National Greenwash Day: Perfect as the Enemy of Good?

EDF and Ecotricity green Union-Jack image

Image credit: ZeroCarbonista
Wind Company CEO Proposes "National Greenwash Day"
Just last week a row erupted when French electricity giant EDF launched a green Union Jack as a symbol of its sponsorship of Team Green Britain Day in preparation for the London Olympics. UK wind energy developer Ecotricity protested, pointing out that 1) they had already been using a green Union Jack for years, 2) EDF are not British, and 3) EDF is a major player in the coal market. Now the spat has prompted Ecotricity to call for a National Greenwash Day. But would it help?
Of course Ecotricity CEO Dale Vince is no stranger to controversy - he is also in very public conflict with wind-energy rivals Good Energy - but it would be fair to say he has a point in this case. After all, EDF could hardly have been unaware of Ecotricity's use of the green Union Jack symbol, and the Team Green Britain day does seem more like a PR effort than a plan to promote real sustainability. It's time, says Dale, to create a government agency to regulate false green claims:

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.

While I find it hard to disagree with Vince on this particular case - I must admit to being a little concerned about overuse of the term Greenwash. While it could accurately be used to describe many corporate sustainability efforts, and we have to call out BS when we see it, I can't help feeling it is also being used by some to indiscriminately dismiss anything and everything that is not exactly in line with the goals of those throwing the term about. (There must be plenty of people who have dismissed Ecotricity's work providing wind energy for major industrial applications as Greenwash.)

Whether it's luxury LEED apartments or Coke's recycling efforts, I've recently had loads of comments from readers who seem to argue that because a project is not perfect, it has no value at all - or worse, it is of negative value.

The EDF case aside (where there are real concerns about misappropriating a symbol already in use), we need to laud companies and institutions for efforts they do make, even as we chide them for lack of efforts on other fronts. If we attack every green move by companies we've been criticizing for not making green moves, you can hardly blame executives for asking what's the point? Sometimes it is OK for activists to greet a corporate recycling campaign or an offset program not with the usual cry of "Ugh! Greenwash.", but rather "Great! But what next?"

Unless someone can point me to a (preferably non-violent) way to eliminate polluters and build a non-exploitative culture within the time frame we need, then I think we have to accept that some compromise is necessary. As with most things, there is a fine balance to be walked as we try and navigate a path away from climate destruction. Because we need everybody on board, the more we can find common ground, the more likely we are to find success. So by all means lets call Greenwash when we see it, but let's be careful that it doesn't become like crying wolf.

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