March 1, 2007 – Volume 10, Issue 21
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


The Market Forces of Natural Food

Whole Foods buying Wild Oats? What’s up with that?

The news struck me in an odd way. On one hand, I lamented the loss of our local Wild Oats. And there seemed to be a healthy rivalry between Whole Foods with 191 stores and Wild Oats with 110 stores. Both painfully expensive, to be sure, but wonderful in their selections of healthy foods. My mouth literally waters in those stores.

On the other, I welcomed the economic market forces that are hard at work. Natural foods have become really big businesses. Let the competition run wild! Let free market forces prevail! There’s good news in store for us all: Consumer demand for whole foods will intensify the competition and prices will come down.

I remember fondly my college days at the Onion River Coop in Vermont and the Arcata Coop in California. We worked in those pioneering stores to maintain our membership discounts and our access to wholesome foods. Many EcoMotion Network News readers are actively involved in community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. All the while, the economic force behind the natural and organic food movement – the engine fueled by tens of millions of hungry stomachs -- is huge and contagious. Buying out Wild Oats cost Whole Foods $700 million. That’s a lot of organic broccoli!

So why did Whole Foods buy Wild Oats? Profits are down. Food market analysts claim that Whole Foods has been losing revenues and market share because other major markets like Kroger, Safeway, and SuperValu are now catching up. The market is in transformation. Whole Foods had clearly dominated the natural foods niche market. Now supermarkets across the country are selling natural and organic products too, and at lower cost. Even Wal-Mart is doubling its organic offerings.

Whole Foods is still unquestionably king of the hill. Since founded in 1980 it has acquired 18 retail companies. And it is working overtime to refine its business strategy. Its immediate step is to build market share by gobbling up its closest competitor. But in the longer term, Whole Foods will have to bring its prices down. Thank goodness. And we are all to be applauded for driving this change: From the earliest adopters paying hefty lifestyle and price premiums for natural foods, to half billion dollar buy-outs, more competition, battles for market share, and lower prices. “You Are What You Eat” may not be such an expensive mantra after all.


EcoMotion Network News V10#20 reported on a California Assembly bill that seeks to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs in California. Now the Australian government has proposed legislation to do the same thing, phasing out inefficient incandescent bulbs and reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions by 4 million tons by 2012. (Australia produced almost 565 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2004.) Prime Minister John Howard noted that, "Here's something practical that everybody will participate in." Fidel Castro launched a similar program two years ago, sending youth brigades into homes and switching out regular bulbs for energy-saving ones to help battle electrical blackouts around the island. Based on Castro’s success, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced his own program to save energy and has given away millions of incandescent bulbs in neighborhoods nationwide.


EcoMotion's Virginia Nicols bikes to work.

“I am enjoying reading your newsletter. Thanks for sending it.”
Mike Weedall Vice President for Energy Efficiency
Bonneville Power Administration
(Mike reports that 15% of all residential light sockets in the Northwest have CFLs, the highest percentage in the nation. BPA alone will give incentives for another three million CFLs this year.”)

Mayors for Climate Protection

February 15, 2005 was the day that the Kyoto Protocol took effect in the 141 nations that ratified it. It was also the day that Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle challenged U.S. mayors to take action. By January 14, 2007, 402 mayors from large and small cities from 50 states and the District of Columbia had signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement.

The so-called “cool mayors” are about climate and leadership. They are intently focused on finding ways to benefit from greening. Dozens of cities joining the fight against global warming are taking actions designed not only to protect the environment but save money by boosting efficiency.

• Boston last month became the first major city to require green construction for all private buildings that cover at least 50,000 square feet.

• Seattle boasts the first electric utility to eliminate all greenhouse-gas emissions. The City’s “greenprint” – the Seattle Climate Action Plan – sets a course for a climate-friendly Seattle.

• Pittsburgh now boasts the first "green" convention center, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. It is one of the world's largest environmentally sustainable buildings.

• Pittsburgh may also soon give developers a "density bonus" if they build similar Earth-friendly projects. That could mean buildings 20% higher or larger than zoning allows.

• In Grand Rapids, companies such as Herman Miller and Steelcase are producing eco-friendly furniture from desks to chairs and cabinets.

• In southeastern Michigan, entrepreneurs are converting old auto-parts factories to produce solar panels.

Ford’s Plug-In Fuel Cell Hybrid

Despite its disastrous 2006 deficit – not coincidentally equal to Toyota’s profit -- and not to be outdone by the Chevrolet Volt presented in EcoMotion Network News V10#18, Ford has introduced a concept car that may represent a look to the future: a plug-in fuel-cell hybrid. Instead of an on-board internal combustion generator, Ford’s “Hyseries Drive” system features on-board hydrogen, Ballard fuel cells to augment plug-in power.

