York is drowning in a sea of greenwash

23 Oct 2012 @ 10.06 am
| Opinion

Blue skies, orange plane… greenwash? Photographs:

In his third Green Piece, Geoff Beacon exposes the greenwash which is splashed liberally around York and beyond

This about greenwash – the pretence to appear green while not really caring much.

My colleagues nervously allowed me to put a hypocrisy map of London on the Beacon Dodsworth website. (I did go through our customers in my mind to check whether any would be offended).

I created this map using the TGI survey from Kantar Ltd with our P² People and Places demographic classification. I was looking for people that expressed green attitudes while living non-green lives.

The result you can see. The most hypocritical area shows as the red blob from the politicos of Westminster to the champagne socialists of Hampstead.

Geoff's hypocrisy map of London

I had multiplied an index of green attitudes by the number of holiday flights taken. So your greens doing their recycling (possibly saving a few kilograms of carbon dioxide) and then flying to a remote island in Indonesia (return flight – about five tonnes of carbon dioxide) had a high hypocrisy index.

That’s greenwash.

You don’t have to go to London to find greenwash. Remember the Tesco vertical windmills, at Dringhouses, rated at 6 kW (kilowatts)? In the middle of one night (that’s the sort of life I lead) I went into the store and counted the lights still blazing in their closed cafeteria.

After squinting at the undersides of the lights to find the energy rating I discovered that they were using about 10 kW in all – and that was just the café lighting.

This from a BBC report about a similar Tesco’s turbine:

The company said the six kilowatt turbine would save 13.6 tonnes of CO2 a year and was specifically created for built-up areas.

Using figures from the Green Ration Book I calculate that Tesco could have saved more than 15 tonnes CO2 per year by switching the cafeteria lights off at night.

I have been bothering York council for years on the carbon dioxide created by building construction. This is called “embodied carbon”. A report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says the embodied carbon used to create a building may be as high as 62% of its total whole life emissions, as researched by Thomas Lane.

It goes on

However this is still left unaccounted for in the building control approval process, and in other forms of measurement (including BREEAM, the British Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Methodology) although operational, ie in-use, emissions are measured and regulated.

City of York Council continue to use BREEAM and tell me

The BRE’s BREEAM (British Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Methodology) does try to take account of embodied energy, but only as part of a wider set of criteria that is used to assessed the environmental performance of a building.

The RICS report also says that

the placing of bat and bird boxes on a building may gain more points under some assessment procedures than retaining the structural frame of a building, which may embody many tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon.

If York Council really wanted to cut carbon footprints they would scrap BREEAM and use a better method. They would also change

Help protect the environment! Please don’t print this email unless you really need to


Help protect the environment! Don’t eat beefburgers

Using the resources of the Green Ration Book and the ICE database from the University of Bath I calculate that printing a three-page email has a carbon footprint of 22.5 grammes including ink.

A cheeseburger has a carbon footprint of 4850 gm CO2, more than 200 times more than the email.

12 thoughts on “York is drowning in a sea of greenwash

  1. Dear Geoff and all,
    While I totally agree with your goals and sentiments I disagree with your individualistic approach. The only effective way to reduce fossil-fuel combustion, or greenhouse gases, or the overdrawing of an aquifer, is by CAPS. The approach must be political. There is no point in appealing to and working for ‘green’ behaviour by individuals and firms if there is no politically-decided CAP on what can be burned or used up. Reason: Someone else, somewhere on the earth, will burn or use up what the ‘green’ person or firm no longer burns or uses up. This is called ‘leakage’ or ‘rebound’ or ‘Jevons’ Paradox’.
    Think globally, act globally. Or at least nationally. But not locally: it is simply not effective, however well-intentioned. Thank you.

    1. Dear Blake

      I agree that there must be an approach which is political. Sadly, most advanced economies depend on the votes of a public that has been misled. Given the state of misinformation, I hesitate to call these democracies. Many are Murdochracies

      Since the public is so badly informed, the politcal pressure to bring about solutions is hard to find. Public education on climate issues is necessary. That’s why I wrote this piece.

      Actually I think James Hansen is right, Cap & Trade Won’t Work

      But I think there are other possibilities to his “carbon fee and green cheque”. See :
      Open Letter to James Hansen

  2. A piece on a website of the Energy Savings Trust in Wales (“Tesco hopes to build car park wind turbine”) promotes the Tesco wind turbines like the ones mentioned above. (http://live-est.vwtcloud.com/wales/About-us/Industry-news/Tesco-hopes-to-build-car-park-wind-turbine). Casts a light on the EST?

    A supermarket in Gloucestershire has taken the step of applying for permission to build a huge wind turbine in its car park.

    If approved by planning officials, the Tesco in Thornbury will erect a 10.6 metre-high 6kW turbine to power the store and nearby homes.

    It is one of a number of applications made across the country by the supermarket giant which says it is hoping to reduce its carbon footprint.

    Stores in Bournemouth, Loughborough, Aberdeen and Swindon have applied for planning permission to build a wind turbine in the last few weeks.

    Adam Fisher, spokesman for Tesco, told the Gloucester Citizen that the turbines are “designed specifically for built-up areas”.

    As well as being completely silent they also work well regardless of the low wind speed, he said.

    “This investment forms part of our community plan to cut energy use and is about finding more practical ways to use renewable energy,” Mr Fisher added.

    According to the observations I made when I first saw this story, the lights kept on in the cafe in Tesco at Dringhouses (closed for the night) used about 10Kw. A 6Kw turbine could not keep even those lights on.

    Anyway where are those wind turbines now?

  3. There’s a distinction to be made between hypocrisy (preaching values you do not adhere to) and simple failure to live up to your own ideals. We’re all guilty of that last one, not just when it comes to low-impact living. It’s this sort of low-level guilt that I think greenwash very effectively targets.

    Take the Allerton “Waste Recovery Park” – a beautiful greenwashed name for a massive incinerator. By “waste recovery” they mean burning 85% of the waste that comes anywhere near it. But promising to take the stuff we throw away and “recover” it makes us feel a bit better about throwing stuff away in the first place.

    The point is not to feel better about doing badly, but to do it better. Tesco could turn off the lights – we could move to a zero-waste economy. It’ll happen, eventually.

  4. I have received emailed responses from James Alexander, the York Council Leader, and David Levine, York COuncil’s Cabinet Member for Environmental Services.

    Cllr Levine: I feel the need to point out that both the Cabinet Member for Environmental Services and the Leader are vegetarians 😉

    Cllr Alexander: I’m pescatarian…

    Cllr Levine: Still, no cheeseburgers!

  5. Interesting. I guess that I am guilty as I have flown twice this year on holiday and commute to Wetherby most days. Mind you my house is almost 200 years old so apart from being expensive to heat that gives me a bonus.


  6. a thought provoking insight into the ephemeral nature of big business and the obfuscation of language dressed in policy used to say one thing whilst making token gestures of compliance.

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