Cleaning up Climate Week?

30th November 2011 by

This week the (R)oyal Bank of Scotland announced that they are cancelling their sponsorship of Climate Week.  This sponsorship arrangement from a bank which used to call itself the ‘Oil and Gas Bank’ was considered nothing more than a bit of nasty greenwash by many organisations and individuals. Letters were written (including this one from us at Otesha), protests were made, and RBS are no longer sponsoring Climate Week.

In our letter addressed to anyone and everyone involved in Climate Week we called for concrete action, rather than rebranding, from the “UK bank most heavily involved in financing fossil fuels”, and argued that “(s)ponsorship from companies with such weak green credentials lends legitimacy to the flawed concept that one small action is a sufficient reaction to climate change and that changing the lightbulbs allows us to continue ‘business as usual’.”


We’re pleased to hear of these cleaning, greening developments: greenwash is a tricky thing to get one’s head around. There are so many familiar questions: Can ‘bad money’ do good? Is a small change better than no change? Would we be able to achieve anything if Lord Greenwash doesn’t give us any money?

It’s incredibly important that the messages we try to spread aren’t undermined, though – so we need to keep on calling out greenwash: letting polluters know that putting a little cash into events like Climate Week won’t save the planet; and that exploiting the earth at the expense of current and future generations as well as the local and global environment is not okay.

Maria Lam of Climate Week says the 2011 event was “the biggest environmental occasion ever run in Britain”.  It’s great to get thousands of people involved, interested and hopefully taking action, and I hope that as Climate Week gets cleaner and greener, more organisations and individuals will feel able to participate.

But aside from ensuring a greenwash-free event, we also need action to be sustained across months and years. Questions about the value of individual media-intensive environmental events could probably give me enough material for at least one more blog, so I’ll leave this here after one last thought: climate change will be for life, folks, not just for Christmas – our actions have to match that.

Climate Weak- the kerfuffle continues

28th March 2011 by

As avid followers of our blog will know, Otesha, People & Planet and Magnificent Revolution sent a joint open letter about the questionable corporate sponsorship of Climate Week.

The letter was sent out to:

– the organisers of Climate Week (who did not reply)
– the celebrities who have put their name to it (who also did not reply, although apparently it was forwarded on to Vivian Westwood’s PA)
– the sponsors (Tesco, RBS, Aviva, EDF and Kellogs, as yet no reply from any of them either)
– all of the voluntary sector organisations who’ve signed up to support Climate Week

We didn’t have many responses from the voluntary sector, but those we did have were pretty interesting. One organisation were adamant that they were not affiliated in any way with Climate Week (Climate Week’s website thinks otherwise). Another group thanked us “for speaking out”. Another asked us to consider our position on the ground that “it’s probably best to welcome even small, maybe token, steps like this (RBS’ involvement)…  after all, somebody in RBS probably argued their heads off to get even this agreed”. Someone else we contacted shared how they had thought long and hard about supporting Climate Week, “in my personal life, I encourage everyone I know to bank with alternatives to the main high street banks (they are all bad) and I don’t shop at Tescos and encourage friends and family to shop locally. However, in my professional life I need to try to reach beyond the converted and I think Climate Week is a way of doing so”. Others thanked us for simply sharing our thoughts and concerns.

We were definitely not the only people pondering the Climate Week conundrum. The transition network has been buzzing with tough questions about Climate Week. What do we gain by labeling others as ‘climate villains’ or ‘inspiring leaders’? The Hub Islington hosted a wonderfully named ‘Climate Weak’ panel discussion on the ethics of working with corporates and corporate sponsorship (summarised here).

Platform and a coalition of other NGOs released a report during Climate Week, ‘Dirty Money – Corporate greenwash and RBS coal finance’.

UKYCC, after accepting an award for Most Inspirational Young Person, issued a statement which outlined their concerns about RBSs sponsoring Climate Week whilst still being heavily involved in the destructive tar sands development project in Canada.

Then to top it all off, the Guardian revealed that Climate Week is a for-profit organisation! And that last one left me speechless. Ok, it didn’t, of course I have plenty to say about profiting from Climate Week, but it’s all so obvious that I’m not even going to bother. We all know what I would say anyway.

An open letter to Climate Week

15th March 2011 by

Dear Climate Week Supporters, Sponsors, Organisers and Judges,

We are writing to you because of your involvement with March 2011 Climate Week. This signifies a clear commitment to taking strong action on climate change, and we applaud you for this. Whilst we are completely behind the aims of Climate Week, we have concerns about Climate Week’s corporate sponsors, the Royal Bank of Scotland in particular. Some organisations who were invited to enter the Climate Week awards, including the Otesha Project and Magnificent Revolution, have been unable to do so because they feel that the association of RBS with Climate Week constitutes ‘greenwash’.

