Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Biofuels and Carbon Credits: Wrong Approaches

The more I learn about biodiesel, the less convinced I am that it is anything more than a temporary feel-good “solution” with problems of its own.

Keep in mind that oil and coal are biofuels: when we burn them, we are burning fossilized plant matter from ages long past.

I don’t have a problem with biodiesel that uses waste oil from fast food restaurants, etc. But when crops are grown to be converted to energy–and that’s what will happen if there’s large-scale conversion to biodiesel–there are a number of issues. To name a few:

  • Corn grown for energy displaces corn grown to feed both humans and animals, and that could mean spiraling dairy prices, among other things

  • Transportation and processing issues, including fuel consumed, increased truck traffic, and greenhouse gases/toxic wastes emitted, are usually not factored in

  • Soybean plantations for energy, for soy-based “environmentally responsible” inks, and so forth, are a major cause of rainforest destruction in Brazil (if that sounds far out, look at this article in National Geographic–not known for its alarmist visions, but known widely for its accuracy in reporting)

  • As for carbon credits, I never liked them, any more than I liked the pollution credits of 20 years ago. They are nothing more than a license to pollute. While buying carbon offsets is certainly better than not buying them, bringing down the level of pollution and greenhouse emissions and global warming impact are better strategies to me than polluting and paying.

    I do think massive tree planning is a good thing, and if the offset programs enable that, it’s a start. But think of the environmental impact of buying a tiny and fuel efficient car instead of a Hummer–or better yet, walking or biking or taking public transit.

    So what are the truly Green approaches? Conservation and solar, for sure. Wind, geothermal, and small-scale hydro (especially approaches that don’t actually dam the stream), if done correctly. And little lifestyle changes that minimize resource use.


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