People and Business: Eco-chill with Iceland

ICELAND, the UK's leading frozen food retailer, has teamed up with Greenpeace to produce a range of ozone-layer-friendly fridges and freezers.

According to Mark Bates, managing director of Iceland's appliances division, this is the first time the eco-warriors at Greenpeace have allowed their logo to be used by a commercial company anywhere in the world.

But isn't this a brave step by Iceland? After all, Greenpeace have been keen to attack other companies like BP and ICI.

"The argument is more fundamental than that. I'm convinced that once the public knows that this technology is available, they will support what is right for the environment," says Mr Bates.

The technology Mr Bates is so excited about is based on using gases more commonly associated with cigarette lighters - butane and propane - to power fridges. Apparently, using these avoids the environmental damage produced by CFCs (hurts the ozone layer) and HFCs (adds to the greenhouse effect).

I always thought Iceland was the place you went to get your bumper packs of frozen prawns, but Mr Bates assures me they have been one of the UK's biggest suppliers of fridges and freezers for 25 years. The new "Kyoto" range (named after an environmental conference, naturally) will be made in Denmark, Turkey and Italy and retail for around pounds 150.

GOOD TO see Richard Surface getting his due reward for turning around Pearl Assurance over the last three years at the helm. Yesterday Mr Surface, chief executive of Pearl, became the first American citizen to join the board of the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the insurers' trade club.

Pearl's Australian owners, AMP, are one of the companies in the running to buy NPI. If they win, Mr Surface must be odds-on for the job of turning around NPI's business as well.

THE OFEX market has seen its fair share of exotic launches, but yesterday's prospectus from MatchNet must be one of the most striking. Two Americans are seeking to raise pounds 1.5m for an Internet dating system which has already been a hit in the States, so they say.

Joe Shapira and Alon Carmel are offering to find singletons the perfect mate "without the drama of disastrous first dates". Instead of being set up by well-meaning friends, lonely hearts can search MatchNet's database from the privacy of their own screens.

"Through the anonymity of e-mail they can gradually get to know each other prior to exchanging phone numbers or meeting face-to-face," says the company.

It's starting with a database of 30,000 members and aims for 1.5 million by 2001. The company is getting advice on the float from accountants Pannell Kerr Forster and lawyers Fleury.

HOW'S THIS for a sign of the times? The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), an American rival to Liffe, has introduced the Quarterly Bankruptcy Index.

The exchange is launching what it described as "the first exchange-traded credit derivative, the CME-QBI". CME-QBI futures are based on a quarterly count of bankruptcy filings throughout the US.

The exchange claims the number of people going bust has a close correlation to the volume of defaults suffered by credit-card issuers. Therefore, the argument goes, the new futures will provide lenders with a "viable hedging tool, enabling them for the first time to deal with the risk of defaults arising from personal bankruptcy".

More than 1.4 million Americans went personally bankrupt last year, a record as the process has increasingly lost its stigma. It is now seen as a perfectly respectable way to deal with college fees, alimony and the like.

And, as with the MatchNet dating service, what starts in the States usually comes here soon after...

THE HAYS PLC subsidiary, Hays Business Services, has lost its second chief executive in a year.

Brian Taylor replaced Peter Dobson at the managed archives business in Stockwell, south London, at the end of September last year. Now Mr Taylor has upped stumps. A spokesman for Hays said he didn't know why Mr Taylor left, only that Brian Fuller, an existing Hays director, is taking over. Lets hope Mr Fuller lasts a bit longer.

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