Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Supermarkets - "Doing the Right Thing"?

Marks & Spencer has recently launched a national advertising campaign pushing its £200m ethical plan and chiding rivals for giving up on "fashionable" eco-policies due to the recession.

The national press and internet campaign, "Doing the Right Thing" trumpets the key tenets of its £200m five-year ethical trading initiative, called Plan A, a five-year 100-point 'eco' plan" which includes becoming carbon-neutral by 2012."It's the only way to do business," insists the company. "There is no Plan B."

The retailer said that it has achieved 39 of the 100 commitments outlined in the plan and that the £200m cost has been more than offset by savings made through policy changes relating to energy efficiency and waste.

So should we be applauding M&S and other supermarket chains as the new friends of the Earth? The environment is certainly a big seller for them and there is no doubt that these large chains can affect the buying habits of a wider public with their glossy campaigns. But can we trust them and their motives?

The slow change in attitude from the supermarkets over the decades must surely be partly thanks to consumer pressure, environmental campaigning and government legislation. However, it is also the rise of corporate social responsibility that leads many supermarkets to make claims that they are setting higher standards for themselves than any government would dare to impose through regulation. Marks and Spencer, for example, has promised to become carbon neutral and to cease sending waste to landfill by 2012, and to stop stocking any fish, wood or paper which has not been sustainably sourced. Tesco promises to attach a carbon label to all its goods. These standards, moreover, are rather higher than those the British government sets for itself. M&S has pledged to use carbon offsets (paying other people to make cuts on its behalf) only as “a last resort”.The government uses them as a first resort.

So these days, are the campaigners and the politicians redundant? Not a bit of it. The corporate social responsibilities adopted by any company are only voluntary - just because they set high standards or make lofty promises it does not necessarily follow that they will deliver on them. It must fall to the government and the public to hold retailers to account.

Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco has said that he aims to cut the distance that Tesco’s products travel, especially by air. He will also switch some of Tesco’s road freight (he did not say how much) to rail. But he said nothing about reducing the journeys made by his customers. Shopping accounts for 20% of car journeys in the UK. By closing their out-of-town stores and replacing them with warehouses and deliveries, the supermarket chains could both reduce the energy costs of their buildings and (according to government figures) cut the traffic caused by shopping by 70%.

And what of the dominance of the superstores? The Competition Commission is investigating the “land bank” accumulated by Tesco - a huge portfolio of sites on which the company appears to be sitting until it can obtain planning permission. Many of them are out of town. If Tesco develops them, it will drag even more cars onto the road. Out-of-town shopping is incompatible with sustainability.

One decision the big supermarkets will not make voluntarily is to relax their grip on local economies. It will always be harder for small businesses to work with the supermarket bullies than with the local baker or butcher; Tesco’s economy will continue to favour the big, distant supplier over the man down the road. And what of the sense of community independent small shops help to foster, which encourages people to make their friends close to home? If so-called 'love miles', those essential (emotionally at least) journeys to far-flung friends and family, are the most intractable cause of climate change, we need to start cultivating as much community spirit as we can.

In any case, shouldn't we be trying to consume less? Less is the one thing the superstores cannot sell us.

The big retailers are competing to convince us that they are greener than their rivals, and this should make us glad. But we still need governments, and we still need campaigners.

See the M&S campaign for yourself at http://plana.marksandspencer.com/

This article is a summary of a collection of articles written by George Monbiot, Fred Pearce and Mark Sweeney.

Monday, June 29, 2009

It's Good To Talk

On Tuesday 23rd June 'Deal With It' members met with Gwyn Prosser MP to lobby him on climate change and environmental issues.

Deal's MP, who has campaigned with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, met members of the group in Trinity Church, where a wide range of questions were raised around the topics of climate change and resource depletion and the corresponding local and global consequences.

Speaking after the meeting Gwyn said:

"We had a friendly and lively exchange on a whole series of subjects which varied from waste recycling and plastic bags to Heathrow expansion and public transport in Deal. We didn't reach full agreement on all the issues but I've promised to take their message back to Government and I readily agreed to meet with them again.

"I think it's fair to say that we agreed that while the Government had made big strides in some areas to address global warming there was lots more to do and we all looked forward to achieving a global deal at the Copenhagen Summit in December."

Friday, June 19, 2009

What A Makey-Do!

Come to Sandwich Guildhall on Saurday 11th July for a day of craft workshops, hands-on activities and handmade goodies for all ages.

The event is supported by BASH - Bringing Alive Sandwich Heritage, a not-for-profit group of volunteers that include teachers, artists and craftspeople, youth workers and individuals with an interest in history, heritage and culture.The BASH committee works alongside community groups and the STARR regeneration group to deliver projects in the town.

Bring the whole family and shop, create, relax and eat cake in the company of other relaxed crafty types.

If you're one of the first through the doors at 10a.m you'll receive a wonderful goodie bag.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry - It's Festival Time

Kent’s best festival, ‘Lounge On The Farm’ returns for it’s fourth outing on the weekend of 10-12th July 2009. Set in the idyllic surroundings of Merton Farm in Canterbury, ‘Lounge On The Farm’s rustic charms will play host to 160 bands spread across 6 stages, from local heroes to renowned heavy hitters.

The festival is about having fun, good tunes, local food, drinks in the sunshine and above all has something for everyone who appreciates a good musical cocktail and a lot of laughs among friends.

LOTF is a local festival aiming to involve as many local businesses, community groups, artists and producers, in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and promote local sustainability. A wonderful selection of local foods will be on sale over the weekend, meaning less food miles. The organisers have also got their eye on green travel. Shuttle buses from both of Canterbury's train stations will be provided and there will be secure parking for bicycles.

It's very much a family festival and it's not just about music - there will be a whole field dedicated to theatre, cinema, green issues and kids' stuff. Transition City Canterbury will be represented, as will Canterbury Greenpeace. So come along and bring your best mate, your favourite auntie, all the kids and granddad and get ready for lounging on the farm!


Rainforest Robbery

The island of Madagascar is a veritable Noah's Ark of biodiversity, and this natural wealth is the country's primary treasure and opportunity for future ecologically sustainable development. The Korean company Daewoo Logistics intends to lease half the agricultural land in Madagascar for 99 years, industrially producing maize and palm oil on 1.3 million hectares that are now biodiversity rich rainforests and gardens. There already exists a severe food crisis nationally and local peoples, who are soon to be dispossessed from their land, are protesting, causing a major government crisis.

If you want to tell Daewoo that the people of Madagascar have spoken,and to shove off and leave Madagascar's rainforests, peoples and land alone click on the following link to find out how.