Imagine, if you will, the most decadent of luxuries – handmade chocolates. Champagne. Locally produced artisanal foods enough to make one salivate. Not what one might think of when contemplating environmentally friendly sustenance, yet each and every one of these delights now boasts powerful efforts by their makers to do good for the planet and its inhabitants – not just human ones – while producing the best quality they can.
And as such small shifts occur in businesses more generally known for their hedonistic pleasures, yet another shift is occurring as even banks become more concerned with the environmental consequences of the projects they finance, despite potential profits. A sea change? Perhaps.
Josef Zotter, of Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur, managed to snatch success from the jaws of defeat when in1996 he abandoned his failing bakery in Gratz, Austria, and instead returned to his home town in the province of Styria, there to build an organic, fair-trade chocolate business that generates 60% of its own electricity through a biomass converter that utilizes the factory’s waste products (he expects it to produce all its own energy in the next 10 years) and does not plan to expand or acquire a national presence.
The Champagne industry in France is likewise reinventing itself, beginning with its bottles. Originally thickened in the 1600s by the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon to contain “the devil’s wine,” Champagne bottles have been hefty of necessity – the pressure exerted on its container by the fizzy French nectar requires special handling. But reducing the mass of the bottle reduces the overall carbon footprint of the industry, which has been working to become kinder to the earth.
And elsewhere in Styria, Austria, a project called Vulkanland is channeling funding to local businesses to produce the highest quality fruits, meats, and other foods – all for local consumption, rather than for shipping out onto the world market, and to be sold to residents rather than tourists – a far more reliable and renewable market than that of recession-prone travelers.
During all this beneficial business-building, banks are reexamining their lending practices to such industries as mountaintop removal in the quest for coal or the despoilment caused by oil extraction from tar sands, and are taking a closer look at other potential clients and business based on the environmental impact they may cause.
Perhaps these are the first steps on the proverbial journey of a thousand miles.