Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Book Review: An economist gets lunch

Monday, May 7th, 2012

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Cowen, Tyler. An economist gets lunch : new rules for everyday foodies. Dutton, 2012.

The words “everyday foodies” in the title of Tyler Cowen’s book were what first attracted my interest. Even though I plead guilty to being a “foodie”, I cringe a bit inside when I write or say it. The word has an elitist whiff to it.

An “everyday foodie” sounds more down-to-earth and approachable; and much of An Economist Gets Lunch focuses on distinguishing the behaviors of the everyday foodie from those of the food snob and the thoughtless consumer. Cowen does readers and mindful eaters a great service by explaining both the positive and negative effects of America’s food supply chain. He also provides guidelines to help the reader make every meal count, realize that good food is often cheap food, and to be innovative as consumers.

If you’ll pardon the pun, the meat of An Economist Gets Lunch begins in Chapter 7 (“Another Agricultural Revolution, Now”).  Cowen starts with the revelation that corn as we now know it is the product of progressive genetic engineering, i.e. selective breeding, practiced over millennia by farmers in central Mexico. It was the first “Green Revolution”.

This will probably surprise readers who reflexively refer to modern day genetically modified grains as “Frankenfood”. Cowen’s passionate and well-reasoned defense of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) later in the chapter is foreshadowed by his description of the third Green Revolution — the adaptation of American agricultural technologies for practical use in poorer countries to improve crop yields and dramatically reduce deaths from hunger. According to Cowen, these benefits of technological progress and agricultural commercialization demonstrate that “the agribusiness platform … the food infrastructure of the modern world, is one to build upon and improve, rather than throw away.”

It may sound as if the author is a full-throated supporter of Big Agribusiness; but his arguments for carbon taxes set by governments to modify consumer behavior makes it clear that this is not the case.  It is ironic that Cowen spends many pages empowering consumers to make intelligent, thoughtful choices about how and what they eat; yet he concludes here that it would be just too difficult for consumers to accurately make choices about what foods are the most or least “green”.

Another irony, really a self-contradiction, is Cowen’s suggestion to “minimize the number of car trips” required to support food consumption; and yet throughout the book, he emphasizes the value of increased travel as critical to the education and experience of the everyday foodie.

An Economist Gets Lunch is an interesting and informative read in that it opens readers’ eyes to the currently under-reported benefits of our US food supply chain, and the humanitarian value of GMO food crops. But the “food advice” chapters progressively read like lightly edited blog posts, and assume readers will have access to a metropolitan setting like the author’s.  Cowen’s generalizations about locavores — “those who eat local foods, either mostly or exclusively” as being driven by a desire for “a feel-good attitude” are also too sweeping, and slightly hypocritical, in this reviewer’s opinion, given Cowen’s high praise for local foods in other countries.

An Economist Gets Lunch is recommended, like a good restaurant, with reservations.

© Reviewer: Carlton Brown & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Force of Nature

Monday, March 26th, 2012

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Humes, Edward. Force of nature : the unlikely story of Wal-Mart’s green revolution. HarperBusiness, 2011.

The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year at the Whole Foods store on Broad Street in Durham.  In recent years, there are so many customers that they experience gridlock in the store.  An employee is posted outside the doors to prevent anyone from going in until another customer comes out.

Whole Foods is riding the wave of interest in sustainable products and organic food, which has become so popular that even conventional grocers  now offer organic alternatives.  Surprisingly, the largest seller of organic milk is Wal-Mart, a company that is not known for environmental sensitivity but should be, according to a new book by journalist Edward Humes.

Force of Nature is the story of how Wal-Mart, once one of the most unsustainable retailers on the planet decided to go green, not because it was the right thing to do, but because an energy efficient, low waste company enjoys a competitive advantage.   In addition to reducing Wal-Mart’s own energy use and waste, the company monitors packaging, water use and toxic substances in their suppliers, who are forced to be green to do business with the retailer.  Wal-Mart also develops partnerships with environmental groups and supports climate legislation.

