2006: The Year in Green

From business to politics to pop culture, the environment took center stage in 2006

By Victoria Schlesinger and Sarah Parsons

Someday historians may look back at 2006 and decide that this was the year when environmentalism became a mainstream American movement adopted by people of all political persuasions, businesses small and large, and churches both progressive and conservative. Here at Plenty, we’re not going to wait that long to render our verdict: When it comes to the environment, 2006 was huge.

Okay, not all the news was good. Global warming remains a daunting challenge, and the White House isn’t helping.

That one-two punch is scary, but there are lots of reasons for optimism. While George W. Bush dithered, Al Gore crusaded and converted. In the absence of the federal government, the states and the private sector picked up the slack. Slammed by high gas prices, even Detroit got the message that going green is good business. In books, movies, and magazines, our popular culture promoted the urgency of environmentalism. More and more consumers turned to organic and locally-grown foods. Meanwhile, scientists trekking around the world discovered dozens of exotic new species, dramatic and inspiring illustrations of our planet’s beauty.

There’s still room for improvement—there always will be. But just for a moment, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and remember: It was a very green year…

­—The Editors
This story was researched and compiled by Victoria Schlesinger, with assistance from Sarah Parsons.

With a deteriorating war in Iraq and mid-term elections looming, the White House didn’t spend much time saving the environment this year. But where the federal government feared to tread, numerous states chose to take action on their own. The private sector also stepped up to the plate: Rising gas prices ramped up the pressure on Detroit, as the Motor City raced to introduce new hybrid cars and SUVs to catch up to Toyota and Honda. Elsewhere, it was increasingly hard to find a chief executive—Virgin’s Richard Branson, for example—who didn’t take the crisis of global warming seriously. Motivated by public pressure, civic responsibility, and market forces, corporate America began, finally, to realize that going green is good for the bottom line.

Hybrids heat up/new models in 2006:

Mercury Mariner Hybrid
mpg: city 33/highway 29

Ford Escape Hybrid
mpg: city 36/highway 31

Toyota Prius
mpg: city 60/highway 51

Honda Accord Hybrid
mpg: city 25/highway 34

Lexus RX 400h
mpg: city 33/highway 28

Honda Civic Hybrid
mpg: city 49/highway 51

Greener Business: Once-misbehaving companies are cleaning up their acts:

Then: Used to produce Benlate, a pesticide blamed for crop failure and gruesome birth defects in children. 
Now: Has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to 72 percent of its 1990 levels.

Then: In 1998, the company squelched a California plan to study the health risks of semiconductor chemicals.
Now: Trying  to reduce emissions of PFC—a greenhouse gas-causing chemical—by 10 percent from 1995 levels.

Then: Increasing its part-time workforce from 20 to 40 percent, apparently to cut back on expensive health benefits.
Now: Making a major push to promote green purchasing by doubling its roster of organic products.

General Electric
Then: Building a power plant that allegedly produces three times the allowable level of pollutants—next to a California school.
Now: Will invest $1.5 billion in green technology and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by one percent by 2010.

United Parcel Service
Then: Paid $12 million to settle a 1999 lawsuit alleging that the company wasn’t hiring blacks as full-time drivers.
Now: Paid $12 million to settle a 1999 lawsuit alleging that the company wasn’t hiring blacks as full-time drivers.

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Issue 25

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