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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

July 2, 1993

Air Date: July 2, 1993

SEGMENTS

The Greenest Factory in the World? / Steven Beard

Reporter Steven Beard travels to Belgium to visit the new factory of the Ecover company. Not satisfied with merely producing environmentally-friendly cleaning products, Ecover has built a minimum-waste, energy-efficient manufacturing plant. (07:22)

Boston's Green Hotel / Kim Motylewski

Living on Earth's Kim Motylewski reports on the efforts of a Boston hotel to "green" its slice of the hospitality industry. The hotel has bought a million dollars’ worth of energy-efficient windows, installed low-flow shower heads and eliminated single-portion bathroom supplies. It has also adopted a new and effective public relations campaign. (06:00)

Energy Tax, Gas Tax...Or No Tax at All

Host Steve Curwood discusses the next step in the fight over the proposed energy tax with New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse. (05:41)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1993 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Pye Chamberlain, Henry Sessions, Bruce Gellerman, Stephen Beard, Kim Motylewski
GUESTS: Stephen Greenhouse

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

President Clinton's plan to raise money and cut energy use with a broad-based tax passed the House, but it was nearly gutted by the Senate. Now it's a key issue blocking a budget compromise. And the fight could be tough.

GREENHOUSE: The conference committee, the President, are walking a very, very fine line to get an energy tax that will not alienate the environmentalists on one hand and not alienate the conservative energy state senators on the other.

CURWOOD: Also, some businesses move beyond ecological products to ecological production. We visit a Belgian plant that some call the greenest factory in the world.

PAOLI: This type of production system is very efficient - energy efficient, employee efficient, manufacturing efficient, no wastage, we've got no time to waste, we've got no waste.

CURWOOD: And a green hotel, this week on Living on Earth, right after the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

A coalition of environmentalists has accomplished in the courts what it could not through the political process. It's put the environment into the middle of deliberations over the North American Free Trade Agreement. A Federal judge has ruled that NAFTA can't take effect without an environmental impact statement. Pye Chamberlain reports.

CHAMBERLAIN: Environmentalists fear that NAFTA, by killing barriers to the movement of companies out of the United States, would increase the problem of Americans building "dirty factories" in Mexico near the border, to take advantage of Mexico's relatively loose pollution laws. Judge Richey also raised the possibility that an impact statement would have to consider what harm to the environment farmers and ranchers in America might cause by speeding up production to offset lower prices caused by imports. Both sides say that if the decision does not kill NAFTA, it will strengthen the side agreements on pollution needed to put it through. For now, opponents and supporters of NAFTA agree though that the pact has been dealt a serious blow. For Living on Earth, I'm Pye Chamberlain in Washington.

NUNLEY: President Clinton's new Northwest forest plan has angered both environmentalists and the timber industry. But its most important critic in the short term may be the Federal judge whose logging bans brought the forest issue to a head. Judge William Dwyer will review the President's proposal to see if it meets his criteria for lifting the ban, and allowing some logging to resume in Northwest Federal forests. From Portland, Oregon, Henry Sessions has the details of the plan.

SESSIONS: The forest plan would cut logging levels in Federal forests from 4 billion board feet a year to just over one billion. It also includes $1.2 billion dollars in economic assistance to towns affected by the logging cutbacks. Industry representatives say their industry would be devastated by the plan, and they promise to push for changes to key environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act. Environmentalists are concerned about a proposal to allow some salvage logging in spotted owl habitat. The plan also asks Congress to eliminate a tax break for exporting unmilled logs overseas. Environmentalists and the timber industry agree that could send more logs to Northwest mills and offset the job losses caused by the President's other proposals. For Living on Earth, this is Henry Sessions in Portland.

NUNLEY: The Environmental Protection Agency plans to expand pesticide screening, especially in food eaten by children. The announcement came in response to the recent National Academy of Sciences report warning of the hazards pesticides may pose to children. The agency says it may also ease regulations that have slowed the approval of newer, safer pesticides.

Crowding and traffic in Bangkok, Thailand have made it so difficult to conduct business there that the government of Thailand is making plans to move the nation's capital out of the city. Air and water pollution in the city of 8 million were also cited as reasons for relocating the government. A new site for the Thai capital has not yet been chosen.

This is Living on Earth.

