Footprint Blog

Green(ish) Britain Day

Last Friday was Green Britain Day. Did anyone notice?

I read a comment by Tim Smit, the Chief Executive of the Eden Project in The Times last week, in which he argues that the next 30 years will determine whether humans are a successful species or not. He argues that this is not about a Luddite regression or a lifestyle choice but should be a fundamental way of life and furthermore the perfect time for big businesses to get involved, set an example of the achievable and drive the message by means of leadership.

In this vein, Smit advocates EDF as the biggest producer of low carbon energy in the UK and its efforts on sustainable matters. Green Britain Day obviously being one of EDF’s endeavours is about ‘small cultural changes that people are happy to make, but that collectively make a big difference’.

Great, I thought, it means street parties and a candle lit Friday night – a real sense of togetherness in our efforts to create a better world! It means we can all do something that can be tangibly measured and the results will be published by EDF for everyone to comprehend what can be done. At last! However, Green Britain Day, has come and gone and we have heard nothing about its impact.

Geoffrey Lean wrote an opinion piece in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph in which he says ‘…it [Green Britain Day] was actually organised by a nationalised French Company [itself an insult to Mr Lean, one would presume] which boasts of being ‘one of the largest participants in the global coal market’. He further says ‘….EDF proudly reports that it imports around 30 million tons of physical coal a year’ and concludes ‘I don’t know whether there is a French word for ‘greenwash’, but the firm might care to look it up’.

Being undecided as to whether to trust in the wise words of Tim Smit, who is a tireless and immensly well informed campaigner, or recognise the apparent sense in Geoffrey Lane’s words, I decided to speak to EDF myself. My questions were simple: Did Green Britain Day have the desired result of participation and if so how was it measured?

The answers were equally simple, and arguably basic: 5000 fans attended the concert at the Eden project headlined by Paul Weller with messages from the Prince of Wales, Dalai Lama and Princes William and Harry. 450,000 people signed up on the website and a great number of events were hosted regionally. A success one might argue, but what did people actually do? What actions were taken to collectively make a measurable difference to ‘non-believers’? Or was it a PR exercise that was to position the EDF brand carefully into popular culture in the realms of green issues.

As to quantifying results, according to EDF’s press officer, the company is hoping to publish some stats on collective actions and the difference they made during the course of the year. Next year EDF is hoping to be able to encourage more tangible actions and be able to measure them more. As EDF told me ‘Its only the first year’.

Make up your own mind, but I suspect the more this is analysed the more of a PR disaster GBD will unfold to be.

Whilst I don’t believe Green Britain Day to be a ‘greenwash’, I can only conclude that it was launched prematurely without a clear aim. I think the endeavour is great, I just think the manner in which it was launched was unconsidered and benefits could have been maximised far more. Instead of horizontally encouraging the entire population and industry to get involved, would it had not made more sense to tailor the campaign on vertical industries such as foodservice, aviation, manufacture, transport and tailor a seperate campaign to the public, much as Amerada Hess did in the late 90’s? As Tim Smit argues in his article, this is about the buy-in from big business to display what differences can be made by means of collective action and it has to be well thought out and inclusive!

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