Ethical consumers have a lot to keep up with! Labels serve as important short-cuts so we know what we’re buying. We know all about the importance of organic certification marks. We look for the Fairtrade Foundation symbol on our chocolate bars and feel confident about what that means. But beyond the individual item we’re buying – what about the wider implications of supporting that company? The most notoriously exploitative confectionary producers on the planet now have Fair Trade ranges, and while we may like to show support for these efforts, our purchase basically returns profits to a company that’s up to no good.
The same ethical quagmire surrounds so-called green energy; the label “green” isn’t as reliable as we’d like, and an individual product carrying that label can be offered for sale by a company that’s merrily pumping out carbon in other areas of its business.
This is the exact dilemma unpicked earlier this year by the brilliant organisation Ethical Consumer. They have been investigating and recording the social and environmental impacts of businesses for over 30 years, looking beyond the whitewashing/greenwashing and into the ultimate actions and motives of the companies we may choose to support with our cash.
We looked, in an earlier blog, at the issue of REGOs – the problematic certificate-trading system that lets companies label energy as green while failing to meaningfully support renewable production. Ethical Consumer re-states how important this is, pointing out that only 37% of the UK’s electricity comes from renewable sources.
Ethical Consumer explains that it is, “hard to trace a causal line between buying a green tariff, even from a specific company, and any more money going to building renewables,” concluding, “it isn’t really worth thinking in terms of individual tariffs.” The real test of your green energy is the commitment of the company you’re paying. Are they serious about a fossil-free future? Are they investing in fossil fuels now? Have they promised not to build any more fossil-fuel power plant? Specifically, are they:
- Building new sources of green energy?
- Entering Power Purchase Agreements with renewable energy generators?
- Involved in destructive projects around the world, harming planet and people?
- Using energy provided by fossil fuels?
- Making meaningless environmental claims?
Only three UK companies won Ethical Consumer’s “Best Buy” status: Good Energy, Green Energy UK, and our own partners, Ecotricity.