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Big Business Talks Green At WSJ’s ECO:nomics Conference

wsj_economics.jpgThe Wall Street Journal held its CEO-level “ECO:nomics – Creating Environmental Capital” conference in California last week. Here are some of the highlights as reported on WSJ’s Environmental Capital.

Wal-Mart:

Lee Scott, president and CEO of Wal-Mart, said he doesn’t have a clue when the retail giant will meet his stated goal of having zero waste and 100 percent renewable energy. He also declared, “We are not green.” He sees the economic slump as the perfect time for Wal-Mart to push its waste-reduction program.

GE:

In transforming General Electric into a clean-tech giant, Jeff Immelt, the company’s chief executive, said he smells the chance to make a lot of money. “It’s no great thrill for me to do this stuff. I’m not an environmentalist. But if business has no voice, that’s the worst of all worlds,” Immelt said. He said GE’s green tech business only stands to grow, if not in the U.S., then overseas.

Nuclear Power:

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for a reexamination of nuclear power with panelists agreeing that the U.S. is far behind other countries when it comes to advancements in nuclear power technology. Areva executive Tom Christopher blamed bad nuclear economics a generation ago, a dwindling of home-grown tech, and a “dysfunctional licensing process.” One of the biggest hurdles to nuclear power remains the storage issue.

Ethanol:

Vinod Khosla said plants to produce cellulosic ethanol stock will start coming online by the end of 2009, but it will take 10 years before it affects the price of oil. He called for the government to mandate that gas stations dispensing more than $5 million worth of fuel a year should have E85 pumps. “We have enough mandates,” said American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney. “We’d like to have the free market work.”

Shareholders & Environmentalists:

Steve Milloy, head of the Free Enterprise Action Fund, shared the stage with Mindy Lubber, head of Ceres. Lubber said corporate boards have a “fiduciary duty to analyze risk” associated with climate change. Milloy said social activists have taken their pitchforks to the corporate gates, and that CEOs and their sudden greening “are just blowing smoke up everybody’s dress.”

Palm Oil:

Patricia Woertz, chairman, president and CEO of Archer Daniels Midland faced a tough crowd. The Rainforest Action Network ambushed Woertz over ADM’s use of palm oil from endangered forests in Southeast Asia, and tried to hand her a petition from schoolchildren asking ADM to stop the practice.

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