The Navy has been ordered to stop sending spent nuclear fuel to a storage site in Idaho. A Federal judge there found the waste was being stored in aging, substandard containers, which could pose a threat to public drinking water supplies. The ruling caps a long legal battle by Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus, who charges the Federal government with dumping some of the country's most dangerous nuclear waste on his state. The government hasn't said whether it will appeal the order. The Idaho facility is the country's only long-term storage site for spent fuel from Navy ships.

The Whirlpool Corporation has won a $30 million dollar competition to design a super-efficient, environmentally-friendly version of the biggest energy-user in the home - the refrigerator. Bruce Gellerman reports from Boston, where the winner was announced.

GELLERMAN: A group of public and private utilities offered the $30 million dollar prize to the manufacturer that could produce a refrigerator that was at least 25% more energy-efficient than current models, and did not use ozone-eating chlorofluorocarbons. Fourteen companies competed in the "eco-fridge" contest. Whirlpool won, with a model that uses a high-efficiency compressor, microchips to sense when defrosting is needed, and improved insulation. The Natural Resources Defense Council came up with the idea for the $30 milion dollar contest. David Goldstein is director of the NRDC's energy program.

GOLDSTEIN: Then we're going to get more people, more families, owning bigger refrigerators with more features, but using less energy and less pollution.

GELLERMAN: A Whirlpool spokesman says the prize money will be used to offset the increased cost of producing the super-fridges, which will be test-marketed next year. For Living on Earth, this is Bruce Gellerman in Boston.

NUNLEY: Alaska has announced a new plan to kill 150 wolves, and some animal rights groups have responded with a new call for tourists to boycott the state. The new plan allows hunters to stalk wolves by plane , but to kill the animals only when the hunters are on the ground and at least 300 feet from their aircraft. An earlier plan permitting hunters to shoot wolves from the air was abandoned in the face of a threatened tourism boycott.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

The Greenest Factory in the World?

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.

Scouring powder with chlorine in it. Laundry detergent made with phosphates. Tile cleaners with toxic hydrocarbons. Not too long ago, it was hard to clean your house without messing up the enivronment at the same time. But into that breach in recent years have stepped a number of companies selling more environmentally-safe cleaning products, products which are gentle on the people who use them and on the environment once they've done the job and been washed down the drain. But at least one of these companies has decided that selling green isn't good enough. Last year, the Belgian company Ecover decided that it should make its manufacturing processes green as well. So the company decided to build what it calls an ecological factory. We sent Living on Earth contributor Stephen Beard to Belgium to check the place out. He found that the factory is not only good for Ecover's image, it saves the company money, as well.

(Sound of European telephone ring, woman answering)

BEARD: Ecology comes first in the Ecover factory, but business isn't far behind. Gunter Paoli, president and chief executive officer of the company, doesn't waste his words waffling on about global warming and the ozone layer.

PAOLI: This type of production system that we have put in place with our own manufacturing technologies is very efficient, energy-efficient, employee-efficient, manufacturing efficient, no wastage, we've got no time to waste, we've got no waste.

(Sound of manufacturing process)

BEARD: Ecover has been making phosphate-free cleaning agents and detergents for a decade. Anxious to cash in on green consumerism in the late 1980's, supermarkets in Europe, Japan and the States began stocking the product. The company's annual turnover is now $15 million dollars. Last year the owners decided that an ecologically-sound product should be manufactured in an ecologically-sound factory, built out of the right kind of materials.

PAOLI: The bricks that are we using, are these bricks being manufactured, have they been two weeks in the oven or have they been two days in the oven? Well, our bricks only have been four hours in the oven, because we found the brick which is made partially of wood dust, partially of residues from the coal mines, and partially of clay. The bricks are important.

BEARD: So are the beams and rafters that support the roof - no energy-depleting steel or plastics here, just glued strips of Scandinavian pine, sustainably harvested of course. The overarching beams create an almost spiritual atmosphere inside the factory. Ecover's information officer, Duris Bademacher.

BADEMACHER: It looks like a church, when you come here, when the work is finished, you're all alone here, you'll really get impression of being even in a Gothic cathedral. It makes you feel holy.
GUIDE: The wooden stairs, as everything is in wood here, take us, take us up to the grass-covered roof, the largest ever . . . (fade under)

BEARD: The crowning glory of the Ecover factory is on top of the roof, a huge undulating lawn.

GUIDE: And there's roof gardens, and then if we go out again we have this grass-covered roof which is a turned roof . . . (fade under)

BEARD: The insulating properties of turf have been understood since Viking times, but as Ilsa Siegers points out, this is the largest lawn every to be laid on a single rooftop.

