Greening Down

I hope you will indulge me for a few sentences while I revel in a small achievement.

Today the Post published a letter from Richard Bowker, chief executive of National Express Group. He was responding to one of my articles.

It appears we don’t publish letters online (should we?) and I haven’t got a scanner, so I’ve reproduced the letter word-for-word here.

As the head of a company that is planning to move its headquarters to Birmingham, I am glad he is taking an interest in the local press! But the congratulations for invoking such a response must go to Chris Crean from Friends of the Earth, West Midlands.

But, along with the back slapping, there is an important point to make.

Now, some may say it was cruel of me to kick a company that is essentially trying to do a good thing and reduce it’s Co2 emissions. Don’t get me wrong, as the first three paragraphs of the story suggest, this is generally a good thing.

But I think it is worth noting that Mr Bowker, so honest in his letter to the Post, is in the original aritcle quoted as saying that the Midland Metro is now “emission free”.

Now, I’m sorry, but this simply isn’t correct! How can you describe incineration and the burning of landfill gas and sewage sludge emission free?!

Now, in my mind, these are perfectly legitimate ways to obtain energy. Better to siphon off waste and harmful gases and turn it into something useful than just let it float off into the atmosphere or languish in landfill. (Whether there should be such a large amount of waste to dispose of in the first place is another matter.) You could argue that it is, indeed, environmentally friendly. But, I’m sorry, you can not call it emission free.

The point is, wittingly or unwittingly, Mr Bowker engaged in “greening down”. It’s something I see far too much of in the press releases sent into the paper.

I don’t know exactly how it comes about, but it seems to me that some companies/organisations feel this sustainablity lark is a bit too complicated for ordinary Joe Public. So, perhaps because it will also make them look good, they generalise – glossing over the thornier issues and tossing in a few positive phrases such as “carbon neutral”, “emission free” and (argh!) “green”.

Is it any wonder so many people are confused about climate change issues?

The worst part is that, somewhere along the line, this was also misrepresented to some of National Express’ staff. When I called the National Express press office they were under the impression that 100% of the company’s energy would now come from wind and hydroelectric power. That is to say, it would be emission free.

This claim rang alarm bells, so I did some research and, low and behold, it was not the case.

The day the article went out, I got a cross message from National Express’s press office on my answerphone. A press officer said my article was completely inaccurate and that there would have to be a correction placed in the paper.

With a sinking feeling (because you can only try and get all the info, but you never know what you might have missed) I rang E.ON – who I had contacted to get information on the tariff for the story – to try and establish where I might have gone wrong.

They said they’d get back to me. The next thing that happens is this letter appears in the paper.

Now I understand that with the heightened awareness of climate change there is a pressure on business to be seen to be doing something positive. But, this needs to be achieved by being open and transparent, not by fudging or misleading people. This is particularly important if your company sets great store by its environmental credentials, as National Express claims it does.

That’s why I’m particularly glad to see that letter – a small victory for honesty and clarity.

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