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O Solar Mio

Energy conservation is truly everywhere.

No business can flourish in this country without making a serious effort to seem “green.” Sustainability is the mantra on every lip. Corporations live in dread of leaving a carbon footprint, lest they be accused of willfully defiling the planet. No matter what their product or service, businesses are obsessed with convincing the public that they are profoundly, irreversibly green.

What is most amazing is the extent to which the green revolution has trickled down to the grass-roots level, appearing in industries where environmental sensitivity seems least likely. A case in point is the burgeoning use of electric-powered cars by organized crime.

“Historically, organized crime has been associated with big, gasguzzling automobiles,” says Leonard Kleindienst, author of Mi Cosa Nostra Es Su Cosa Nostra and When The Black Hand Turns Green. “But in today’s recessionary environment, that kind of transportation makes no sense. Your average mook collecting the vig usually doesn’t have to travel very far out of the neighborhood to do his job. He might put in 15 miles a day, 25 max— well within the range of any electricpowered automobile. So why would he need a big car? The beauty of it is, it’s easy to re-power the vehicles overnight because the mob owns so many chop shops.”

Solar power is another technology enthusiastically embraced by organized crime. “Most crime is committed late at night, so the mob traditionally runs up humongous electric bills,” says Talbot Griswold, an expert on nocturnal malefaction. “But by retrofitting hundreds of social clubs with inexpensive solar panels, organized crime has cut its utility bills by 30 percent. And what’s really amazing is the number of young guys just getting into organized crime who are more than comfortable with breaking slow payers’ legs in broad daylight. If they have to whack you, sure, they still do it at night. But if it’s just a little tune-up, they figure: Why turn on the lights? These guys may be morally repellent on some levels, but in terms of energy consciousness they rank right up there with Al Gore.”

To date, the mob has yet to embrace wind power. Griswold says this is mostly a question of image. “Windmills still look kind of goofy,” he notes. “Gangsters are still very sensitive about the image they project, and windmills don’t tie in with that. They remind people of Don Quixote or frolicking little Dutch kids. They don’t project that sense of power and malice the mob likes. Basically, the mob thinks windmills are kind of dorky.” Kleindienst concedes that criminals have not turned green out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it’s good for business. The fact is, if you’re a criminal trying to make a living today, and word gets out that you’re not green, business will dry up overnight.

“Whether it’s drugs or numbers or prostitution or loan-sharking,” Kleindienst says, “if you’re not carrying out your business in an environmentally sensitive fashion, you’re history. We had a couple of hit men down here in Crabcake Corners who left a carbon footprint when they were whacking people. They’d throw their beer cans in the river and leave Styrofoam containers behind, basically make a mockery out of everything the green criminal community was trying to achieve. One morning, the cops found them both floating in the Chesapeake, neatly packed inside recyclable cardboard boxes. It was the capo di tutti verdi capi’s way of telling all the cowboys out there: “You go green, or you go home.” Now, even the scariest hit men separate green glass from white. It just goes to show: Just because you’re mean doesn’t say you can’t be green.”

About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.