Sunday, 26 February 2012

Greenwash or Citizen Participation?

I blogged a couple of days ago about E.ON Innovation, a project that I really think can bring together people's ideas to stimulate developments in energy saving technology and lead to useful innovations that can cut our carbon footprints.

That post is a sponsored post. I will be paid by E-buzzing, an organisation that brings together projects with bloggers that are interested in them. I have blogged for E-buzzing before (you can read the posts here, here and here).

Now, I'm aware that E.ON are not an environmentally friendly company (and was before Harry Giles left his comment on the post I'm discussing here). However, I felt that the post was justified by the nature of the project and the potential benefits it brings - both in terms of engaging individuals in discussions around energy use and in the potential technological advances it could stimulate. Maybe I was wrong on that? Perhaps I should have inserted a critical comment on E.ON into the original blogpost?

I do think though that it should be possible to on the one hand protest against a company that does bad things (in this case funding coal powered electricity generation) and applauding (or at least acknowledging) the good things that they do.

I've worked as a charity fundraiser and I know how difficult it can be to find ethical sources of funding for good work - many charitable trusts (those benign sounding funds for good work across the world) are funded by money that ultimately comes from unethical sources (eg arms manufacture, tobacco) and it is likely that in some areas much publicly funded work is ultimately paid for by investments the public body has made in not entirely ethical funds.

How many big companies are truly ethical (I can count on the fingers of one hand the companies I would consider truly ethical)? How many small local companies for that matter? I think it would be impossible to get through life without interacting with less than ethical companies. We constantly need to make judgements about what we consider to be ethical and to make compromises.

So, I blogged about a great project funded by a less than great company. Should instead we pretend the project isn't happening and thus prevent people from getting involved in the discussion or in sharing their ideas for a better future? Or do we allow that companies can genuinely be prepared to change and to move towards a more sustainable model of operation? Personally I don't want to necessarily think that any particular company will always be bad, but perhaps I'm naive on that.

I'd be interested in your comments (though keep them polite please, and note I've turned off word verification (aware that many people hate the new version!) and replaced it with comment moderation (which will also combat the increasing amount of spam I've been recently getting on all my blogs) which may mean that comments now take longer to show.)

Note added to say - I just found that Greener Leith also blogged about E-ON Innovation!

11 comments:

Pomona said...

I think that it is a really difficult issue, and one that I have thought about a lot. It is impossible to opt out of the system totally nowadays and vow never to deal with global corporations - modern life just does not allow that, and to be honest, until the corporations become interested in ethical and environmental issues, these things just don't become mainstream. I don't think that there is a right or wrong answer - we all just have to do what we feel best at the time. And while some areas of our life can be ethically sound, in other things circumstance or economics force us to do otherwise. For example, I can choose not to fly for environmental reasons, and it is not difficult for me to stick to that, but driving is another thing. I live in the country, a couple of miles from a not fantastic bus service, and even further from the nearest rail station - I just have to take the car to work, even though I know that it is an environmentally damaging thing to do. But I hope that is compensated a little by some of the other choices I make. And if companies don't get encouraged in the good things they do, then they will just abandon them and become all bad, instead of partly good, which has to be better than nothing.

Sorry for such an essay! An indication that there are no simple answers . . .

Pomona x

Howard of Belvedere Mountain Express said...

I’m glad to see you questioning the E.on posting, and mentioning the concept of greenwash here. Although you very clearly stated that the other post was ‘sponsored’, which is admirable, it did occur to me that E.on are trying to co-opt genuine bloggers into doing their greenwash for them. I didn’t post any comment to that effect, because nowadays I err on the side of caution when posting anything at all negative in response to blogs or Facebook postings, so I’m glad Harry Giles posted a robust comment instead!

I think the key is to be cautious, suspicious even, of companies trying to inveigle themselves into the blogosphere – maybe not dismiss them out of hand, but just be very careful what you post and what kind of publicity you give to the companies in question. I’m sure you do, and will continue to assess each such instance with open eyes.

