Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Make it green: London 2012 and 'greenwashing'

Think green (c) Melissa Goldstein
A final post on London 2012, this time on 'greenwashing'. For those unaware of this concept, it is similar to 'whitewashing'. Greenwashing tends to take place when an organisation/enterprise makes a big deal of their green credentials, and promotes a particular aspect of their ethical commitment to the environment. Simultaneously, many organisations and enterprises continue to damage it in other ways.

Whilst LOCOG and the Commission for a Sustainable London (CSL) 2012 consider that LOCOG are well on their way to meeting their sustainability objectives, these reports and reviews are somewhat biased.  CSL are part funded by LOCOG, as well as others with a commercial interest in London 2012, and they report to the Chair of LOCOG, Lord Coe. This makes CSL's claim to independence a little far-fetched. Therefore, I am going to use the concerns raised in my last post to guide this.

As London 2012's Sustainability Plan: Towards a One Planet 2012 (hereafter called The Plan)evinces on page 23:

The unique opportunity afforded by the Games is to inspire large numbers of people to participate and actively endeavour to be more sustainable...
...and our call for people and organisations to help us make the Games more sustainable by taking their own small steps to reduce their own carbon footprint.
This is the rationale behind the Team Green Britain launched by EDF Energy, a London 2012 Sustainability Partner, in July 2009...
EDF have been advertising this project for a couple of years now. They have made a particular point of projecting their green credentials onto the British public by using a green Union Jack to symbolise its association with us and to our environment. To embed the idea even further, they offer prizes to schools that go green.

However, as Maxine Newlands points out in her well-written critique of London 2012 and its green credentials:
However, this flag was already the logo of Ecotricity, an alternative energy company providing electricity from renewables such as wind and wave. Since 1996 it had been using a green union jack to signal green power. The co-opting of an already established image opens EDF and, by proxy, the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOGOC) to accusations of greenwashing. The logic of the accusation is as follows: any organisation which borrows another’s icon may also be just borrowing its values for the sake of a strong image.
Maxine Newlands also refers to EDF's decision to pull out of using a wind turbine to power the games because of concerns over the financial benefits of using wind power. A decision that she thinks led to the ODA reducing their sustainability targets from 20% to 15%. in 2006. Perversely, given what happened next, the wind turbine contract was given to Ecotricity.

BP embarked on greenwashing their image over a decade ago. Formerly, British Petroleum, now, Beyond Petroleum, with a nice change of logo, they adopted the words used by the environmental movement in their advertisements to showcase their move into environmental sustainability. Yet Greenpeace noted that BP had only invested 6.8% of its funding on alternative energy sources in 2008, with 93% spent extracting oil, gas and other fossil fuels. BP continue to contradict their green ethos, in their efforts to dredge more of the earths's natural resources held in tar sands. The methods used in the extraction of crude oil from these sands is more harmful and dangerous to the environment than conventional forms.

Ecomagination windmill birdsnest stadium (c) kafka4prez

Without any hint of irony, GE have gone straight to the heart of environmental discourse , entitling their PR/advertising campaign, “Ecomagination.” Along with printed press advertisements depicting green leaves emanating from power plants, GE have even launched a separate ecomagination website. Yet, as the global executive director of advertising and branding at GE, Judy Hu, remarked to Brandweek (now Adweek) in 2006, just 1 year after the launch of Ecomagination:
Green is green as in the colour of money,”...
 ..“It is a business opportunity, and we believe we can increase our revenue behind these Ecomagination products and services.”
The clear motive in this statement is money and profit. Not the environment.

In 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported that on GE's relative success with its Ecomagination products. However, the report noted that the definition of the 'green' products that it was selling as part of the Ecomagination line was widening:
...Or take nuclear power. Three years ago, none of GE’s reactors were part of the “ecomagination” energy lineup; today both “Advanced Boiling Water Reactors” and “Economic Simplified Boiler Water Reactors” are part of the mix...
Moving such products under a green platform is at the least misleading. At its worst, it represents the co-opting of the nice, green, environmental ideas that you and I have for the good of the planet, but using them specifically to hide behind (Ecomagination) to generate further profits for GE.

As well as their choice of partners, I am concerned that London 2012 is 'greenwashing' from within. In their introduction to The Plan on page 5, LOCOG write:
The London 2012 sustainability story is guided by the theme of ‘Towards a one planet Olympics’. Derived from the WWF/BioRegional concept of One Planet Living®1, this recognises that as a global society, we are living beyond the regenerative capacity of our planet.
 Note that London 2012's idea of sustainability is only derived from the WWF/Bioregional concept of One Planet Living. The themes that LOCOG have chosen are used quite differently to those put forward in the WWF and Bioregional principles. LOCOG appear to be using them specifically in a local context, ignoring the global idea behind sustainability, that it ebbs and flow from the local to the global and back again. Whilst I accept that neither the WWF nor Bioregional are corporate partners, I find it odd that neither they nor London 2012 feature much on each others sites, given the supposed importance of The Plan. There are no logos, no links, few headlines. Why not?
Sebastian Coe (c) Mohan
Just because you say that you are conforming to sustainable development, does not mean that you are. LOCOG's choice of sustainable partners, in particular EDF, BP and GE, is worrying given their histories of abuse and their hijacking of environmental discourse. To make the games sustainable, LOCOG should have chosen partners who genuinely promote sustainable development. Equally, they should terminate the contracts of those companies who are granted partner status, yet continue to abuse this (one) planet.

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