of her craft to Loudermilk’s grandmother. When it came time to launch a career, two and a half years later, the fledgling designer chose Los Angeles over New York because of “all the land vibes here.” Loudermilk loved the city and the easy access to open spaces but within a few years gravitated to Europe, where she had her collection manufactured in Italy and showed for one season in Paris. “I put the clothes on the runway, and something wasn’t sitting right, because here I was in Paris at the Trocadero, which is absolutely gorgeous, and it wasn’t making me happy,” she says. “I felt that I had much more to do in the world. I had a talent for fashion, but I needed to turn that into something that was helping people.” A handful of designs from her couture collection, called the “Corazon” series, after the Spanish word for “heart,” seemed to be pointing her in a different direction; the clothes featured images of bodies, branches, and human hearts. Those emblems, Loudermilk explains, made her realize that she wanted to go beyond the typical couture approach. “I wanted to boost people’s spirits and their egos.” Back in Los Angeles, she started researching organic fabrics and launched a T-shirt line made from organic cotton and reclaimed shirts. At $800 apiece, the T-shirts represented a pricey investment in 100 | P L E N T Y

do-gooding, but each was what Loudermilk calls an “art-collage creation.” That line led her to look into other fabric possibilities, and she discovered such materials as EcoSpun, which is made from recycled soda bottles and has the texture of sheepskin; Lenpur, derived from wood pulp; sasawashi, manufactured from a Japanese leaf with supposed antibacterial properties; and woven bamboo fiber. “I’m tapping into the excitement of what is really new in this industry,” she says. A petite woman with long dark hair interrupted by a flame-red streak down the back, Loudermilk says that she draws most of her inspiration from nature. “I like to watch bugs or study the lines of a tree,” she explains. Describing the feel of wearing a sasawashi jacket she designed, she says, “It’s like the way sea life would land on your body, like clinging blankets of kelp or schools of jellyfish floating around you.” Some garments from her “Hope” series are even more graphically conscious of the fragility of the elements: the dresses feature photos of children who live in rain forests. (National Geographic photographer Stephan McCurry donated the photos to Loudermilk’s spring 2005 collection.) Next on the green designer’s agenda is a store whose working title is Linda Loudermilk’s Luxury Eco Marketplace, which, she says, “will be the bricks-and-mortar representation of luxury eco.” Located next to the Marc Jacobs store in a posh neighborhood in Melrose, California, and slated to open in spring 2006, the emporium will carry an array of top-of-the-line goods, from cars to furniture, skin-care products, and home decor. Loudermilk is somewhat cagey about the partners involved in the venture but says that she is working with Global Green USA, the American arm of Gorbachev’s Green Cross International (a nonprofit environmental group founded by the former Soviet leader), and is currently interviewing architects. To raise her profile further, she is also spearheading the first annual Green Glam Summit, to be held in January 2006 at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “What we’re trying to do is lead and develop the market,” she says, “to educate consumers on why they should buy green, even if it’s just an organic cotton T-shirt. “Purism has scared people away from environmentalism,” Loudermilk continues. “Environmental goods are still thought of as granola. There’s a lot of middle-of-the-road stigma that comes with them. We want luxury eco to help change that.” ■ October/November 2005

LUXURY ECO: The fashions of Linda Loudermilk. Organic wool knit dress, this page; vintage lace, sustainable crepe, silk damask, and bamboo tops, with organic cotton sweater, opposite. Models are Nicola D. from Major Model Management and Lindsey Huizenga with New York Model Management. Hair by Daniel Martin for Aveda. Makeup by Clelia Bergonzoli/Code Artists. Styling by Ise White/Code Artists. Photographs by Francis Murphy. October/November 2005

