April 2010 saw ice on fire in Iceland as a volcano thrust Western Europe under a cloud of ashen spew, while sundry earthquakes and extreme weather in diverse place were so numerous that they often only got second billing and brief sound bites. Humans were perhaps trying to trump the planet’s mayhem by creating a monstrous oil blob of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, that was, for a brief time, aflame. However, the month ended with one bright spot: The approval of the long embattled Cape Wind offshore wind farm near Cape Cod, Massachusetts — America’s first offshore wind farm.
I wrote an in depth article for my website about this project and the fight to stop it when that fight began in 2003. The article focused on how General Electric, a company with a poor environmental record, was getting into the renewable energy business. The article was entitled: “Green Change or Hot Wind at GE?” Here’s a reposting of that article to give you a history of our first offshore wind farm and how it came to be:
GE’s wind power division is helping to make the U.S. a world leader in wind electricity generation. Is the wind division a P.R. move to outshine the company’s less than stellar environmental history or a sign of things to come from one of the world’s biggest and oldest corporations? Or, is it just plain greenwash?
When I first began to research a series of articles on the topic of renewable energy technologies I did not expect to be writing about major corporations like GE in any favorable light. I expected to be writing human-interest stories about “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” types fighting to get major corporations to shift to renewable fuel sources and clean up their acts with respect to pollution. While researching such a story, I came across a large amount of data that I could not ignore, mostly because I was surprised to find it.
My research revealed that an increasing number of companies are beginning to implement environmentally friendly business practices. It would be nice to report that this shift is based on a new respect for our shared biosphere, but it is more accurate (and perhaps more promising for both our citizenry and our economy) to be reporting otherwise. What some companies are discovering is that keeping informed of advances in renewable resource technologies may help them recognize and corner new markets. Additionally, implementing green business practices can make good fiscal sense in that they can yield a competitive advantage by helping a company become more energy efficient and maintain a happier, more productive employee base.
So, rather than a new trend in environmental altruism, the environmentally beneficial changes in most companies I am following are rooted in careful intra-corporate study of the bottom line and research of strategies that will keep the business profitable well into the future. The upside for the rest of us is that these shifts could also offer a healthier planet to cohabitate without the added costs associated with funding government programs to legislate environmental change in the corporate world. History has shown that legislative environmentalism has often failed and been costly to tax payers in the congressional process (costs associated with researching and enacting new laws at the State and Federal level) as well as the costs of enforcement. Historically, there have been additional costs absorbed in getting resistant corporations to conform to new legal standards.
Presently, several technologies are finally allowing an economically feasible realization of ideas that have existed among environmentalists for decades. What corporate scientific study and bean counting is finding is that environmentalism and capitalism may no longer be mutually exclusive terms.
Prime examples of a new trend in natural capitalism are the developments over the course of 2003 within General Electric. GE is currently becoming a world leader in the wind power generation business. One question that initially came to my mind was whether the company is engaging in this business to help offset public image problems with respect to their environmental record. Also of note is the legal battle being joined in Cape Cod between the energy companies vying to build what would become America’s first, and the world’s largest, offshore wind facility off the coast of Cape Cod against a citizens’ group trying to stop them. GE designed and is manufacturing the new offshore wind turbines that would populate Cape wind project.
The Daily Loaf