The story begins in 2004, when Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, learns that 8% of its customer base had stopped shopping there because of the company’s bad reputation, including problems with local communities and the environment.  White-water expert and sustainability consultant Jib Ellison convinced CEO H. Lee Scott that Wal-Mart could boost their image and their profits by eliminating waste, because waste in packaging, shipping and the supply chain costs money.  Scott hired Ellison to transform the company.

Force of Nature is the inside story of how a gigantic corporation goes green.  This engaging and hopeful book is recommended to anyone interested in the environment.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Books on the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

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Today (April 20) is the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil disaster in American waters in history. The catastrophe began with a series of explosions on the drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 crew members and caused an massive eruption on the wellhead on the ocean floor. The oil gushed for 10 weeks, releasing 20 times more oil than the Exxon Valdez, killing wildlife and ruining the livelihoods of thousands of people who make their living in and around the Gulf.

The two books below provide clear accounts of the disaster, detailing what actually happened and why. BP is one of the largest and most profitable oil companies in the world and promotes its green efforts. Yet corporate policies for cost cutting and for rushing to pump oil led to shortchanged safety features that protect both drilling employees and the environment. Routine maintenance was shoddy and safety improvements were postponed. Federal regulators also share in the blame for not noticing.

BP has paid billions of dollars to victims, yet management has admitted nothing that would lead to a reform of corporate culture. This disaster is ripe for repeat.

Steffy, Loren C. Drowning in oil : BP and the reckless pursuit of profit. McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Business journalist from the Houston Chronicle provides a clear, thorough and readable account of the disaster, analyzing its roots and implications.

Freudenburg, William R. Blowout in the Gulf : the BP oil spill disaster and the future of energy in America. MIT Press, 2011.

Two environmental scholars provide insights into BP, industrial risk-taking, and the histories of oil exploration and US energy policy.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Reviews: “Going Green”

Monday, June 7th, 2010

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Here are a set of mini-reviews of four important new books on “going green.”

Click the titles below for information on location and availability.

  • Global warming is good for business by Kimberly B. Keilbach. Quill Driver Books, 2009.Provides practical advice on identifying entrepreneurial opportunities, and describes new green technologies that have the potential to power a new generation of innovation.
  • Two billion cars: driving toward sustainability by Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon. Oxford University Press, 2009.Describes the reluctance of auto manufacturers to employ promising new technologies for reducing the auto’s carbon footprint and recommends solutions for change.
  • How to cool the planet : geoengineering and the audacious quest to fix earth’s climate. by Jeff Goodell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.Explores options for cooling earth’s climate in a hurry, focusing on strange and promising ideas that are beginning to attract research dollars, such as “cloud brightening,” pumping water droplets into the air to buffer ocean clouds’ reflectivity.
  • Strategy for sustainability: a business manifesto by Adam Werbach. Harvard Business Press, 2009.Shows business leaders how to formulate a green strategy attuned to social, economic and cultural trends, and to implement it by engaging people inside the company and within the community..

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Resources for Sustainable Development

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

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Holliday, Charles O. (“Chad”) Walking the talk : the business case for sustainable development. Greenleaf, 2002.

Kross, Katie. Profession and purpose : a resource guide for MBA careers in sustainability. Greenleaf, 2009.

Seireeni, Richard. The gort cloud : the invisible force powering today’s most visible green brands. Chelsea Green Publishers, 2008.

The authors of these 3 books were the opening Keynote Speaker, Strategy Moderator, and Strategy Panelist at The Duke Conference on Sustainable Business and Social Impact (SBSI), held on February 17, 2010 here at the Fuqua School of Business.

All 3 of the above titles are available for check-out here in Ford Library. Just click a linked title above to request one of the books.

Don’t miss other important titles in Ford Library’s extensive collection of books on sustainable development.

We also encourage Fuqua users to take a look at the “Green Careers” Insider Guide at our affiliate WetFeet Career Resource site. After connecting, click the”Insider Guides” link at the page top, then “Industries & Careers General” at the left.

If you’d like to suggest other books on sustainable development for our collection, please let us know!

Book Reviews: Sustainable Investing

Monday, October 19th, 2009

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Kiernan, Matthew J. Investing in a sustainable world : why GREEN is the new color of money on Wall Street. Wiley, 2009.

