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green@work : Magazine : Between Blue & Yellow : Winter 2006

Between Blue and Yellow

Driving a Movement

By Sarah Christy

There’s no question that the sustainability movement is moving forward full-force, and one of the drivers—pun intended—are environmentally conscious automobiles. Considered just a few years ago as trendy cars driven by only a small percentage of the population, these so-called “green” automobiles have become heavily demanded symbols of progressiveness among Earth-conscious consumers. And the hybrid models are selling faster than companies can make them; most dealerships have a waiting list. All things considered, the growing popularity of these automobiles is an indicator of change in sustainable business.

In this issue’s cover story, Peter Asmus and Bruce Piasecki take a look at the big leaders in the automotive industry’s green movement. The authors write that companies such as Toyota and Honda—whose Prius and Insight models, respectively, were the first hybrid cars in the United States—are experiencing a surge not only in popularity because of their increased environmentalism, but also in their bottom lines. For instance, in 2005, Toyota boasted a record $10.5 million profit, while GM—which has not yet sold any hybrid vehicles to its retail base—struggled with a $1.6 billion third-quarter loss. As the authors write, “Toyota is showing the world how to exploit green technologies, first to gain market share and then leapfrog above its competitors to the top.” Who could argue that?

In contrast to the well-known hybrids, many readers may be surprised to find out about a lesser-known Earth-conscious automobile, the flex-fuel vehicle (FFV). In one of this issue’s feature stories, Lisa Duchene reports that there are literally millions of drivers on the road today who are unaware that their vehicles can operate on the environmentally friendly E85 fuel, a mixture of ethanol and gasoline that greatly reduces automobile emissions and pollutants. At this point in time, even if drivers were aware of their car’s capability to drive with this innovative fuel, they couldn’t just drive to their nearest gas station and fill up with E85. That’s because there are only a handful of filling stations that carry it. But as Duchene writes, more than 30 ethanol plants are under construction nationwide, adding to the 93 ethanol plants that already exist. The future’s looking bright.

On a similar note, more state governments are becoming increasingly conscious about automotive emissions. And they should be—one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from tailpipe exhaust, making it the leading source of air pollution. Jeff Orloff writes in one of the magazine’s Frontlines articles that more states are starting to follow California’s lead in its efforts and legislation to reduce auto emissions in the state. Because California has been practicing its right under the federal Clean Air Act to call for stricter emissions regulations, the state is seeing change. And experts praise California for its leadership in environmental issues. As Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “If it weren’t for California, the environment would be much worse in this country.”

The truth is, if it weren’t for exhaust-spitting automobiles, the environment would be much better. But not having cars in this world is not an option. So luckily, we are seeing the next best thing: an improvement in how automobiles are made, how they are used and how they affect the world we live in.

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