Business, Finance & Economics

Can extra-virgin olive oil be extra green?


MONTEVIBIANO, Italy — As businesses vie to be green by reducing their carbon footprints, one ambitious olive oil producer in Italy is promising a “360-degree Green Revolution.”

Lorenzo Fasola Bologna, the young and refined CEO of Monte Vibiano, vows to cut his company’s carbon emissions to zero by the end of 2009 — a move that could make his business one of the greenest in Italy.

“Green to us means everything,” said Fasola, sitting on a stone fence that separates his olive tree fields from his rolling vineyards in Umbria. “We live in a place that is probably the same way it was 3,000 years ago.”

His farm is the first agribusiness in Italy to set such an ambitious goal. To achieve it, Fasola is investing in everything from solar panels and electric charging stations to the production of his own bio-diesel and organic fertilizers.

“Our aim of a 360-degree Green Revolution means that a little company is putting together all the little details,” Fasola said.

The farm began by introducing an electric station completely powered by clean energy to charge the farm’s electric vehicles. The electric scooters, light trucks and golf carts need no back-up energy.

Fasola himself rides an electric motorcycle no louder than a cooling fan to move around the 1,000-acre farm. “I think it’s wonderful,” said Fasola, smiling. “Because it’s not just about the environmental impact, but also the acoustic pollution that exists.” His message has even reached Monte Vibiano workers, many of whom now walk, bike or carpool to work.

Monte Vibiano’s green approach is centered around a high-efficiency photovoltaic solar park, which was recently installed by Cell Strom, a leading green energy company from Austria. The photovoltaic device follows the sun during the day to maximize the amount of energy captured by its solar panels. It will ultimately generate enough electricity to power the entire farm.

“The cost of this investment to run electric vehicles,” said Martha Shreiber, Cell Strom general manager, “is much less expensive than the amount of money needed for twenty years of fossil fuel.”

The Center for Biomass Research from the nearby University of Perugia is also working with Fasola to minimize carbon dioxide emissions. Professor Franco Cotana, director of the center, is helping to develop sustainable bio-fuels and since 2003 has collected data on Monte Vibiano’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Recently, Cotana introduced a special white paint that deflects solar radiation. Cotana said that painting a surface of 10 square meters (about 107 square feet) with this paint has the same climate change impact as eliminating 1 ton of carbon dioxide. The Monte Vibiano Farm has already painted 4 olive silos — a total of 280 square meters (about 3,014 square feet).

“The company has invested and therefore spent money,” Cotana said. “However, they spent it with the goal of paying that investment back within six to 10 years.” Once the payback phase is over, Cotana says, the economic benefits will far exceed the costs.

However, Fasola is not in it for the savings. His family owns a castle that sits gallantly on a hilltop and dates from the 1st century B.C. The family's organic olive oil and wine business thrives: Each year, the family produces 12 million bottles of extra virgin olive oil and 240,000 bottles of high-quality wine.

Fasola said that rather than working for sheer profit, his motivation to reach such green heights comes from his love of nature and interest in maintaining the land as it was centuries ago.

He said he is simply following in his father’s footsteps.

Thirty years ago, Monte Vibiano’s patriarch, Andrea Fasola Bologna, stopped cutting trees around the farm in an effort to counter pollution. Since then he has planted 10,000 new trees.

“I am not trying to improve anything,” Fasola said. “I am trying to maintain something that I really hope will set an example for many companies.”

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