Krosinsky, Cary and Nick Robins, eds. Sustainable investing : the art of long-term performance. Earthscan, 2008.

Traditionally, ethical and socially responsible investing has been driven by personal values. While this approach has been successful in some sectors in the U.S. and the U.K., the mainstream institutional marketplace has been out of reach. But now, research by Innovest Strategic Value Advisors shows that companies with superior positioning on sustainability issues achieved superior financial returns. Two new books discuss how both Wall Street and Main Street are now interested in investing in ethical, social and green companies to attain long term financial performance.

In Investing in a Sustainable World, Innovest founder and CEO Matthew J. Kiernan makes the business case for integrating environmental and social considerations into investment decisions. He presents conceptual and practical tools to help investors realize environmental, social and financial objectives at the same time. (more…)

Book Review: Earth Then and Now

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

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Pearce, Fred. Earth then and now : amazing images of our changing world. Firefly Books, 2008.

The first image in the book, Earth Then and Now, is of downtown Dubai, skyscrapers and highways, taken from a helicopter. Until the mid 1990’s, the space was occupied by desert. Among the last images are satellite photographs of The Palms, the world’s largest humanmade islands near Dubai, constructed as vacation destinations for the global elite. Development in and around Dubai has transformed the environment of the Arabian Peninsula.

The book Earth Then and Now records environmental changes that have happened worldwide within the last 100 years. Using pairs of photographs, the images document changes caused by forces such as urbanization, war, and nature itself. These stark visual images show that as human population increases, the impact on the environment is soaring.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Revolution in a bottle …

Monday, June 8th, 2009

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Szaky, Tom. Revolution in a bottle : how TerraCycle is redefining green business. Portfolio, 2008.

Once I carried some bags of semi-composted leaf litter from our neighbor’s curb to mulch a new garden bed in front of our house. The neighbor was furious. “I paid good money for those bags,” he shouted.
So when I read in Tom Szaky’s Revolution in a Bottle, that his neighbors called the police because he took plastic bottles out of their recycling bins on the curb, I was totally sympathetic. But I was already hooked on this account of the first product in the world that was made entirely from and packaged entirely in waste.

Author Szaky dropped out of Princeton in 2002 and founded a company that makes products from waste. Szaky’s company TerraCycle uses worms to recycle garbage into fertilizer, which is bottled into used plastic liters found in the trash. This is the story about a green entrepreneur and his company — how it started, overcame many challenges and grew to a successful venture. A company that began with garbage from Princeton Univ.dining halls grew to a company that produced 100 products in 15,000 big box stores. (more…)

TED Talk: Business Logic of Sustainability

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

If you have seen the documentary The Corporation you may remember Ray Anderson, owner of the carpet company Interface.  He retooled the company to take advantage of sustainable business practices after reading Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce.

He has a new TED talk up on the business logic of sustainability.

Book Review: Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Monday, October 27th, 2008

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Hot, flat, and crowded : why we need a green revolution– and how it can renew America by Thomas L. Friedman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Following his blockbuster book on globalization, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman has written another destined for a multi-year stay on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Hot, Flat, and Crowded focuses on three global trends that will soon undermine the quality of life of earth: Global warming, the rise of the middle class world-wide and rapid population growth. As billions more people adopt middle class consumption patterns, the effect on climate, natural resources and biodiversity will be devastating. In addition, the world will experience tighter energy supplies, a division between electricity haves and have-nots, and a transfer of wealth to petro-powers, which are largely anti-democratic.

After focusing on the problems of global warming, population growth, and consumerism in the first half of the book, Friedman outlines his solution in the second. He proposes “Code Green” to transform our our current Dirty Fuels System to a clean-powered, energy-efficient, conservation-based system. Friedman calls for a revolution, the largest innovation project in American history.

Overall, this is an optimistic book. Friedman says that thirty years ago, America could be counted on to lead the world in response to the important challenges of the day, but recently the US lost its way. The green revolution is an opportunity to become that city on the hill once again, providing leadership on healing the earth.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business. All rights reserved.