BusinessWeek's green blockbuster

It warms my heart to see green stories breaking out all over BusinessWeek. So after a week at the Jersey Shore — wondering why on earth there wasn’t a solar panel to be seen in the sunsoaked expanses of vacation rentals, but that’s another story — I caught up with our July 24, 2008 issue, I wanted to point you back to these remarkable stories in case you missed them.

First, check out “Cash for trash” Roben Farzad’s whirlwind dash through fragrant mountains of valuable waste. Recycling is an industry with an out-of-date reputation that today is tapping into big private equity investment to building surprisingly high-tech operations to tease out valuable scraps from the oceans of trash spilling from US homes and businesses. Garbage is becoming so valuable, we’re seeing an end to the era when recycling was little more than a guilt-induced ritual fostered more by personal virtue than economics. Still, for every story about a town going to surprising new ends to recycle (such as Seattle, where city wide composting gets a high tech treatment), I find there’s a case like Houston’s, where residents resist recycling efforts with a sort of defiant glee.

For both these poles on the recycling spectrum, and everyone in between, the good news is that recycling is less and less a proxy for political leanings. Residents are finding there are rewards to be had selling their trash rather than dumping it. Roben points out that a growing cadre of players are eager to pay for your trash: from TechTurn, which breaks up and makes money selling dead tech gear and subcomponents, to RecycleBank which rewards consumers for curbside recycling. In towns where it’s rolled out the service, RecycleBank has seen recycling rates soar.

On the cover of the same issue, in “The real question: Should oil be cheap?”, John Carey outlines the clearest argument yet I’ve seen for why high oil prices aren’t all bad, and why putting a “floor” on oil prices is good policy. The story is rich with examples of how high energy prices have induced US companies and consumers to make efficiency-boosting changes many wish they had done so long ago. Much as we yearn for $20 per barrel oil again, Carey makes clear how beneficial efficiency gains are to the overall economy.

Using a tax or fee policy to guarantee oil couldn’t fall below a target price — say $80 — would give companies a stark reference point to help cost out further investments in efficiency and foster a long push towards that end, something the nation needs for both its economic and environmental health. And in the off chance oil does actually dip to new lows, such a tax could steer monies into efficiency enhancing investments.

Check them out here:

“Cash for trash,” by Roben Farzad.

“The real question: Should oil be cheap?” by John Carey.

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