This whole episode between Ecotricity vs EDF in the French nuclear giant’s stealing of Ecotricity’s Union Jack has brought a lot of focus to the whole issue of greenwashing again.
In the Facebook group, Green Britain Day, set up in reaction to EDF’s £50 million Green Britain Day campaign, the group owner has urged those concerned with EDF’s campaign to get in touch with the Advertising Standards Authority to object to EDF’s use of Ecotricity’s branding.
In addition, the objection particularly focuses on the fact that EDF are not British and are the world’s largest corporate producer of nuclear waste, thus blowing the use of the Union Jack and the colour green to indicate environmental credentials clean out of the water.
Robin Smith of Host Universal, the man behind the alternative “Green Britain Day”, has also pointed out that, according to Consumer Focus, the body that campaigns to get a fair deal for British consumers, company claims endanger the market for green goods.
The news comes as Consumer Focus produce a report into the public’s understanding of green claims in advertising, Green Expectations (5.3Mb PDF), which points out that as many as two thirds of British consumers “cannot tell which products are better for the environment”.
Two thirds of consumers say they are not sure how to tell if claims made by companies advertising green products – from household cleaners to cars and energy – are true. Only one in five people think it is not possible for companies to make false claims about their products’ environmental credentials.
That puts EDF firmly in the dock for making claims about being green, as Robin Smith notes in his own complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority;
EDF is causing confusion between low carbon energy (nuclear) and green energy (renewable).
The problem this causes for the genuine green market is, as Consumer Focus says;
When promoting green products or services, companies must ensure claims are clear and robust or widespread confusion will tip into cynicism, putting the whole market for the ‘green pound’ in danger
So the danger with the (estimated) £50 million “Green Britain” campaign is that it could “poison the well” of the British people’s trust: firstly by tapping into their patriotism in the use of the British flag to promote Electricite De France and secondly by the use of the colour green to make people think they are buying into “green energy” when all they are really doing is being lulled into a false sense of security where EDF’s end product is ultimately radioactive waste.
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’.
Lucy Yates, sustainability expert at Consumer Focus, said:
Even now, when money is tighter than ever, people still want to buy products that are better for the environment. But they are being bombarded with complex and conflicting claims and do not know who or what to believe. Green must mean green, or consumers will switch off and simply turn their backs on sustainable choices. That would not only damage the environment but business too.
DEFRA’s Green Claims Code needs to be updated. Updating the green claims code will protect consumers and ensure that big companies with lots of money and a heavily funded marketing department that has plans to take advantage of the public’s desire for green & good products & services are not allowed to make false & misleading claims.
EDF should take note, except that they’ve already spent £50 million on trying to convince us they’re green and acting in the interests of the British public. Oh, and Gordon Brown’s brother, Andrew Brown, is the head of media at EDF.
George Monbiot makes some excellent points in his video Sustainability in Advertising for The Guardian on Monday.
He kicks off by acknowledging the hypocrisy of the position he is caught in by calling advertising “a pox on the planet” with its drive to make us consume more (and the environmental and social ills that consumerism causes) and that working for his particular employer is extremely important to him personally. The contradiction of being a green and having your wages paid by airlines and gas guzzlers is certainly a harsh position to be in.
What would you do? Give up your job with a media group that is one of the few stalwarts of green flag waving and go to a more “ethically pure” organisation that lacks clout or stick with the pain of taking “petrodollars” and use that money to shout louder and be heard by a greater audience?
The point he raises is an interesting one regarding his conversations with editors and senior journalists; firstly filtering out the adverts for “unsustainable” products & services may be seen as both patronising and against freedom of speech, afterall, adult readers of The Guardian, and other publications for that matter, are old enough and wise enough to make their own informed decisions. Secondly, Guardian media is dependent on the revenue raised by advertising for its continued existence, particularly in these tough economic times where ad revenue has “gone south” and traditional print publications are either struggling to exist or have already “gone under”. To reject money outright from advertisers would be seen as “economic suicide” he recalls. But that’s not what he’s asking for.
Media editors exercise control over what is published regarding headlines and content in their publications. Advertising is, as George Monbiot highlights, outside this remit to a certain extent, saying:
“…we allow these corporations, as long as they pay, to make grossly-biased, unchallenged statements in favour of their products.”
Whilst it is argued that what people see and read should not be filtered, the advertising itself is filtered, he points out, especially pornography and gambling. And yet anything that causes excessive consumerism, environmental damage, lesser (than porn or gambling) social issues, is still allowed.
