Italian Farmer Vows Green Revolution

Global warming was a sore subject in Italy this week.

First Italy squashed Europe's hope to push through a climate package that would show the world Europe was serious about halting global warming.

Then the European Environment Agency announced that Italy, Denmark and Spain were still "off their Kyoto track" and would not meet their individual countries' targets for cutting emissions under the Kyoto Accord.

But in all this gloom, there was a bright spot in Umbria, the "green heart "of Italy.

A small Italian olive and wine producer has decided it's his task to make a big example and has decided to show the way.

Meet Lorenzo Fasola-Bologna, a dashing 37-year-old with a winning smile, big ideas and lots of energy. He calls his project "the 360 degree Green Revolution." He has set himself a challenge: to cut his family farm's CO2 emissions to zero by the end of 2009.

"It is not about changing one thing," he said. "It's about making many multilayered changes. It's a 360-degree change!"

Fasola-Bologna sees it as his mission to preserve the good life and the environment he was lucky to be born into for future generations.

"What we have here is sensational," he said referring to Umbria. Umbrians know that their fertile land of rolling hills with vineyards and olive groves is the wealth they have inherited. Saving this and the way of life it calls for is vital for future generations.

Fasola-Bologna's family has owned the castle and surrounding land called Castello Monte Vibiano near Mercatello, about 15 miles south of Perugia, for centuries. In 2003 Fasola-Bologna overhauled the 1,000-acre farm so that it is now producing top-quality wine -- about 240,000 bottles a year -- and olive oil from 13,000 trees.

Already a leader in his field, Fasola-Bologna turned Monte Vibiano olive oil into a luxury blend and invented quick-freezing of the extra virgin oil on the same day it is pressed and putting it in miniature bottles to preserve its "green" flavor.

About 12 million of these little bottles of super fresh oil are produced every year, and they are now served with first class and business class meals on most leading world airlines.

Fasola-Bologna's father, Andrea, the man who injected his son with the love for their land, proudly and wholeheartedly supports his son's project.

"Something had to be done fast," Andrea said. "Anyone who works on the land knows that the climate is changing and something is wrong."

Helped by a group of young European engineers, bio-experts and university researchers in "green thinking," Fasola-Bologna and his family launched the project in grand style.

On Oct. 11, the family unveiled a unique electric-vehicle recharging station powered exclusively by the sun, a clean and renewable energy. Its proud designers and engineers looked on as the gathered crowd marveled at its deceptive simplicity.

The station, placed in between the winery and olive-oil press, is a large encased battery with rotating solar panels placed on top that can store solar energy for up to 10 days. Soon it will store energy for more days and should power all the farm's and employees' electric scooters and vehicles.

"This is saving energy while using only clean energy. This means our vehicles can truly travel with 'zero emissions,'" Fasola-Bologna said. "We will not have to resort to recharging from the electrical grid like others do."

The rest of the 360-degree green revolution includes using solar energy for power, wood-chip boilers for hot water, the latest in bio-fuels to run tractors, planting trees to offset CO2 emissions, painting storage containers with special white paint to reflect the sunlight off the earth and providing bicycles for employees who wish to bike to work.

After a tour of the olive groves and vineyards, came the real proof that this investment might be more than worth it: a banquet of bruschetta, lentils, grain, roasted sausages and pork, all produced at Monte Vibiano and drizzled with dark-green olive oil pressed that morning and accompanied by bottles of Monte Vibiano top-quality wine.

Reluctant to quantify how much all this costs, Fasola-Bologna says the family has made an 8 million euro investment since 1998. "Everyone can do this, from a small company like us to a multinational, because it is sustainable. We are going to get our investment back in the future."

"If you want to be a quality olive oil and wine producer, you have to invest money, and it's the same amount of money whether you choose to invest to go green or not. I want people to see and understand this, that it can be done," he said.

To prove this, a Norwegian company, known for its expertise in checking global CO2 emissions, will track and verify that Monte Vibiano's total carbon footprint has been reduced to zero by the deadline.

"It is difficult for people who did not grow up here to understand the silence and beauty we were used to in this countryside. Just one car passing ruins all of this. The noise alone is very disturbing. I just rode down the hill on my electric scooter this morning. Wow, it was fantastic. You just can't understand how wonderful it felt," he said.

Dreamily he envisions a "green island" in Umbria in the near future where electric-vehicle recharging stations dot the land and everyone tools about the towns and winding country roads enjoying life on their emission-free vehicles.

"Enough of all this bad news," he said. "This is good news. It just takes one small company to make a start and then others will follow. We are not a big multinational, they are not the ones that will make the change. It is the small companies like us, together, who will do it and make a big impact."

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