Greenwash Monsters?

16th January 2014 by

I’m not quite sure why the title got ‘monsters’ in it – it was the first thing that popped into my head, and it stuck. Monsters aside, I read some things about supermarket waste practices today and I thought I’d share some thoughts…

So what’s been happening? One recent announcement is that Co-op supermarket are replacing their plastic carrier bags with compostable ones. Well, that’s a great start for reducing plastic in landfills – but only if you don’t look at what goes inside the shiny new compostable carrier bag. I very rarely go into supermarkets – I’m opposed to them for a variety of ethical reasons (this is not the place to get into a debate about all things supermarket related – you can have a look at www.tescopoly.org for more info). Anyway, one of the problems with supermarkets is that they end up with a monopoly and sometimes there are no alternatives. Recently I was in a small town, needing food and there was nothing else available. I tried to buy vegetables, but everything was plastered in plastic – the only loose vegetables I saw were some anemic-looking out-of-season tomatoes – tasty! A lot of the plastic was the thin sort which most councils don’t recycle either. This is only the waste that we see and deal with as customers. How much is hidden by press-releases about small changes? Some tiny percentage of supermarket waste is now compostable – but how much is this worth, when a far higher volume of waste inside the carrier bag still gets sent to landfill/sea/other countries?

A number of other UK supermarkets have apparently made a partnership with Coca-Cola encouraging customers to pledge to recycle. The argument here is sort of the same, brands and supermarkets shift responsibility to you, the consumer, instead of looking at how they package items and taking responsibility. Apparently last year 37,000 people spun this wheel and pledged to recycle. 37,000 more people recycling may be a good thing – but I’ve got some questions.

First, why would anyone want to spin a wheel on a website to see which material they should pledge to recycle? Maybe I’m missing something, but I think there are more fun things to do. I’ve spun it three times now, and it’s not getting more interesting. Wheel-spinning hasn’t cropped up in much I’ve read about behaviour change either.

Second, if you make a pledge, you get yourself some free Coca-Cola merch in the form of a fridge magnet. What’s the idea? You go to the fridge, think “oh Coca-Cola is so delicious”, and then “I don’t even need to recycle the bottle once I’m done because I only pledged to recycle metal…”

Third, why does it only encourage you to recycle one set of materials, when a lot of councils collect them all together?

Fourth, there’s a link to find out more about how they recycle, but it doesn’t work. (That was even less of a question than the other points – I’d better hope Gove isn’t reading this!)

Fifth, what do I do with all the things I’ve bought I can’t recycle? Why is there so much packaging in the first place and why are you making it my fault? If supermarkets and other companies didn’t put so much packaging on everything, it wouldn’t be there to go to landfill, recycle, repurpose, or for me to complain about!

And finally, my question to all of you. Is it good, or is it greenwash? Are these businesses making real change, or are they hiding unsustainable business practice behind the celebration of minor changes and shifting responsibility to the consumer?

If you think shops should stop creating waste, perhaps you could take your custom elsewhere (if you’re still fortunate enough to have that option), or go and tell them what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

Beautiful Bills

8th June 2010 by

We racked our brains for this monthly challenge. Surely, we thought, we have already challenged you to do everything that can reasonably be challenged? Recycling monthly challenges suddenly doesn’t seem so eco. But then it dawned on us, there is one effective, yet easy challenge still unused. And how could we have overlooked it for so long? But never fear, for this month we challenge you to change your energy supplier.

Leave the fossils behind and get yourself some good energy, some green energy or some ecotricity. All UK energy suppliers are obliged to increase the amount of the electricity they sell from renewable sources, in 2009 the required level was 9.1%. Beware green tariff greenwash from companies who get most of their energy from gas and oil, a green tariff might be no more than a legal requirement. When beautifying your bills check not only how much of your energy will come from renewables, but also how much suppliers are investing in new renewables and improving the state of the grid.

Switch your energy supplier, make your bills beautiful and while you’re at it, get your neighbours, dad, gran, long lost cousins, and your work/ school/ uni to do it too.


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