A business model has to be about more than just business, according to the investment-savvy leaders of The Southern Utes. "It’s a marriage of an older way of thinking into a modern time," said the tribe’s chairman, Matthew J. Box. He's referring to the tribe's latest investment in Solix, a company focused on turning algae into biodiesel.

The Southern Utes have become one of the nation's wealthiest Native American communities, perhaps in large part due to their unique way of doing business. "The Utes have a very long economic view. They’re making decisions now for future generations as opposed to the next quarter, and that is just fundamentally different," said Bryan Willson, one of Solix's co-founders. It also helps that the tribe happens to sit on one of the world's richest fields of natural gas from coal-bed methane.

But tribe leaders have insisted that their bountiful natural resources be channeled toward a venture which is consistent with their business philosophy. Any plan would require a commitment to alternative energy which was sustainable, green and which didn't compete with the availability and distribution of other essential resources like food and water.

That's where algae biofuels and Solix come into play. By introducing strains of algae which love carbon dioxide to tanks surrounding a natural gas processing plant, the company hopes to convert the plant's excess greenhouse gas emissions into clean fuel. It's all part of a green energy industry which is booming.

Currently there more than 200 companies working to find a cost-effective way to turn algae into biofuel, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. And once Solix expands its operations to a commercial scale, the Southern Utes with have first ownership and operating rights in Solix plants across the United States, far beyond the borders of their reservation. 

That's good news for green capitalism, which could use a dose of the Southern Utes' business philosophy as the energy industry evolves for the future.

Source: New York Times