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Editorial: The many shades of green

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Not too long ago, it seems all you had to do was label something “green” and you were golden. Customers loved you and, if you were really savvy, government grants came your way.

Today, we've all gotten smarter. Energy efficiency is good for business and the planet, but discussions on how to do it have become more informed. We're learning that every benefit has a trade-off, whether that's compact fluorescent bulbs vs. mercury disposal, solar vs. long ROI, or shale gas vs. unresolved environmental-impact claims.

We're also beginning to see where the best investments in research and development are paying off and which paths to the future actually may be dead ends. This should allow private enterprise and government to direct their limited resources in the right direction — and for government at some point to withdraw entirely as new industries stand on their own.

Take alternative fuels for vehicles. Cars and trucks on the road today still run predominantly on petroleum derivatives, but an increasing number are hybrid battery/gasoline or battery-only. These cleaner technologies come with their own set of problems. Chief among them is the fact that the power to recharge electric cars still has to be generated, the same way as the power for your lights, heat and the machines that make modern life and commerce possible.

But hydrogen fuel cells and compressed natural gas don't have that issue, and they are coming into their own. As a story in today's Business Journal makes plain, the fuel-cell industry is close to cutting the subsidy-development cord. When a major corporation like Wal-Mart decides to invest in fuel-cell powered equipment, for example, other businesses should take notice.

That is particularly true in Pennsylvania, where the state has made a commitment to bringing this technology to market. The state Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Community and Economic Development have partnered on a project to develop a hydrogen-fueled fleet of buses, vans and cars in conjunction with Penn State. Meanwhile, Act 13, best known for assessing shale well "impact" fees, includes a program to encourage businesses to purchase or convert vehicles that run on CNG.

Today it's forklifts and buses, but in a few years, it could be your car or truck — safe, affordable, emission-free.

"Green" isn't over. It has evolved from being a novelty to just another part of the daily conversation on how to do business right. And that's called progress.

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