SIEGERS: Six thousand square meters, you can't imagine, this is a small football field. So, why we did this, mainly because it saves us between 10 and 30 percent of the energy. It is warm in winter, it's cool in summer.

(Sound of factory office)

BEARD: Other environmental features include a system for recycling waste water. Solar-powered rotor engines enrich the water with oxygen which is then filtered through a series of reed beds planted behind the factory. That reduces the taxes they have to pay for discharging effluent into the sewage system. The water is returned for use in the factory by means of a windmill pump, a further energy saving. Gunter Paoli owns 50 percent of the shares in the factory; the other half is owned by a large multinational company that runs a security-guard service. Profit is important. There are, says Mr. Paoli, sound financial reasons for ecological manufacturing.

PAOLI: It is obvious that when you can eliminate 60 percent of the heating bills year-in, year-out, the grass roof, which is an additional investment of $10 million, actually pays itself back in three years. It is clear that when you can reduce your taxes on water by a factor of ten the investment in the solar-powered water purification system - well, that's paid back as well, in approximately five years. So I think this is still a net positive contribution to the economy.

BEARD: For all his talk of payback times and the bottom line, Gunter Paoli is a dedicated environmentalist. Indeed, the corporate video suggests an almost messianic fervor.

(Sound of video soundtrack: "It's not greed, it's only a drop of water . . ." fade under)

BEARD: The staff of 45 earn only average wages, but appear equally committed to the company. Purchasing manager Claudia Jasper.

JASPER: It's more than a job, it's a philosophy, it's a way of life.
BEARD: Couldn't you earn more elsewhere?
JASPER: Yes, I could. This gives me more satisfaction.

(Sound of corporate video soundtrack: "We are in the first place dedicated to people. . ." fade under)

BEARD: Ecover isn't only intent on running the factory along ecological lines. They're trying to make the work force more eco-friendly too. Smoking is absolutely banned on the premises. Employees get a generous travel allowance only if they come to work by bike.

PAOLI: Another thing we're trying to do here is actively promote some of the principles that we adhere to. For example, are you eating meat every day or shouldn't you go for some vegetarian meals once in a while? I mean, I am complete vegetarian, I'm not imposing it on anyone else, but there is a very strong peer group pressure here.
BEARD: But that does sound as if it's a little totalitarian here.
PAOLI: I don't think it's totalitarian, it's so enthusiastic in its approach that it's contagious.

BEARD: Well, not entirely; I did spot two or three workers furtively smoking behind the factory's bicycle shed. And I did hear the occasional heresy offered beyond the earshot of the boss.

BEARD: Are you a vegetarian?
WORKER: No, not at all. I like a good piece of meat.

(Sound of factory in operation)

BEARD: While the ecological factory has been highly praised, Ecover's image recently suffered an unexpected blow. The international security firm that owns half the shares in the company has proved rather an embarassment. The firm's British subsidiary was hired to keep environmentalist protestors away from a controversial motorway development in the UK. The guards have been accused of manhandling the very people who buy Ecover's products. A mini-boycott of those products is now underway in at least one English town. It may take more than phosphate-free detergent to restore the company's whiter-than-white reputation. For Living on Earth, this is Stephen Beard at the Ecover factory in Belgium.

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(Sound of factory, fade under music)

Boston's Green Hotel

CURWOOD: The summer tourism season is in full swing, and for people who worry about their impact on the environment, travelling, like cleaning your house, can also be a test - especially staying in hotels. It's the little things, from those tiny plastic containers of shampoo and lotion to the mounds of linen that are cleaned every day, whether they need it or not. But here too, the green wave has begun to gather momentum. In Boston there's now a hotel that offers a blend of elegance and environmental responsibility that its owners call the "ecological travel alternative." The hotel is Boston's Park Plaza. Our reporter is Living on Earth's Kim Motylewski.

(Street sounds, entering hotel)

MOTYLEWSKI: The Boston Park Plaza Hotel stands in the heart of the city, surrounded by trendy shops, theaters, and the carefully-manicured Public Garden. Stepping in off the busy street, the vaulted ceiling of the lobby rises up over dark wood paneling, marble floors, and a crystal chandelier. It's a classy old hotel, to which owner Tedd Saunders has brought some new thinking.

SAUNDERS: In the lobby we've made changes in the way we clean the carpets. We ue a bicarbonate soda mixture, which lifts the dirt out of the depths of the carpet, and then is shampooed with a biodegradable carpet shampoo.

