Greenwash Day

10 July 2009

EDF's greenwash Union Jack.

I’d like to declare today to be National 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 Electricite de France to give them their full name. EDF is a French, state owned nuclear power company. They are also the world’s biggest corporate producer of nuclear waste, and one of it’s biggest traders and burners of coal – with 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 in this week's Guardian) someone else’s logo – the green union jack. This flag symbolises two things, Green and British. EDF are of course neither.

This really does take Greenwash to a whole new level. It could almost be the plot of a slapstick comedy or a farce. If it wasn’t for the fact that they are seriously intent on convincing us Brits that they (EDF) and nuclear energy are green and good for Britain.

Stealing someone else’s clothes is not a new tactic in the world of big dirty business. And nor is Greenwash.

A few years ago the UK witnessed Fairwash, where years of truly pioneering work on the concept of Fairtrade were swamped by a tidal wave of big budget corporate look alike 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 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, I mean who could argue with that. Not me, that’s what I spend my life in pursuit of. 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.

EDF put more money into the Games and this Greenwash day than they spent in the last five years building new sources of renewable energy. That’s the hard numerical reality behind the bunting and the media froth. EDF – all mouth and no green trousers.

That’s why today really should become National Greenwash day.


Join us in a lively discussion about this issue at Dale Vince's blog:

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