What is being called for here is an extension to the filtering of advertising: if porn and gambling are deemed as socially unacceptable and their ads are not shown then why are excessive CO2 emissions still promoted with wild abandon? Oh yes, because they pay well. There is also the fact that the ills of flying and new big cars are lower down the scale than the immorality of the sexually explicit and betting against stacked odds.
George Monbiot says specifically that ads for vehicles that produce over 150gm/km of CO2 and ads by airlines should be filtered out, finishing on the question:
Is that too much to ask?
They are all fair points and, as George Monbiot states, the call for a “tightening” on the filtering system is not too radical. Calling for this degree of control at the publication level is certainly up to The Guardian to consider and would not be against the standards of the majority of the loyal and understanding readers. Casual readers, particularly of the online version, might not have the same degree of understanding, especially when it comes down to finding the publication via organic search – anybody can read guardian.co.uk, not just those of a social, ethical and moral persuassion.
So is taking out the ads of gas-guzzlers and airline too much to ask? Is it?
kind of feel being green and supporting an army event is a little wrong?
I’d not really thought of that, as considerate and conscientious as I normally am about all matters. It was a fair point. What is not green about the British Army? Well, there’s the use of depleted-uranium warheads, armoured vehicles are not renowned for their fuel-economy, natural and human resources are used to research & develop ever more effective ways of killing people defending the nation. We could stray well into the world of ethics here in many ways, but Dave had a point.
However, apart from those simple issues that come to mind, and there could well be many more, there’s no reason not to support the British Army from a green point of view. Let me explain;
I live within 50 yards of a forest with a lake in the middle of it. When you look at the aerial view of the forest and my neighbourhood you can see that my road comes to an abrupt halt at the edge of the forest. That forest, Hawley Woods, appears like a great green lung, a carbon sink, on the outskirts of my town.
The swathe of forest at the end of my road is a perfect place into which to extend the small estate where I live and build more houses. It’s a very real threat as I used to live in nearby Fleet & Church Crookham in Hampshire. In this small town & village conurbation the erosion of green land has been constant – Ancells Farm, Zebon Copse, Elvetham Heath and now the Hitches Lane development. The march of “progress” has been relentless as fields have disappeared to make way for more tightly-packed modern housing estates.
Back in the Fox Lane region of Farnborough, the last remaining suburban farm down the road has made way for around 50 new houses. Yet because there are army barracks across the other side of Hawley Woods the land all belongs to the Ministry of Defence (M.O.D.) and nobody else can build on that land. The main reason for living in my current property, apart from the convenience of being between London and the south coast, easy access to rail and road links, good job prospects, relatively affluent part of the country etc is the proximity of the woodland. If the M.O.D. ever moved or closed Gibraltar Barracks, e.g. for efficiency, streamlining and cost-cutting reasons, then there is a huge likelihood that the forest would make way for housing.
So is being green and supporting the British Army at a local event wrong? Consider that Aldershot has declined socially and economically as troops have been moved away from the area to other Barracks (the Paras to Colchester, for instance) and the once-excellent Louise Margaret/Cambridge Military Hospital has been all but killed off (apart from some minor outpatient services to Frimley Park Hospital). Nearby Church Crookham lost Queen Elizabeth Barracks, home of the Ghurka Rifles, and that is now to be a housing estate where it was once the country’s last wooden billet barracks and green fields.
The modernisation of the British Army has had a huge negative social & economic impact as the military has slowly left its traditional and spiritual home town of Aldershot. If the Army can treat their main home this way then what level of conservationism is there for retaining an interest in land that is “less” important?
So, is it a little wrong to support the British Army when you’re a green? Very probably yes. But there is also an overwhelmingly positive aspect to the fact to the side that the Army occupy a lot of land that is often unfarmed, untouched by the public or by private interests.
If you look at the Green Party’s own Peace & Defence Policy there is very little there from a green & environmental angle as most of the subjects regarding the peace & defence policy are primarily from social and ethical viewpoints. Yes, there are secondary environmental considerations there and, whilst the policy talks of simply cutting military spending you have to question all the practicalities of simply & ruthlessly executing the terms of the manifesto.
I replied to my friend with
The M.O.D. own a LOT of land ’round here. Turn my back on the forces & the land here gets built on. So no problem
The very same day the BBC’s Countryfile TV Show had a small piece on the Castlemartin range in Pembrokeshire where the British Army test live ammunition from their tanks. Whilst the forces might be shooting explosive rounds from 50-ton machines and doing 4 MPG, the land has never been farmed and remains one of the country’s largest wild grasslands. Castlemartin is home to many rare breeds of flora & fauna and the restricted public access has maintained the green status of the place.
So were we still a little wrong? Maybe, but also a lot of right too.