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PEDAL POWER These green entrepreneurs are getting a leg up on their competitors by using bikes to generate energy. JOSHUA M. BERNSTEIN ONCE A WEEK, IN A RURAL MASSACHUSETTS VILLAGE, Frederick Breeden retreats to a 30by-30-foot garage stocked with pungent oils and a massive steel vat to furiously pedal a bike. His quadriceps quiver while sweat races down his brow. After roughly two hours of leg-jellying exertion, the wheels stop. A recluse’s exercise regimen? Hardly; he’s simply churning soap. Since 1998, the 39-year-old Breeden has manufactured a line of all-natural soaps, salves, and balms called Just Soap. Chockfull of avocado oil and organic ingredients like lemongrass and ginger, the cleansers lather nicely. They smell pleasant. They’re biodegradable. They cost about three dollars each. And they’re manufactured with energy generated by biking. These days bikes are going off the road—and off the grid—in ways Tour de Francers could only dream of. From pedalpowered washing machines to gear-driven wheat mills, bikes are giving people a leg up on sustainability. “Bike-based machines leave a light imprint on the earth and are a great way to harness human energy,” says Nate Byerley, creator of the B3, a bike-powered blender. He and Breeden are part of a growing legion of resourceful cyclists who are creating ecologically sound businesses. An ex-bike mechanic and grocery-store produce manager, Breeden dabbles in crafts like candle making and basket weaving. About nine years ago, his mother-in-law gave him a pamphlet on soap making, and he decided to give it a whirl. He was hooked. After spending a year perfecting his mixtures, he started Just Soap. At the time, the avid cyclist was commuting five miles to work via mountain bike. But when he first opened his business, he relied on arm strength to stir his soap batches, 80 pounds each, five per day. The effort was “backbreaking,” Breeden says. “I was working 12hour days.” Using an electrical mixer was as appealing to him as moldy liverwurst. “If there’s any way to do something without a machine, that’s what I’ll do,” says Breeden, who mows his half-acre lawn by hand. So 102 | P L E N T Y

he enlisted custom-bicycle builder Eric Bowman, who specialized in top-end frames. A few months—and about $4,000— later, Breeden owned a one-of-a-kind soap churner. Hypothetically, anyway. “We didn’t know if it would work,” Breeden says, “and I wasn’t certain my legs were up to the effort.” The test run: after combining oils and organic herbs in a steel vat large enough to hide an eight-year-old, Breeden pedaled tentatively. The blade, amazingly, cut through the mixture like a chain saw through Jell-O. Of course, the October/November 2005

soap gradually thickened to a difficult-topedal, frozen-honey consistency, “but that’s how you know you’re done,” he says. The 440-pound batch—poured into wooden molds and cured—took only four to five hours to complete, compared to twelve with the previous method. Seven years and 200,000 bars of soap later, the contraption still runs smoothly. “I can’t name another machine with that kind of performance record,” Breeden says. To sell soap Breeden relies on mail order ( and distribution through Whole Foods and health-food co-ops in the Northeast. Just Soap works as a small-scale operation, but can it grow larger? The image of sweaty pedalers furiously churning soap evokes a health-conscious sweatshop. Bike-based machines, like the grain grinder and knife sharpener used in Guatemala’s Maya Pedal program, which gives people with few resources access to bike-driven tech-


nology, help provide a framework for microbusinesses, not Wal-Mart-style behemoths. But because of the complex soaping process, Breeden envisions only one soapchurning machine—used more frequently. No matter how big his business grows, he says, “there will never be a room full of pedalers.” Pedaling is merely one piece of the green-centric picture at Brooklyn’s Habana Outpost. Located above a rumbling subway line, in a mural-covered storefront and dining patio surrounded by lime-green fencing, the seasonal restaurant/street market (May through Halloween, due to outdoor seating) is an exercise in reuse and conservation. Owner Sean Meenan also owns Manhattan’s

Café Habana (the Outpost’s older sibling), and his goal with the new venture is to maximize the use of natural and recycled products in his restaurant. A photovoltaic array powers the kitchen, which is housed in an old postal truck; cups and plates are made of biodegradable plastic; customers sit and eat on swings fashioned from sawdust and recycled soda bottles; and fruit smoothies are mixed by a B3. Every weekend, a diverse crowd of diners treks to the Outpost to munch on fried plantains, grilled corn, and tortas. Amid the throng, an employee sits on a bright orange bike rigged with the rearmounted blender. While shoppers peruse the open-air market (featuring recycled rubber clothing and sushi-mat handbags), the blender whirs into action; its grating ruckus draws curious stares, and the mixing of smoothies becomes somewhat like performance art. “It’s a really fun way to demonstrate sustainability,” says Byerley. Rather, it was a really fun way to demonstrate sustainability. In July the bike and its $300 Xtracycle attachment, which stabilized the blender, were stolen. Yet the Outpost remains committed to pedal power. The restaurant is rebuilding the blender—with a stationary exercise bike. “What thief would steal an old exercise bike?” asks Atom Cianfarani, Habana Outpost’s green consultant, with a laugh. After an eccentric New York City inventor named “Funky” (“he’ll build an air conditioner from scratch,” Cianfarani says) completes blender 2.0, it will be installed indoors and given a twist: customers will pedal. Consider it voluntary unpaid labor, with benefits. “They’re not going to get a price break,” Cianfarani says, “but they’ll get exercise.” Getting enough exercise is the least of Breeden’s problems. He is more concerned with inefficient machines. When sending out his soap shipments via the post office, he found that deliveries within his home state took more than a week. Flummoxed, Breeden called the post office and offered his advice. “I told them I could walk my shipments faster,” he says, “or just deliver the soap by bike.” ■

“It’s a really fun way to demonstrate sustainability.”