Like the Volt, Ford’s system primarily utilizes electric motors, with its first 25 miles solely powered by a 336-volt lithium-ion battery pack. Then when depleted to 40% charge, the hydrogen fuel cell will supply additional electricity to the batteries. This provides another 200 miles of range thanks to a 350-bar hydrogen tank that supplies 4.5 kg of useable hydrogen. Ford projects an average fuel economy of 41 mpg, but up to 80 mpg for those that drive less than 50 miles a day.

Ford’s announcement of the “world’s first drivable fuel cell hybrid with plug-in capability” is promising, but may be years from becoming a cost-effective reality. According to Ford, many significant technical hurdles need to be overcome: Fuel cell vehicles remain expensive, costing millions of dollars each. Another major hurdle is the cost of lithium-ion batteries, not to mention the challenge of creating a hydrogen infrastructure for refueling. Ford currently has a fleet of 30 hydrogen-powered Focus fuel cell vehicles on the road as part of a worldwide, seven-city program testing the fuel cell technology. The fleet has accumulated more than 300,000 miles since its inception.

EPA’s Green Power “Top Ten” List

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its “top ten” list of institutions that buy and/or use electricity generated by wind solar biomass and other environmentally friendly means. Wells Fargo & Co. of San Francisco topped the list this year, a position held by the Air Force since the EPA started its rankings in 2004.

1. Wells Fargo & Co.
2. Whole Foods Market
3. Air Force
4. Environmental Protection Agency
5. Johnson & Johnson
6. Starbucks
7. DuPont Co.
8. U.S. Department of Energy
9. Vail Resorts
10. HSBC North America

EcoMotion Salute! Sustainable Works of Santa Monica

Last week EcoMotion spent the morning meeting with the staff of Sustainable Works in Santa Monica. Its mission is “to foster a culture of sustainability in cities, colleges, and businesses.” The non-profit – which shares space with Santa Monica College’s Environmental Studies program – has the commendable 11-year track record of teaching sustainability.

Initially established as “the green team,” Sustainable Works now trains homeowners and businesses owners on how to green their homes and businesses, focusing on six elements of sustainability: 1. Waste Reduction 2. Water Efficiency 3. Toxic Chemical Elimination 4. Transportation Impacts 5. Energy Reduction 6. Purchasing Choices Sustainable Works is supported in large measure by the Santa Monica community through contractual work with the Environmental Programs Division of the City. Services include residential training on sustainability – six, 1.5 hour evening sessions with tools for immediate steps to take as homework – business training, and training for Santa Monica College students who get extra credit for a nine-week course.

We salute Sustainable Works and can only imagine the positive impact your programs continue to have.

IPCC's Consensus on Global Warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is viewed by many as the international community’s most respected assemblage of scientists. The IPCC was established in 1998 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Program “to assess scientific, technical, and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

The IPCC has just issued its fourth report on climate change and its findings are hard-hitting. First and foremost, approximately 500 scientists from 113 governments convened in Paris and reached a sobering agreement to present the strongest language it has ever used. The report concludes that increases in global temperature are "very likely" the result of higher concentrations of greenhouse gases, far higher now than they have been over the past 650,000 years, and that global warming is "very likely" caused by human activities.

The phrase "very likely" indicates a 90% certainty. The last IPCC report, issued five years ago, said it was "likely" that human activity was at fault, indicating a certainty of 66%.

Many scientists had argued during the editing process that the report should say that the IPCC is "virtually certain" that human activities are causing global warming. That would indicate a 99% certainty.

Temperatures: The IPCC expects global temperatures to continue to rise, even if greenhouse gas concentrations stay at the levels of the year 2000. The scientists' "best estimate" is that temperatures will rise 3.2 - 7.8 degrees by 2100, generally with the hotter areas getting hotter and the colder areas getting colder. From 1901 - 2005 the temperature increase was 1.2 degrees.

Continuing to release greenhouse gases at current rates would warm the Earth even more and would be "very likely" to yield much more severe consequences during this century than those we saw in the previous one. Sea levels will rise, heat waves and droughts will strike longer and more often, hurricanes will become more intense, and it will rain more in high latitudes.

Sea Level: The report projects that sea levels could rise by 7 - 23 inches by the end of the century, and perhaps an additional 4 - 8 inches if the recent melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the Larsen B ice shelf in western Antarctica continues at current rates. That is a decrease from the maximum of 35 inches predicted in the earlier study. But some scientists claim that the report underestimates how high oceans could rise --especially if the ice covering Greenland melts faster than expected. Recent research on melting ice caps suggests that cracks in the ice will speed up the melting process.

There is good news. The report provides another compelling policy duty. Because so many individuals and organizations signed on, the report's strong language is virtually unassailable. The Bush administration hailed it. The President, who for years has expressed doubts about global warming, cited "the serious challenge of global climate change" in his recent State of the Union address.