The risks associated with green marketing campaigns were underlined today when energy company EDF found itself facing a blistering attack from rival energy firm Ecotricity and environmental group Greenpeace over the credibility of its annual Green Britain Day event.
The organisations accused EDF's high-profile campaign of being guilty of " greenwash" given that the company remains one of the UK's largest producer of nuclear and coal-power energy.
"The truth is EDF is one of Britain's biggest polluters," said Ecotricity founder and managing director, Dale Vince. "It should start a little closer to home if it really wants a Green Britain. There's plenty of scope in the 20 million tonnes of CO2 it pumps into Britain's atmosphere each year, for example. "
He added that EDF currently generates just one per cent of its UK energy from renewable sources and warned that the marketing campaign risked damaging people's perception of what constitutes a green company.
His comments were echoed by Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace's nuclear campaign, who accused EDF of a "shameless" attempt to mislead the British public. "There's absolutely no way it's a green company," he said. "EDF's boss has said we should cut back on our ambition for truly green energy such as wind and wave power. How can we take the sustainable credentials of a company that wants to block clean technology in favour of nuclear seriously?"
Ecotricity and Greenpeace said EDF's nuclear fleet had produced 1,420 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste, while it had also imported 300 million tonnes of coal into the UK last year.
EDF issued a statement late last night rejecting the criticism and insisting that sustainability was at the heart of its business, as highlighted by a series of new environmental commitments that the company made only last week.
"EDF Energy is committed to cut the carbon intensity of its electricity generation by 60 per cent by 2020 from a 2006 benchmark," it said, adding that the firm already produced about half of the UK's low carbon electricity, primarily through its fleet of nuclear reactor.
The company also mounted a robust defence of its nuclear operations. "We are proud of the fact that we are a world leader in producing affordable, secure, low carbon electricity from nuclear power," it said. "We believe that nuclear energy should continue to play a key role in Britain's future, alongside renewables, as part of an affordable, low carbon energy mix."
Speaking to BusinessGreen.com earlier this week, a spokesman for the company said the main focus of the Green Britain Day campaign was to encourage people to take simple actions to help cut their carbon emissions. He added that the campaign had secured backing from a wide range of environmental groups and would this year involve work with more than 1,000 schools designed to promote green best practices.
Tensions between Ecotricity and EDF date back to last year's Green Britain Day, when Ecotricity accused its rival of appropriating the image of a green Union flag for the campaign, despite the fact the image had been used by Ecotricity since 2007.
Complaints were lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority about the EDF campaign, but the watchdog found in EDF's favour, ruling that it was allowed to continue to use the green Union flag in its marketing material.
Ecotricity said it would pursue legal action over the issue and a spokeswoman for the company confirmed that it was in the final stages of a legal case against EDF Energy regarding the use of its green Union Jack flag trademark.
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