The power to do green

I’ve never been very backward about coming forward. I’m quite partial to an opinion. And, on occasion, I’ve even been known to share them. I’m a great advocate for accountability, and believe that no one is above the law. And yet, all that said, I have an innate respect for authority that I’ve been whittling away at over the years. I’ve aged through blindly doing what I’m told to asking why. My primary school teachers would pass me from class to class with a forward introduction of ‘she never stops asking questions’. And even now, there’s little I enjoy more than a spirited debate. And the more people, the better.

I read with interest this week about the 900 Dutch citizens who have filed a class action suit against their government for falling down on the job and ‘co-creating a dangerous change in the world’. The issue at stake? Climate change. They say that their government isn’t doing what it should be doing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It isn’t doing what it should be doing to curb climate change. And in such not doing, it is actually endangering their future.

The 900-strong cohort of activists is asking the court to make the Dutch government commit to specific GHG reductions and not just sit idly by waiting for an international agreement from the Paris climate talks later this year with a tentative promise to adopt the result. The plaintiffs, representing a broad spectrum of Dutch society, want their government to step up and take action. The time for vague promises in the distant future is over.

At the helm is the Urgenda Foundation, which has concluded that by such inaction, “the Netherlands is therefore knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations, in which they and their children will suffer serious hardship. The Dutch Supreme Court has consistently upheld the principle that the government can be held legally accountable for not taking sufficient action to prevent foreseeable harm. Urgenda argues that this is also the case with climate change.” I sincerely hope they pull it off.

new logo GreenAdvisorCloser to home, in Hungary, GREENWILL – an EuCham non-profit global initiative which helps organisations who want to green their day-to-day operations – is about to launch its Kickstarter campaign to develop its smartphone app GreenAdvisor. This little gem will allow consumers (you and me) to rate any business according to how green it is. Corporate attitudes and practices are set to come under the spotlight as we hold the big guys (and the no-so big guys) accountable for their environmental actions or inaction. And with the viral power of social media behind such ratings, this has the potential to generate a sea-change in how public opinion can affect behaviour.

Gone are the days of indiscriminate buying. We’re becoming a lot more conscious when we consume. We can make ourselves heard by voting with our wallets. And now, we will be able to raise our voices a little louder by voting publicly and broadcasting our ratings.

GA AppWith GreenAdvisor, we can find businesses and organisations that already act in an environmentally responsible way and we can give them our business, showing support for their efforts in cash money. We can also check out those businesses and organisations that have already been rated (good or bad) and use this to better inform our purchasing decisions. By rating them ourselves, we can do our bit to pressure and incentivise businesses to act greener, and if they don’t, we can ask why. Wonder what my primary school teachers would say to that?

The campaign will launch on Monday, 13th July at Akvárium Klub Official. Come to  Erzsébet tér, 1051 Budapest, Hungary  from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM to party, talk, and pledge.

First published in the Budapest Times 10 July 2015

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6 Responses

  1. Yes, that all sounds nice and green and helpful to the consumer.

    At first look.

    But to be a conscious and informed consumer one must do more. One must do some due diligence and scratch below the surface. Begin by “following the membership trail”.

    Greenwill is spearheaded by EuCham, which is the European Chamber for commerce. And EuCham’s number one objective, from their own web site is:

    – Enhancing the visibility and reputation of companies and of the private sector in general.

    That is, this organization is really working for businesses, not necessarily for you the consumer.

    Now, wait a minute, you may say, EuCham on their web site says “EuCham applies GREENWILL concept that includes the Green Policy and Green Guidelines.” Sure, but the pledge is voluntary, and I am not aware of a stated mechanism for independent and professional evaluation of compliance. Also reading this “concept” on finds many non-committal words like “Strive”, “Avoid”, “Promote” and sentences like:

    – “Reduce waste through reuse and recycling and by purchasing recycled, recyclable or refurbished products and materials where these alternatives are available, economical and suitable.”

    So, if reuse or recycling is not “economical”, a company need not recycle and still keep this green “pledge”. Yet, by not recycling is a company really “green” just because it “would like to” but doesn’t? I for one would say it isn’t. Being green, IMHO, takes more effort than that.

    Now lets look at the app.

    Crowd driven review apps work on reviewing what the consumer directly experiences. That is, if 300 people say a waiter was slow, you can expect on your visit to that restaurant that the waiter will be slow. But having a slow waiting staff can not be used to make judgments about unseen factors, such as the hygienic quality of the kitchen. For example, the Greenwill site about this app uses the air conditioning reviewed by someone to rank as lowest a hypothetical business. Now, all a business has to do is change the thermostat setting in the public areas to get a better rating (i.e. as if to say “look public we listened and improved our green profile”)? Yet did the business really do anything concrete? After all, the air-conditioned temperature in the CEO’s office may still be the temperature of an arctic night in December. At the least, by using some simplistic areas of review (which are really IMHO a low bar for businesses in general), with questionable attempts of extrapolation to the entire enterprise to rate its “greenness”, I find this app does little to really provide the consumer with proof that the company is really green, and at worst it might promote the propagation of greenwashing by businesses.

    This is why green “pledges” and consumer reviews of these pledges are of dubious value to other consumers.

    What the consumer really needs is some proof.

    A much more rigorous commitment to environmental standards is set down by the EU Commission’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the ISO 14000 standard. If an organization signs onto this program they are actually expected to show proof and are audited for their efforts by professionals. A much more rigorous, and I would say believable, initiative than The GREENWILL concept. If you want to be a green consumer, look for the EMAS label for the product or business.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eco-Management_and_Audit_Scheme

    1. And for those who have neither the time nor the inclination to scratch deeper, initiatives like Greenwill can at least get the ball rolling when it comes to raising awareness. And perhaps if people feel like they can make a difference, they might choose to do it more often. Small steps.

      1. Conditioning people to just “feel” they are making a difference by their actions, so they repeat those same actions, is exactly how greenwashers hope people will respond:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing

        Which may actually result in small steps backwards, such as people eventually becoming skeptical and distrusting legitimate green programs (see the above link for examples and discussions).

        Didactically, if an organization wants to raise awareness on an issue, that organization should do so by promoting programs that have real proven enforcement, effect and value. All else is just self promotion and advertising.

  2. Just one item which I think needs to be clarified regarding EuCham- their three main directives are business integrity, sustainability, and entrepreneurism. Perhaps this needs to be better reflected on their site to be sure, but this is really what they are about when it comes to business.

    1. EuCham’s program is voluntary. Business chambers often come up with voluntary “frameworks” for its members to try to stave off the creation of more concrete legally enforceable regulations.

      Lets just remember, for example, that a BP “… company executive said the existing voluntary standards were sufficient” when BP and other companies lobbied successfully against stronger regulations that may have prevented the Deepwater Horizon accident:

      http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/04/27/27greenwire-bp-other-oil-companies-opposed-effort-to-stiff-38887.html

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