Thursday, September 07, 2006

Green CEOs

Steven Milloy of wants you to believe that being a CEO in favor of green business is bad for business. In his most recent column, he gives three "examples" of how CEOs of major companies, by trying to move in a greener route, have sparked a decline in their own company's future value. He picks the specious cases of Ford, British Petroleum, and the upcoming "crisis" in General Electric. However, if you read what he has to write, he is simply not making any sense.

Ford's choice of CEO may have not been the wisest choice in the world, but the 5-year reign of Bill Ford did not have the disasterous effect that Millor wants you to believe. His reasoning is that, since Bill actively sought to turn his company down a greener road, the 2/3 loss of stock value that the company has endured is his fault. Instead, it was a company's reliance on trucks and SUVS - which consume huge amounts of gas - that dragged them down, and their unwillingness to change. Look at Ford's compatriot, General Motors. A company similarly laden down with the same burdens, has not had an environmentalist at the helm but still has managed to shed the majority of its value. In stark contrast, Toyota got on board the green vehicle bus very early, and is currently reaping in the benefits from it (note: here in California the waiting list for a Prius was, at one point, 7 months... how many cars would you willingly pay for in advance, and then wait 7 months for it to be delivered? not many). Honda is also there, and they have a good corner on the solar panel manufacturring market to bolster them up. So it was not these last 5 years that have doomed Ford, it has been decades of negligence and unwillingness to act or recognize changes down the road.

Negligence reminds me of Milloy's comments about BP's CEO Lord John Browne. Milloy states that, while Browne is trying to turn a new leaf in the company's long and sometimes turbid history, he has neglected "core business needs and has
given the company a black-eye." What is evidence for this accusation? "A March 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City, Texas, refinery complex killed 15 workers and injured many more. Poor maintenance at BP’s Alaskan oil pipeline caused the largest-ever oil spill on the North Slope in March 2006. A BP oil rig damaged by Hurricane Katrina still leaks one year later." Now the pipeline corrosion is a condition that builds up over years, if not decades, making recent decisions by the CEO hardly relevant. Even more important, the pipeline is soon to be back online,by BP's estimates. Explosions and hurricanes, while unfortunate, happen, at great cost to lives, money, and the environment. But these are pitfalls in any company, and freak acts like those do not necessarily reflect upon the CEO in question. Instad, trying to push BP into a new generation of companies working with alternative fuels, helping California's governor work with a new global-warming initiative, and work with partners like Greenpeace are constructive steps that more companies should take.

The truth of the matter is that green companies are starting to turn a profit, and make a lot of sense. Forbes magazine opines, "
Evidence is mounting that what is good for the environment is also good for the price of a company's stock. Contrary to the widely accepted belief that environmental regulations are a drain on profitability, research demonstrates that being environmentally effective can add value to a company, and potentially benefit its shareholders. By taking advantage of environmental opportunities, companies can gain a competitive advantage over their peers through cost reductions, quality improvements, increased profitability and access to new and growing markets. Environmentally responsible companies also have less risk of environmental liability, which could have a major impact on future stock prices." And that was two years ago, before a lot of green businesses that exist today are even in place.

According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, "
More than 70 percent of the world's largest 500 companies (FT 500) are now addressing climate change in their corporate reporting, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project. In addition, 90 percent of those companies flagged climate change as posing commercial risks and/or opportunities to their business." Toyota's hybrid cars have certainly been a boost for that company, as mentioned above. Portfolio 21's top 10 green companies for 2005 returned anywhere from 52% to 120%, hardly shabby growth by any metric.

Milloy's comments are not merely obtuse, but blatantly misleading. He chooses such abominable examples to base his case around that it could be hardly considered journalism. As I have shown, most of his accusations are not the result of one man's actions, as those take longer to matriculate in a large corporate atmosphere. Instead, CEOs who think green and act green should be encouraged to continue what they are doing, for it will benefit their shareholders, their customers, and society in general. Milloy should stop pandering and slandering and write about something about which he actually understands.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Rag Rant

How destructive, the petty diversions of our life. Americans are being destroyed by consumption, and not the Violetta type. Our TV watching is approaching a third of our lives (up to an average of 8.2 hours/day/household, according to Time Magazine), and we continually fill our waking existence with intellectual tripe. Celebrity marriages, star gossip, fashion obsession. Are these items that will help you improve your lives? Will knowing that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' baby looks like (even getting a glimpse of her bronzed shit) help you in your own marriage? Improve your work life? Become healthier, wiser, a more active citizen in this country?

No, they will not. Instead, these trivialities are distractions from your life. While entertainment is certainly not looked down upon, to spend hours of television programming, newspaper print space, and vast amounts of time in your own life ingesting, memorizing, prioritizing these tidbits is unconscionable. Why do we care? What relevance does this have to our own selves? Nada. Rather, we use these pieces of pop culture to remove us from our own reality, to escape from the difficult thoughts that lie with our own lives and the decisions that need to be made regarding our future. It is easier to think about Brangelina than about the impeding death of Social Security; Jessica Simpson's new fling is more fun to contemplate than trade deficits or poor education or the illegal immigrant debacle.

Hollywood will not be denied; and in their cunning they have isolated ourselves from our own rational brains, fractionated off a portion of it in order to serve no particular useful purpose. And we have swallowed, as a society, hook, line, and sinker. We buy trashy magazines, watch the tabloid shows, participate in useless water-cooler tirades and gossip trading, rather than trying to use those neurons, use that time, use those contacts to try and actually do something constructive. Heaven forbid that we attempt to improve our lives, indulge in our own artistic side, try to construct a more perfect union. We face serious issues, and to sit around diddling our lives away on such star-studded bullshit is beyond me, and should be beyond us. Put down People. It is not about you, it is not for you, it exists merely to waste your money and time.