Cheese So Good, You Can Take It to the Bank

An Italian financial institution accepts valuable Parmigiano-Reggiano as collateral from struggling farmers.

Photo by Valerie Hinojosa via Flickr

It’s easy to be impressed by the historical and modern wealth of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. Heavy with Renaissance architecture, intellectual heritage, and a rich culinary culture, the district also arguably has one of the highest qualities of life in the country. Soaking in this opulence, it’s easy to think that the barbed wire around the region’s major banks must guard gobs of cash and gold. But at least one major banking chain in the region, Credito Emiliano (Credem), has started using its vaults to store and trade a more delicious form of wealth: cheese.

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The New York Brain Bank is Like the Walmart of Brains

This 5,000-brain collection is changing the game for scientists who study neurodegenerative disease

Photo courtesy of

If you’re looking for brains, at the New York Brain Bank, they got brains. Within the subterranean facility, which lies beneath a Children’s Hospital in Washington Heights, scientists have access to a collection of more than 5,000 preserved human brains with neurodegenerative disease. As people live longer, the chances of an individual developing one of these diseases—Alzheimer’s particularly—increases, and research into causes and treatments for neurodegenerative conditions has become more important than ever. The stockpile is linked to a database, where a researcher can input a specific tissue or condition, and receive directions to one of 10 enormous brain freezers. The whole brain attainment process takes about five business days from the initial request.

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A Beneficial Bank Born During a Banking Crisis

This post celebrating timeless values for small business is brought to you by GOOD, with support from UPS. We’ve teamed up to bring you the Small Business Collaborative, a series sharing stories about innovative small businesses that are changing business as usual for their communities and beyond.

This post celebrating timeless values for small business is brought to you by GOOD, with support from UPS. We’ve teamed up to bring you the Small Business Collaborative, a series sharing stories about innovative small businesses that are changing business as usual for their communities and beyond. Learn how UPS is helping small businesses work better and more sustainably here.

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Solar Power Is Coming to 120,000 Military Housing Units

SolarCity found a new path forward after the Solyndra scandal cost it a loan guarantee for putting solar panels on military housing.

The Solyndra scandal was a political football, but it also created real tangles for other solar companies. More than one withdrew from the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, which had backed the failed company. At least one company, though, has bounced back. SolarCity, a leading solar leasing company, announced today that, even without the government’s backing, it had been able to secure private financing for SolarStrong, a project which aims to power as many as 120,000 military housing units.

SolarCity had been trying since 2010 to get the government to guarantee a loan, and in September, the Department of Energy gave the company a conditional commitment for a loan of $344 million. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the SolarStrong project would be “the largest domestic residential rooftop solar project in history.” SolarCity planned to install more residential solar capacity over the course of the project than had been installed in all of 2010. But the DOE was dealing with the fallout from Solyndra's failure, and by the end of the month, SolarCity hadn’t received final approval for its loan guarantee when the loan guarantee program ended.

“We just ran out of time,” says Aaron Gillmore, vice president of development at SolarCity. “Things got pretty hectic there at the end. DOE had other things to worry about, and there were too many projects in the pipeline.”

But the year the company had spent putting together a loan application paid off. Bank of America Merrill Lynch had been interested in funding the SolarStrong project. The bank has warmed distributed solar generation projects like this one, which have limited risks and use proven technology, and this year also funded a similar endeavor, Project Amp, which will install solar panels on distribution facilities across the country. (That project did receive a DOE loan guarantee.) When SolarCity’s loan guarantee didn’t come through, the bank kept talking with the company and ultimately agreed to provide financing.

This ending is happier than one in which the government underwrites SolarCity’s loans. Missing out on a loan guarantee was probably “better for us and better for the industry, to be able to prove we can do the project at scale without a government loan guarantee,” Gillmore says. Renewable energy needs support from both the public and the private sector right now, and both contributed here. According to Gillmore, the loan application process pushed SolarCity to do extensive due diligence and helped reassure the bank that the company’s idea was a strong one. The Department of Defense’s commitment to increasing its renewable energy holdings also helped move the project forward. It’s becoming clear that solar projects are smart, not risky, investments—the kind the private sector should buy into without a government safety net.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user U.S. Army Environmental Command

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Students Activists Pressure Colleges to Participate in Bank Transfer Day

With college and university endowments topping $350 billion, activists are putting the pressure on for them to move their money to credit unions.

Campus activists across the country are preparing for Bank Transfer Day, which encourages people to move their money from big banks to community-based credit unions on November 5. But student supporters aren't stopping at encouraging their peers to close their accounts at major banks. They plan to leverage the energy from the Occupy Wall Street movement to push their universities to move their money, too.

Dan Apfel, the executive director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, a New York City-based nonprofit that works to promote responsible investment practices, says American colleges and universities have collective endowments of more than $350 billion, the majority of which is housed in financial institutions that "have no connection and feel no responsibility to the community." That violates the lofty mission statements colleges have about educating people in order to improve the world: "They use terms like global citizenship all the time," he says, "so they should be acting that way."

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Leaving Your Big Predatory Bank

If you've been complaining about the sins of the financial industry for the past few years, here's your chance to fight back.

A major goal of the Occupy Wall Street protest that's been happening in New York City for nearly a month is to teach the banks that ruined America a lesson. The financial industry's pursuit of money at all costs is a large part of why the United States is suffering today, but their "too big to fail" power is so intimidating as to confuse people wondering how to punish them for their unethical practices. Bank Transfer Day may be the solution everyone is looking for.

Bank Transfer Day is a grassroots effort to get anyone upset with large predatory banks to move their money to nonprofit credit unions by Saturday, November 5. People vote with their dollars far more often than they vote at the polls, and taking your money away from an institution with which you disagree is perhaps the best way to get back at big banks. Money talks to these people, so how about making your money silent?

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