It’s a sign of success that your blog has become sufficiently well known for it to be targeted in this way, so congratulations for that, but you’ll need to maintain a critical approach in order for the blog to remain credible among its original audience.

PS: As I write this on my laptop in the bay window of our new abode in Bruntsfield, a grey heron just flew by, no doubt on its way from Blackford Pond to somewhere more exciting …

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

I will read and re-read this post of yours, it shouln't be I think its main purpose but what it has first brought to my mind is a sort of philosophical matter: how good and bad are tremendously often entangled and how this unavoidable feeling can also bring those, maybe like me!!!, who are not very strong to never assume a strong position about fundamental matters...

Caroline Gill said...

Personally, I have benefited so much over the years from your blog, Juliet. It is the most 'challenging' blog I follow on a regular basis. I feel it is great that you bring these issues before us (the good, bad, ugly ... and those that could still improve), with commentary, so that we become more informed and therefore equipped to draw our own conclusions and develop more positive ethical stances (assuming we choose to do so) as a result.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi POmona - your point about driving is very valid, for me it's not something i need to think about as we live in a city with very good (well so far) public transport.

Howard -thanks for your response. Part of the agreement with E-buzzing is that every sponsored post is declared as such. I rarely write for them and when I do it's because I'm enthusiastic about what they ask me to write about. I am cautious about what I post about, and as I explain in this post, I felt the value of the project made it worth blogging about. I think there is a real value in getting people involved in the discussions and tapping into people's ideas so that new technology can help us solve our problems. To be honest, money for that kind of thing has to come from somewhere and as I said in this post, I can count the genuinely ethical big companies I'm aware of on the fingers of one hand!

Tomasso - I thin that's very true. Nothing is clearly one thing or the other, and I was wary about dismissing something that is potentially good too quickly because of concerns over where the money came from.

Thanks, Caroline!

heavy hedonist said...

If we don't give anyone a chance to change, they won't. And change is a process, not an instant.

You're on target as far as I'm concerned.

Crafty Green Poet said...

heavy dedonist - thanks, that's my attitude too,

oh and pomona - just noticed your point about companies being encouraged in the good things they do - yes exactly....

Rabbits' Guy said...

Obviously the corporate world has seen the advantage of Green words and programs. Action of a serious and beneficial nature will probably take longer to show up - but it certainly will as long as the citizenry demands and/or expects/rewards it.

So take what we can get and keep up the pressure for more. We have come a long, long, long way over the past 40 years since the first Earth DAy ....

Christina said...

I put gas in my car so everyday I support big unethical companies. Oklahoma does not have a public transit system that is useful. You try and make up for the bad by doing good, being an advocate and speaking out. It is as simple as that for me. We cant change the whole world overnight....just do your part and you do Juliet.

Harry Giles said...

Thanks for providing some context for the original post; I think that's an important and useful thing to do.

I'm not going to be a purist about where people's money comes from. I just think it's important to recognise that corporates are not donating their money to projects like this: they're buying something that that money, and what they're buying is the "social license to operate". The danger is that by advertising the greenwash and not pointing to the destruction, we encourage people to think "Well, they can't be that bad ... I guess I won't protest about them again after all ...", that is to ay, we might grant E-On that social license, which is what they want.

The best way to combat this, I think, is not not to take the money (which might leave one feeling ethically clean, but might not be so effective -- and besides, who's ethically clean anyway?) but to do pretty much what you've done: advert the project you like, and then provide the critical context. I've previously taken money from corporates and then found ways of criticising those corporates constructively -- essentially denying them the social license they want.

Of course, you may find disseent suppressed in contracts if you're not careful. I've been hearing news that the BP sponsorship of the Cultural Olympiad, for example, is including clauses in contracts that prevent funded artists from criticising BP. That kind of thing is why full disclosure is so important, and why I'm glad you've now gone down that route.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Thanks Harry, I'm in complete agreement with what you say, and thanks for putting it so well!