Can an Australian bank claim it cares about the climate while investing heavily in fossil fuels? Can a major beer brand really be green if it makes just one carbon-neutral beer among 70 that aren't?
A new book from Guy Pearse -- Greenwash : Big Brands and Carbon Scams
-- has examined thousands of climate-friendly claims from the world's big brands and found a litany of hypocrisy, spin and get-out clauses buried in small print. Pearse watched more than 3000 TV advertisements, collected about 4000 print and online advertisements and reviewed more than 700 company reports.
(in which I had a very small role as a fact-checker) takes a look at many of the world’s most recognisable brands, including Coke, Pepsi, Starbucks, GM Motors, Toyota, Nissan, DHL, McDonald’s, Barclays Bank, HSBC bank, Sony, Panasonic, Apple, Virgin Group and KPMG. Australia's National Australia Bank, Fosters and Earth Hour got a mention; when contacted by Crikey
after the book's release, this is how they defended themselves about the claims in the book.
National Australia Bank became carbon neutral in 2010 but Pearse writes its investments in "coal-fired power stations and other emissions-intensive enterprises … will do thousands of times as much harm as the bank’s climate-friendly push does good".
A NAB spokesperson told Crikey
the bank had "continued to advance our environmental agenda with a focus on climate change and resource efficiency". A statement said: "It is important to note that NAB is the largest arranger of project finance to Australian renewables -- a third of our energy funding portfolio is currently in renewables and our investment in gas and wind projects has almost tripled in the last five years."
When deciding on projects to finance, the bank said it would assess "environmental and social consideration", and described systems and frameworks the bank used. The bank also said it is a signatory to the Equator Principles
, had signed the UNEP FI Natural Capital Declaration
and was the only Australian banking institution in a global top 20 from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
In Pearse's beer chapter, he criticises Fosters for the way it uses its "Cascade Pure" carbon-neutral beer as a way to make it look concerned about climate change. Yet Pearse calculates the offsets purchased by for the product "accounted for less than 1%" of the emissions caused by the production of Fosters’ other beer products.