Friends, Britons, countrymen… lend me your ears.
Today, Friday 10th July 2009, is supposedly Green Britain Day. The concept has been thought up by French nuclear energy giants EDF.
However, as has been said , this whole concept is a complete sham because:
- EDF are French not British.
- EDF are not green because they are the world’s biggest corporate producer of nuclear waste.
- The green union flag has been stolen from British wind-power generators Ecotricity.
So really it’s not Green Britain Day but rather Greenwash Day. Do not be fooled by the company that:
- Has Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s brother, Andrew Brown, as their Media Director (funny that, aye?)
- Has spent a reported £50 million in advertising revenue on the campaign.
- Brought Britain’s nuclear energy generator, British Energy, for some £25 billion.
Dale Vince, CEO of Ecotricity, is right in saying that this could be the biggest greenwash in corporate history, so shame on EDF for these bully-boy tactics.
Have you seen those green union flags doing the rounds? On the 10th June this tweet came from @ecotricity on twitter:
The Green Britain flag you may have seen on the TV etc is not ours! EDF the French nuclear power company has stolen it!
The very next day I spotted one of the green union flags in the nearby town of Aldershot on a billboard in the High Street. This street advertising was part of a campaign which has been gathering momentum both online and on TV with what seems like a huge campaign.
EDF, or Electricité de France, seem to be pumping millions of pounds into their campaign of the first Green Britain Day on Friday 10th July. They’re also the official sponsors of the 2012 Olympics in London. So apart from sponsoring a huge international event with one of the worst logos ever designed they’ve stolen someone else’s rather good imagery.
Ecotricity have been using the green union flag for a number of years now and it has become synonymous with their brand – they are British and they are green, so to have a French nuclear company effectively “trade off” the brand that has been created by Ecotricity over the years seems a little shady to say the least. Ecotricity may be a smaller company and less well known, they also spend less on their advertising because they have an organic reputation and they spend more money on generating clean, renewable energy rather than wasting money in the advertising game.
So it’s no wonder that Ecotricity’s CEO Dale Vince is rather annoyed with EDF, calling it The Green Union Hi Jack. Take a look at Dale’s blog to see how the Ecotricity vans have been branded and EDF have copied them.
To add injury to insult, EDF are also the world’s third largest nuclear polluter, beaten only by the USA and Canada, so EDF are then by definition the world’s largest corporate nuclear polluter. They burn lots of coal too.
So apart from the blatant plagiarism, the “trading off” another company’s image & credentials, EDF could be pulling off one of the greatest acts of Greenwash and the British public need to know that they’re being lied to, which is a shame really as the EDF campaign is in partnership with the much-loved Eden Project. There is a Green Britain facebook campaign that people can join.
The threat of legal action against EDF remains a real possibility after they were apparently asked to desist from using the green union flag that Ecotricity had commissioned and used for a number of years. EDF are understood to be “disappointed” by Ecotricity’s stance, although whether this came from EDF’s Media Director, who just happens to be the brother of illustrious PM Gordon Brown, is not known.
We’ll keep you posted.
As with so many things Internet, stumbling across the website FixMyStreet.com was a happy and complete coincidence. The great thing about the site is that we were considering producing such a project here some months ago after we found that it wasn’t just us who had difficulty in getting our own local council to keep the urban environment tidy. But luckily someone else had this great idea and saved us the time and effort of building such a tool, so hats off to mysociety.org
Basically, FixMyStreet.com is a site that allows people to report, view and discuss local problems. Everything from potholes in roads & pavements, litter and abandoned vehicles to antisocial behaviour etc can be reported on FixMyStreet.com
We tested the site out ourselves just a few weeks ago when we reported some graffiti on a metal shop shutter on the way into town. The process is simple;
- Enter your postcode or streetname
- Drop the pointer on the place on the map where the problem is
- Fill in the details of the problem in a handy form
- Hit the submit button
And that’s it. A quick email confirmation needs to be responded to and the report is logged. The local council emailed us for further details of the problem, even though there is only one shop at the pin point on the map, and within a couple of weeks the graffiti was removed. You can log in again once the problem has been solved and report it as fixed.
The FixMyStreet.com site shows other local issues in your area or other parts of the country and acts as a great indicator of the problems experienced in certain localities and the speed, desire and ability of councils to deal with the issues.
FixMyStreet.com even has an iPhone application so that you can pinpoint accurately, photograph and report problems too.
If everybody in every town in Britain knew about and used FixMyStreet.com then the country would be a lot tidier and problems dealt with a lot quicker, so if you like the service use it and tell all your friends and family. It really is very good and at least makes our urban environment a better place to be.