Home > Climate Justice, Olympics, Riot 2010 > Fighting Back against Corporate Greenwashing

Fighting Back against Corporate Greenwashing

Olympic Resistance on the Global Day of Action against Climate Change

It was not out of place for us to protest the Olympics yesterday, as one might potentially suggest, on the Global Day of Action against Climate Change. For one thing, the City of Kitchener was holding a pre-torch Olympic celebration yesterday on public property at City Hall. Second, because Olympic sponsor RBC and the country of Canada are using the Olympics as a greenwashing campaign, to cover up their true record on climate change and the environment.

For several years now, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics (VANOC) has been touting the upcoming Games as the “greenest ever.” However, as activists on the West Coast and in the Callaghan Valley have been saying, the claim is a lie.

This week, Gordon Campbell, the premiere of so-called British Columbia, is in Copenhagen, selling the world on the Province’s alleged record of environmentalism. He went armed with a publicly available website and document called Super, Natural British Columbia: Climate Action for the 21st Century [pdf].

Climate Action for the 21st Century even available as a “brochure” [pdf], is a textbook case example of Greenwashing.  According to the Centre for Media and Democracy,

Greenwashing is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy. [link]

According to a press release from the Office of the Premiere last week, Gordon Campbell will be using the Climate Action document to convince the world that “British Columbia has been at the forefront of efforts to work collaboratively on climate initiatives.”

The final section of the document titled 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games: Building Sustainable Communities boasts that “three billion viewers will witness how British Columbia is setting a new Olympic standard with its commitment to host the greenest Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games ever.”

The part about “greenest ever” is, in truth, nothing but a lie. The part about the Province using the Olympic spotlight to inundate “three billion viewers” with their lies is precisely what we are worried about. Canada, like Gordon Campbell, is telling lies in Copenhagen; greenwashing our international image at the same time as being one of the primary obstacles to any kind of meaningful dialogue on climate change and climate justice.

In terms of the Climate Action plan itself, here is some quick and basic analysis:

  • The claims of 33% reduction by 2020 and 80% by 2050 are relative to 2007 levels, and are inherently useless in terms actually preventing the dreaded 2 degree rise in global temperatures.
  • The Western Climate Initiative that BC seems to be so proud of, is a deal signed with Swarzenegger in California, Mcguinty in Ontario, and a several other prototypical North American neo-liberal state and provincial ‘leaders’.
  • The touted “sustainable communities” and “carbon neutral government” programs are only relative to emission outputs from particular localities, rather than accepting and taing action on the fact that the emissions from Canadian’s lifestyles rarely occurs at the sites of our homes and offices, but as a result of our consumerist culture and its attendant globalized production methods—the emissions and pollution occur disproportionately on stolen Indigenous lands and predominately in the ‘Global South’.
  • Similarly, the new “zero net deforestation” plan fails to recognize that corporate owned tree farms are not the same thing as meaningful reforestation, which is itself no substitute for ecosystem protection.

For commentary on VANOC’s “sustainability” plan, check out The Greenest Games Ever lack an Environmental Legacy, from Rabble.ca.

The reality though, is that the 2010 Games represent massive environmental destruction in BC. First, there have been well more than 100 000 trees cut down for construction of Olympic venues. Second, there is the fact that Campbell and BC intend to the Olympics as a “launch pad” for the BC tourism industry—primarily ski resorts, a major source of deforestation, ecosystem disruption and habitat loss—which already faces resistance from Indigenous Nations across the province. Third, the Olympics and the associated circus that accompanies it are a shining example of our inherently destructive consumerist, elitist, colonialist, neo-liberal development paradigm.

In last week’s press release, Campbell also emphasized “partnership” and “collaborative” actions. If we are talking about climate change and the Olympics, an obvious collaboration to speak of is Royal Bank of Canada’s role as a primary sponsor of the Olympic Games. RBC is also a leading financier of the tar sands, one of the most environmentally destructive projects on earth. Check out this flyer [pdf] that highlights RBC’s role in the Olympics and the tar sands. We have been handing this out in front of RBC’s across the region for months now.

Canada’s role in the tar sands has been big news from the climate change front in Copenhagen this past week, and on the protest circuit across North America and Europe recently. George Monbiot’s article, The Greastest Threat to World Peace is… Canada, is a good example of the sentiment that is starting tarnish the country’s international image. This is what greenwashing is for, removing this type of stain from a country or corporations international image.

Coca Cola, the Olympic’s other primary sponsor, was the recipient of the Polaris Institute’s first ever Corporate Greenwashing Award.

After careful consideration, the Coca-Cola Company stood out as the company that has worked the hardest this year to present itself as socially and environmentally responsible – while continuing to harm environments and communities through the production and distribution of its products.  (Verda Cook, Campaigns Coordinator at the Polaris Institute, 2005)

We all know about corporate branding. It is the process or strategy of associating a corporate identity and/or logo with a set of values and lifestyles and/or identities. Governments do the same thing.

Branding is what the Olympics are all about. The Olympics are an opportunity for countries and corporate sponsors to brand their image on the world scale as well as nationally in the domestic market.

This year, the Olympic branding is all greenwashing and whitewashing—trying to erase stains from the national image. The whitewashing has to do with the presentation to the world and the national audiences of a ‘post-apology’ country that has begun to reconcile with First Nations, when in fact, colonialism continues in Canada and the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Olympics are emblematic of that colonialism. The Greenwashing has to with the tar sands and the fact that Canada and corporations like RBC are increasingly being called out as the climate criminals they (and we) really are. What is particularly insidious about the Olympics and the Torch Relay as branding campaigns is the way that they are aimed at children.

Fortunately, to fight back against this greenwashing we do not need to be able to shut down the Olympics or win street battles against the 2010 Police State that is already starting to descend on Vancouver. All we need to do is to engage in “the battle of the story.”

To fight back against greenwashing, we need to challenge the dominant narratives being presented from corporations and government channels. That is to say, we need to disrupt the status quo by asserting our own stories that are systematically excluded from mainstream media representation. Normally, this is very hard, because corporations, government and the media are all incestuously in bed together. However, right now, as Copenhagen is collapsing, people are becoming very open to the idea that politicians cannot be trusted when it comes to climate change and the environment. On the streets during yesterday’s action, people were more receptive than usual to understanding what greenwashing is all about.

There is no prescription for how to fight the ‘battle of the story’, to challenge greenwashing narratives. But there is an inordinate amount of space right now to be creative in how we engage in this battle. What, I think, is important to remember, is the value of seizing the moment. The Olympics, post-Copenhagen is going to be one such moment. The upcoming G20 in Toronto will be another.

At yesterday’s action, I let my guard down a bit too much, and ended up getting fucked over by a local journalist. It happened to me as well last week. Two quick blows in succession and I think I’ve finally learned my lesson and am committing myself to a more basic defence against the assaults of journalists whether they are “friendlies” or otherwise. It feels bad to blow opportunities like that, but it is not the end of the world. It is important to remember that the ‘battle of the story,’ is not actually a single battle, it is a war.

Stop the Olympic Greenwash!
No Tar Sands!
No Olympics on Stolen Native Land!ster

  1. December 13, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I re-read Stephanie Levitz article from last week (the second cited at the end of this post) and decided that I don’t really want to be accusing her of “fucking me over” the way Jeff Outhit blatantly did–fuck that guy. While Im not thrilled about what parts of the interview she chose to emphasize, I want to say that I do not feel the need to specfically badmouth Levitz. For the record.

  1. December 31, 2009 at 3:32 am

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