Friday 18 February 2011

To RBS or not to RBS - Should we get involved in Climate Week?

This year's Climate Week takes place from 21-27 March with Tescos, the headline partner,and with support from Aviva, EDF Energy, Kelloggs and RBS.  You can see the two logos side by side (Tescos and Climate Week) on the publicity material with the Tescos's slogan, Every little bit helps standing out.

Tescos have pledged to 'become a zero-carbon business by 2050.'  They plan to reduce emissions from the products they sell and in addition, help customers work on their own carbon footprints. All very worthy and we like to hold Tescos to account - see the recent Hornsey Journal article pointing out the discrepancy between their policy on food waste and their dumping 400 loaves bread during Christmas period.

Tescos are not offering funding but participating organisations can have their events listed or apply for an award. 'Little', indeed.  However organisations that sign up will become part of a media extravaganza which includes celebrities and politicians, and a well-publicised campaign in schools and workplaces.

Tim Schmit, founder of the Eden Project in Cornwall appearing on Saturday Live last week said, 'One mustn't confuse the brand with the people that are inside it' and in 2007, he argued that the organisations 'that might make your tummy turn' were the 'very ones capable of changing the world.' 

On Saturday's programme he seemed less convinced that these behemoth corporations are going to save the world: the imperative of every public limited company is to maximise profits for their shareholders, which scuppers any move to equip themselves for change.  Nevertheless he still believes that these organisations contain people who were once idealists.

And there is a problem with getting the Climate Change message across, as Jolyon Jenkins found out in Radio Four's In Denial - Climate Change on the Couch.(

Too terrifying, too austere, too distant a vision of the future makes people switch off. Nomalising the idea of climate change so that it becomes discussed during ordinary day to day activities may work better.  So the project, Stirling Going Carbon Neutral hopes to reach 35,000 people through rugby clubs and knitting circles; Solitaire Townsend from Futerror 'sells the sizzle' at a swishing event in Brixton.

George Marshall of Climate Change Outreach Network explains how the green agenda of climate change can actually undermine the move towards common understanding.  Its assumption of a leftwing liberal stance narrows the discussion and fuels rightwing arguments of bias. He argues for example that the much loved image of the polar bear is actually counterproductive.  The image is associated with the environment, but a distant environment, nothing to do with us.

So is there an argument for piggy backing on a household name, Tescos or would we be contributing to a cynical campaign that promotes their 'green credentials?'

Would we be creating a communal effort, reaching a wider audience through the media and the workplace, or are we just propping up a consumerist society through our alligning ourselves with a supermarket and a bank?

What to do?


  1. Let's not be seen to support or condone in any way this cynical and ungenerous attempt at greenwash from Tescos and fellow evil empires. Might as well be grateful for the local butcher offering to sponsor world vegan day. These corporations are a large part of the problem, it's a logical impossibility for them to be part of the solution at the same time, just a contemptible PR stunt.

  2. I'd have to agree with Gemma here - it's far too easy for the big companies to simply put their names to things, without sacrificing anything, and only gaining PR for being related to the hard work being put in by local people on the ground.

    Tesco are actively eroding the high street, whenever they see things working, it gets absorbed into their model: their new plan = setting up nail/beauty salons within supermarkets. Even though I don't use/like nail bars, they are a busy feature of the current high street, and are simply seen as a new and growing market that can be covered more efficiently by Tesco.

    I feel that we have to draw a line between new forms of social innovation [new economic models/car-sharing/CSA/microfinance] and established capitalist business models [e.g. RBS and Tesco], and not be afraid to stick to our ethics. The two ways of working seem, to me, to be too conflicting at their core to work together. I suppose I'd rather do something smaller, knowing I've stuck to my integrity, than chase PR and get my name linked with people I'm not happy to endorse.

    I decided not to enter the Climate Week awards, even though I was recommended to by college.

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