MOTYLEWSKI: Saunders has made over a hundred ecologically-conscious changes here in the last few years, many of which you'd never notice without a guide.

SAUNDERS: We've put dimmers on the chandeliers, so that we can decrease the amount of energy being used in the chandelier increased the life of the bulb.

MOTYLEWSKI: Saunders' environmental campaign began with a commitment to use less water, energy, paper, and toxic chemicals at home. Now his family's hotel business is environmentally renovating the Park Plaza and their two other Boston hotels.

SAUNDERS: We're trying to redefine the term 'eco-tourism'. Every company and every hotel and travel service can have a dramatic impact on their local environment.

(Sound of footsteps down hotel hallway)

MOTYLEWSKI: The door to Room 1064 dates to an earlier time, with its valet service compartment, but the windows inside are brand new. Saunders has spent over a million dollars to replace all 1700 windows at the Park Plaza with energy-efficient ones, making it his biggest eco-investment to date. But the windows will do more than save energy. They'll save enough in heating costs to pay for themselves in ten years; after that they'll be making money for the hotel.

SAUNDERS: It's no good if we're environmentally sound but out of business, so it's very important that the hotel benefit on the bottom line. Let's go into the bathroom and I'll show you some of the changes we've made.

MOTYLEWSKI: In the bathrooms, wall mounted dispensers filled with luxury soap and shampoo have replaced the 2 million teeny plastic bottles the hotel used to throw away every year. Housekeepers use biodegradable cleaning solutions, and plastic shower caps are supplied only on request. As with the windows, Saunders says these measures are all cost-effective, but with Boston's water prices skyrocketing, the biggest savings in the bathroom will come from water conservation.

SAUNDERS: All of the showers have been switched over to low-flow shower heads, and there are 1100 bathrooms in the building. The original shower heads in this building were 7 gallons per minute and we've gone to a 3.5 gallon shower head.

MOTYLEWSKI: New bathroom fixtures and ice machines have saved about 17 percent of water use so far. But Saunders passed up the additional savings of a 1.6 gallon shower head, because guests didn't like them.

(Sound of shower water stopping and draining)

MOTYLEWSKI: This same concern has kept Saunders from installing energy efficient light bulbs in guest rooms. Compact fluorescents use 75 percent less electricity than conventional bulbs, but Saunders says the quality of light they give wouldn't meet his guests' standards. However, the absence of this basic energy-saving equipment has led some customers to question the seriousness of the program. Despite these gaps, the green initiative at Boston Park Plaza is among the most ambitious in the industry. Jim Post, a professor at Boston University's business school, says there are good financial reasons to be so ambitious.

POST: Certainly in areas like water and energy costs, it's certainly reasonable to think in terms of 10, 20 percent savings in virtually any hotel property that hasn't been doing this. Spending in the area of solid waste, there it's possible through aggressive recycling programs to eliminate at least 50 percent of the solid waste removal costs.

MOTYLEWSKI: Post says hotel companies and other businesses need to think and invest long-term in order to get these savings, something Leland Lewis says they're not very good at doing. Lewis manages the environment program at the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans.

LEWIS: I think most companies are very bottom-line oriented and they're working on annual financial budgets that are just that, they're annual. And I think that's the most difficult hurdle that hotels and other businesses face with this environmental thing.

MOTYLEWSKI: But the industry as a whole is starting to move. Eleven major hotel chains recently signed an environmental charter, and they plan to use their strength to move other hotels towards higher environmental standards. Meanwhile, Tedd Saunders enjoys a comfortable marketing advantage over his would-be competitors. The program at Boston Park Plaza has brought in over a million dollars in bookings from environmentally-conscious groups, and lots of publicity. And Saunders is constantly coming up with new ideas. The hotel recently began sending its food waste to a local pig farmer. A scheme to recycle laundry water could nearly double his water savings in the next few years. And, Saunders says, he'll keep looking for the perfect fluourescent bulb. For Living on Earth, I'm Kim Motylewski in Boston.

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(Sound of street noise, fade into music)

Energy Tax, Gas Tax...Or No Tax at All

CURWOOD: Senate and House negotiators are hard at work on a compromise for President Clinton's deficit-reduction package, and one of the key points of contention is the energy tax. The President initially proposed a broad-based tax on nearly all forms of energy. The so-called BTU tax would've raised more than 70 billion dollars in new revenue, and it was also intended to promote energy efficiency and so help to reduce pollution. The House passed a slightly scaled-back version of this plan, but the Senate version is much different. In place of the tax on all fuels, Senators approved only a modest hike in the tax on gasoline. Stephen Greenhouse has been covering the budget process for the New York Times, and he joins us now from Washington. Stephen, we know that the Senate's gas tax hike doesn't raise as much revenue as the House version would. What about its impact on the environment?

