My recent article on green electricity companies strongly recommended Ecotricity and Good Energy. I stand by that absolutely, but in researching the piece there were a couple of things I found that troubled me.
As awareness of climate change increases, many of the most blatant profligate emission industries are coming up with greenwash ‘offset’ projects. I've written before about why carbon offsets are a fraud.
And frankly, there is no way for an airline or an oil company to be sustainable, or indeed do anything other than accelerate climate change. In order to spin out their dwindling legitimacy, corporations in these kinds of industries will do some piece of social good.
Sponsorship of major cultural events is common. Shell sponsor the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, ignoring the impact on wildlife of the carbon emissions from using their products, the impacts of extraction or what happens when it goes wrong and there are spills.
Top marks to the people who bluntly illustrated the link by spraying the exhibition with oil.
But for real biscuit-taking, an ecocidal corporation will do a bit of high profile ecological good. Shell run Shell Springboard, giving cash awards for small businesses with ideas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rio Tinto buy themselves a ‘partnership’ with the British Trust of Conservation Volunteers. Assorted branches of the car industry switch their power source to renewables.
Ecotricity installed and maintain wind turbines at Michelin’s Dundee factory and Ford’s Dagenham plant. This means that diesel Jaguar engines are now made with renewable energy. Ecotricity trumpet this fact without shame or irony.
It’s one thing for Ecotricity to buy the necessary extra energy from non-renewables in order to generate profit for new-build wind farms, with a clear and swift timeframe for weaning off the nukes and fossils. But to lend your good name and eco-credibility in an ongoing way to an industry that is one of the prime causes of climate change – more than a fifth of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from the transport sector – stretches the principle to breaking point. Car plants should be assailed and occupied rather than turbined.
Are Good Energy any better on that front? Their chief executive Juliet Davenport was on last year's panel of judges for the aforementioned Shell Springboard awards. When challenged about it, she said she didn’t think Shell got any real publicity value from it. Yeah right, doing it for fun I suppose.
If you’re a Good Energy customer and a friend of yours signs up with them and mentions you as their recommender, both you and your friend are sent a free bottle of organic wine - from Chile, food miles fans.
All that said, whilst these things are undoubtedly dubious and counter-productive, these are points are nonetheless small diversions from the big issue. Both companies still stand head, shoulders and indeed up to their insteps above the big companies' green electricity tariffs.