On Tuesday 8 October, the energy company nPower held an event at UEA at which they boasted about their “energy efficiency measures” and “investment in renewables”. It was a classic case of greenwashing: a PR stunt to make a company appear green in public while polluting in private.
In this case, nPower is guilty as charged. Despite scientific consensus that we need to drastically cut our carbon emissions in order to prevent climate change, nPower gets 86% of its energy from non-renewable sources, something that nPower representatives were forced to admit when quizzed on the topic at the event.
nPower has also argued against government policies designed to curb the effects of climate change. Speaking at the event, its energy manager, Dave Horton, described the Climate Change Act reduction targets as “ambitious” (when many agree that it is, in fact, not ambitious enough). The company’s leadership has blamed energy price rises on green taxes (despite the wholesale price of gas rising, and nPower making £313m profit in 2011). The same nPower representative confessed that he didn’t personally care about the environment, and that he only cared about the business case for efficiency. Climate change, he told us, is not his problem because he didn’t have kids. According to him, it was the problem of our generation.
It would seem that that’s a metaphor for how nPower behaves. It might talk the talk on energy efficiency and build some wind farms, but it remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels and doesn’t seem to want to change that. nPower admitted last Tuesday that we need to move away from coal and gas to meet the terms of the Climate Change Act, yet it gets 34% of its energy from coal and has just built four new gas-fired power stations. As for the other elements of social responsibility, nPower is known for dodging its taxes, having not paid any corporation tax for three years.
Students from UEA’s People and Planet group have been campaigning against greenwashing on campus, and for a broader policy of ethical investment by the university. They believe that with the world hurtling towards catastrophic climate change, our university should not be letting environmentally damaging companies engage in PR exercises on our campus while the planet burns. Reducing carbon emissions, and saving our future, is more important than short-term profits for corporate executives.