We support Climate Week’s intention to ‘shine a spotlight on the many positive steps already being taken in workplaces and communities across Britain’ and use these examples to inspire others. However we do not agree that RBS is ‘supporting the transition to a low carbon economy’.

Unfortunately any positive steps taken by RBS in their business operations and in their investment in the renewable energy sector are far outweighed by RBS’ continued investment in carbon intensive industries. Whilst sponsorship of Climate Week could constitute a welcome first step on a journey to more sustainable practice for a bank which self-identifies as ‘The Oil and Gas Bank’, there is currently no evidence to suggest that this sponsorship represents anything more significant than ‘greenwash’.  Perhaps this rebranding is a response to continued criticism from numerous NGOs and grassroots campaigns, which has led to more widespread negative publicity for the bank. However it is concrete action, not rebranding, which is required.

RBS cites its high ranking by the Carbon Disclosure Project as testimony to its environmental credentials. Unfortunately the CDP ranking does not appear to have sufficient scope to capture the entirety of carbon emissions for which a company such as RBS is responsible: only the energy usage within bank branches and offices is taken into account. Whilst every action taken to reduce carbon emissions is important, it is vital that we do not allow the championing of RBS’ weak energy saving measures to obscure the far more damaging practices financed by RBS, such as the coal, oil and gas industries. We are particularly concerned with RBS’ financing of the Canadian Tar Sands, the exploitation of this resource is trampling indigenous rights, destroying vast areas of ancient boreal forest, and has the potential to cause runaway climate change (for more information see ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text).

Sponsorship from companies with such weak green credentials lends legitimacy to the flawed concept that one small action is a sufficient reaction to climate change and that changing the light bulbs allows us to continue ‘business as usual’.
We urge you to reconsider your involvement with Climate Week and to raise these concerns with others involved in Climate Week.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this letter further, please contact Jo Clarke (jo@otesha.org.uk).

Your Sincerely,

The Otesha Project UK
www.otesha.org.uk

People & Planet
www.peopleandplanet.org

Magnificent Revolution
www.magnificentrevolution.org

The Climate Week Conundrum

9th February 2011 by

Last week we had a phone call inviting us to enter the Climate Week Awards. Climate Week is a new national event to get individuals, schools and businesses taking action on climate change. So far, so good. But closer inspection reveals that Climate Week is sponsored by RBS, the infamous publicly owned bank sometimes also known as the ‘Oil Bank of Scotland’ (see Platform’s report on RBS’s financing of oil and gas industries). So it would appear that while RBS are funding Climate Week, they’re also funding climate change.

Other dubious sponsors of Climate Week include Tesco and EDF Energy. Tesco now controls over 30% of the grocery market in the UK. In 2010, the supermarket chain announced profits of £3.4bn. Growing evidence indicates that Tesco’s success is partly based on trading practices that are having serious consequences for suppliers, farmers and workers worldwide, local shops and the environment.

EDF Energy produce almost one-quarter of the nation’s electricity from nuclear, coal and gas power stations, as well as combined heat and power plants and wind farms. 25% of their electricity is produced through burning coal and only 7% comes renewables (less than the UK’s target to get 10% of all electricity generation from renewable sources by 2010).

So what to do? We are taking a multi-pronged approach:

  • Otesha will not be entering any Climate Week Awards. We have a corporate screening policy that prevents us from accepting donations fromcorporations whose practices or reputation might, in the opinion of staff or management committee, diminish the credibility of Otesha UK; corporations that actively promote environmental citizenship without actively adjusting corporate practices to respond to those needs; corporations that through advertising methods actively participate in green washing‘. Although any Award we might receive would not be financial, we consider an ‘in kind’ donation of publicity or any other support to also be subject to the same criteria.
  • We are writing an open letter to Climate Week, Climate Week’s judges, sponsors and supporting organisations explaining our decision and our concerns.
  • Whilst we have concerns about the funding of Climate Week we are completely supportive of the aims of Climate Week. We are inviting schools to partner with Otesha to mark Climate Week with hands-on sustainability workshops on Fairtrade, bike maintenance, recycled fashion, the media and consumerism, growing food and energy use in the school.

We know that lots of other organisations have been considering the same Climate Week condundrum, and we’d be interested to know what other people think.


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