PUT THE PEDAL TO THE METAL: (this page) The Habana Outpost serves up sustainable snacks, including smoothies mixed in a pedal-powered blender. Frederick Breeden (opposite page) uses a retooled exercise bike to churn out batches of all-natural soap.

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AM I GREEN? Sure, you reduce, reuse, and recycle at every opportunity— could you be any greener? Take our quiz to find out. 1. When you think about living off the grid, you: a. Dream of solar power, biking for errands and dining from your organic garden. b. Feel like shopping for eco-friendly gadgets such as Juice Bags and SOLEO iPod chargers. c. Surf eBay for a used wind turbine for your roof. 2. Your bike is: a. An extension of your body. It’s your primary means of transportation. b. Reserved for recreation only. c. A functional-in-theory-only sculpture displayed in your home.

3. Your idea of a great party is: a. A potluck picnic at the local park with your friends and family. b. A fundraiser in honor of Earth Day. c. Great food, an open bar with organic wines and a killer playlist streaming from speakers hooked up to your laptop.

4. You start work at a new company and find out that their recycling policy is “why bother?” You: a. Start small, asking the boss if you can start a can drive near the vending machine for a local children’s charity. b. Research companies that will save your boss money by collecting recyclables. c. Collect all the recyclables each week and take them to a recycling center yourself.


5. You see a deer snacking away in your garden. You: a. Breathe a sigh of relief that it’s only the compost. b. Race for your camera and snap a photo. c. Run outside and yell, “Hey, go to that field next door and eat the free flowers, would you?”

The Ratings 1. a) 3 b) 1 c) 2 2. a) 3 b) 1 c) 2 3. a) 2 b) 3 c) 1 4. a) 2 b) 1 c) 3 5. a) 3 b) 2 c) 1

THE RESULTS 5-7 GREEN-BY-ASSOCIATION Early adopters like you tend to be green without even realizing it. For instance, you may have bought an MP3 player for the coolfactor of toting your tunes electronically, but in fact you’ve befriended the ecosystem at the same time. “The iPod is one of my favorite eco-gadgets,” says Jennifer Boulden, the Ennis, Montana-based cofounder of, a website dedicated to green living. “You never have to figure out what to do with a CD jewel case again, you don’t have to use fuel to drive to the mall, and nothing has to be shipped,” she adds. Once you make the connection between cool and sustainable, you’ll think of your life as one big earth-friendly treasure hunt and seek out products that appeal to your inner gadget freak and promote renewable resources at the same time. 8-11 THRIFT SEEKER Your friends admire your resourcefulness and your retro-chic aesthetic. You love the thrill of the hunt—whether it’s eBay or local garage sales, you reduce your impact on the planet by buying stuff that doesn’t need to be manufactured just for you. And while going vintage can be a smart way to preserve resources, it’s possible that some of the “Hey-it-works-fine” manifesto is back-

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firing on the environment. Those eight-track era appliances? Sure, they’re a great conversation piece. But they’re probably less than efficient when it comes time to actually toasting your bread and blending your smoothies. Instead of stressing that you’re spending money to replace something that works, remember that you’ll notice the difference on your energy bill. 12-15 ENTHUSIASTIC ECOPHILE You compost with the best of them. You reduce, reuse, recycle and educate others at every opportunity. Without people like you, there’d be no point-of-origin for the trickle-down effect. But you don’t always have to be the envirocop. “I think a lot of people were turned off to the green lifestyle because of finger-shaking from the die-hards that made them think it was all-or-nothing,” says Boulden. It’s a lesson Boulden learned the hard way, schlepping duffel bags full of recyclables home—via subway—from her non-recycling Wall Street office. “I lost my footing on the steps and was laid up with a knee injury for months,” she says. Consider taking a more subtle approach when trying to spread the message. If you want people to understand the importance of preserving open space, for example, consider having a party in a public park, suggests Lisa Welch, director of philanthropy at Florida branch of the Trust for Public Land. ■

October/November 2005

“Wow, I remember when all these trees were a parking lot.”

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Plenty Magazine Issue 06 Oct/Nov 2005  

Green Business.