Green on Green
In military parlance, a “blue on blue” is when units on the same side mistake each other for the enemy and open fire. The same thing happens with irritatingly high frequency in the environmental sector, the most recent case being the attacks on the proposals for a green motorway service station in the Cotswolds. The credentials of the facility are impressive – green buildings, alternative fuels and local foods, the problem seems to be the ‘motorway’ bit – a green motorway service station is seen as an oxymoron.
Poppycock. That’s the only phrase I can use without breaching my own no swearing rule here on the virtual Terra Infirma Towers (the air in the real Towers is often blue). Nowhere in any scenario of a sustainable future will people not travel or eat, meaning they will want to refuel themselves and their vehicles (public or private) while they are travelling. So its not an oxymoron to provide those services on a low carbon basis, on the contrary, it is essential.
But this is just one example of ‘commentators’ who paint themselves so fundamentally green that no progress will ever be good enough (as it would mean they would have nothing to moan about). Criticising others is the easiest thing in the word and, while often necessary, has minimal virtue compared to actually doing something positive. As Ross Perot once said ‘the activist doesn’t say “the river is dirty”, the activist cleans up the river.’
So should businesses like the developer of this motorway services just give up if nothing they do is good enough? In a word, no. In The Three Secrets of Green Business, I identified a number of “green hyenas” who look for weaknesses in green efforts to feed on – one of which was the fundamentalist green who will never approve of anything done by business. While hyenas are generally unpleasant animals (I’ve seen one take a wildebeest down by the, ahem, family jewels), they perform a very important role in the eco-system by weeding out the weak and clearing up waste. Same in business and sustainability – we do need the self-righteous critics to sniff out the greenwash even if they sometimes/frequently miss the target. Use them to spur you to greater efforts, greater transparency and greater honesty. The best way to beat them is to be impeccable.