, 10 July 2009
Greening Britain is a serious goal that requires a vision underpinned by real policies with meaningful outcomes.
I'd like to declare today to be Greenwash Day. To celebrate that relatively modern phenomenon of companies trying to sell themselves as being rather greener and more ethical than they really are. Today would be an apt day, it is after all – Green Britain Day. Where's the Greenwash in that? Oh where to start.
Green Britain day comes to us courtesy of EDF. That's Electricité de France to give them their full name. EDF is a state-owned French nuclear power company. They are also the world's biggest corporate producer of nuclear waste, one of it's biggest traders and burners of coal, and have a tiny tiny fleet of windmills (0.7% of their generation). And to promote this campaign they've "borrowed" (as Fred Pearce gently puts it) someone else's logo – the green union flag. This flag symbolises two things: care for the environment and British identity. EDF can claim, of course, neither.
This really does take greenwash to a whole new level. It could almost be the plot of a a farce. If it wasn't for the fact that EDF is seriously intent on convincing us in Britain that it – and nuclear energy – are green and good for Britain.
Stealing someone else's clothes is not a new tactic in the world of dirty big business. And neither is greenwash.
A few years ago the UK witnessed "fairwash", where years of pioneering work on the concept of Fairtrade were swamped by a tidal wave of big-budget corporate lookalike schemes. Everybody and their brother now has a version of Fairtrade. It might be tempting to say where's the harm in that, the more people doing it the better. Well yes, if they truly are doing it, I would agree. But that's not how this usually goes down. When big brands move into the ethical arena it's for the kudos, to look like a better company, to follow a new trend and gain sales – it isn't for the cause, it's for their cause, which is of course to make money and to add "shareholder value".
Pale corporate imitations of green and ethical brands or products are truly harmful. They distract consumers and divert spending from the real thing and they bring the risk of early onset "issue fatigue". You know how it goes – yawn, yawn, here's another company that says it pays its suppliers a decent price because it really cares about them or says it's really committed to fighting climate change. Or whatever …
Maybe we need a regulator for environmental and ethical claims. We've got Ofgem for electricity and Ofwat for water – I propose we should name this one Ethoff.
Let's come back to Green Britain Day. The campaign itself has laudable aims, fighting climate change and making Britain a greener place. Who could argue with that? But look for any substance and you won't find it. It's all recycled and gimmicky.
And it's a distraction. Green Britain is a serious goal, it requires a vision underpinned by real policies, a suite of joined up actions that we can all get behind – with meaningful outcomes. It's a mission not a PR opportunity.
• Dale Vince is the founder and owner of Ecotricity
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