GREENHOUSE: I don't think the Senate gasoline tax will do much on the environment. It raises the price of gasoline by four, four and a half cents a gallon which is very small. People say that the price of gasoline this summer will probably be 4, 5, 6 cents lower than it was at the beginning of the year. We hardly noticed that the price of gasoline is lower; we'll probably hardly notice that the effects of a tax of 4, 4 and a half cents. It will probably have very little effect on consumption, and thus it will probably have very little effect on conservation and the environment.

CURWOOD: Now the whole energy tax package, including the BTU plan, was designed to set up a national policy that would promote energy efficiency over consumption, kind of gradually raise the tax, the cost of energy so that people would use it more efficiently. Now the Senate version pretty much tosses it out, doesn't it?

GREENHOUSE: Yes. Environmentalists liked the President's plan because one of the objectives of the BTU tax was to get consumers, get companies to use cleaner fuels, get them to use natural gas more, get them to use coal less. And natural gas burns cleaner, produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy, and thereby would very much be environmentally friendly. The gasoline tax doesn't really shift consumption away from coal towards cleaner natural gas, and the gasoline tax - the BTU tax would have gone about one-fifth of the way towards achieving the Administration's goal of stabilizing and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The gasoline tax, the 4, 4 and a half cent tax would go only 1/25th of the way.

CURWOOD: Now does this mean that the Senate is hostile to an environmental plan for energy use?

GREENHOUSE: Not exactly. What the Senate is hostile to is more taxes, especially energy taxes. There are some very powerful Senators from energy states who hate the idea of energy taxes. Now if you ask them, do you oppose environment taxes? they'd say, no, no, we want to do everything we can for the environment. The problem is the taxes that will help the environment most are energy taxes and these guys are generally against energy taxes.

CURWOOD: Okay, so now we have a House version which I think only passed by about ten votes, and we have this Senate version which passed with one vote, that of the Vice President. What's going to happen when the House and Senate come together in a conference committee?

GREENHOUSE: The conference committee and the President are walking a very, very fine line to get an energy tax that will not alienate the environmentalists on one hand and not alienate the conservative energy state Senators on the other. I see two possibilities. The first would be developing a hybrid tax: take the Senate's basic gasoline tax and perhaps add on, draft on a few aspects of the BTU tax. Senator Moynihan, Treasury Secretary Bentsen have talked about a BTU tax, but just on consumers, so maybe that tax would be a gasoline tax plus charging home consumption of fuel, electricity at home, oil burning at home, natural gas at home, and not extend the BTU tax to manufacturers who complain that it hurts their competitiveness. Now that would be higher, that would be more expensive than the gasoline tax, and perhaps some Senators might vote against it. The second option would be just dropping an energy tax altogether; that of course would be bad for the environment.

CURWOOD: Now, why dump even a gasoline tax?

GREENHOUSE: Because some people in the House might say, well, a gasoline tax is not enough of an energy tax, if we're going to do it let's do it right. Also the Administration might be so desperate to round up votes to approve its package that it might decide the only way to ensure victory is to drop an energy tax altogether.

CURWOOD: Okay, now, I want you to polish your crystal ball for a moment, Steve. Which of these two options do you think is likely to prevail - are we likely to see a modified gas tax or a modified BTU tax, or are we likely to see no energy tax at all, do you think?

GREENHOUSE: I was debating this yesterday in the office with some other reporters. I think they will come up with a modified, we'll call it a gasoline tax plus. I think they'll shy away from the name BTU tax, but it'll be a gasoline tax with a few other components. But some other reporters in the Times bureau are sure that they will abandon an energy tax altogether, because that might be the surest way to get the package through the House and the Senate.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you very much. Stephen Greenhouse is the Washington bureau reporter for the New York Times. Thanks for joining us.

GREENHOUSE: Pleasure talking with you.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Let us know what you think about our program. Give us a call on our listener comment line, at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454. Or you can write to us, at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Transcripts and tapes are ten dollars.

Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson, the coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe and interns Reyna Lounsbury and Jessica Bellameera. Our engineer is Laurie Azaria, with help this week from Bob Connally and Doug Haslam. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon. Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

(Theme music up and under)

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