Lists for lists sake, Sweden accepts nuclear inevitability and the now regular update on Shell

Shell – again

Regular readers of this column may be of the opinion, after recent editions, that Greenwasher has it in for Shell. The last two columns have covered the oil firm’s bumbling efforts around environmental communications in, it must be said, a rather mocking tone.

Let’s be clear. Shell has some excellent things going for it ethically. The firm’s anti-corruption implementation is pretty damn good. It has put more money into renewables than most other super-major oil firms (though the percentage of the company’s R&D or investment budget spent on green energy is still poor, and it lags BP in strategy). And its energy scenarios research is fascinating, while slightly cynically self-serving as one might expect.

But Shell does seem to put its foot in its mouth over climate change communications on a regular basis, particularly with ad campaigns and its communications to journalists, as Greenwasher has reported.

Now, as recently highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, Shell seems to have realised that its ads should be better aligned with, er, accuracy. Shell’s vice-president for communications, Bjorn Edlund, told the newspaper: “Until about 2006, everybody in the industry talked about what people wanted to hear, rather than what we were actually doing.”

Now Shell wants its communications to “get people onto the Shell website … and get into a dialogue”, Edlund says. Many members of the public have joined web chats on the site about climate change and carbon capture and storage, he adds.

If this is true, it’s interesting. Shell’s previous attempt at this last point,, was shut down after becoming a critics’ forum. Why would it be different now?

Top 100 companies: apples and pears

The latest list of the 100 most sustainable companies in the world has just been published by Corporate Knights, the Canadian magazine. The research is undertaken by Innovest, the ethical business research firm.

It is hard to argue that the firms in the list do not deserve to be there. Greenwasher recognises many of them as doing some good work on sustainable development. But the selection of firms is only from the MSCI World index.

While it’s fair enough to claim these firms are ethically minded, calling them the top 100 is somewhat disingenuous. What about all those smaller, or non-MSCI-listed firms? The name of the list says that if you are not in there, you are not a top 100 firm.

And the list also supposes that some kind of comparison is possible between the firms. This is despite website statements to the contrary. Greenwasher suggests that given the totally different nature of firms even in the same sector (say Shell and BP) the only thing a big company can be compared with is itself.

Year-on-year audited performance improvements would make much more interesting reading. Imagine if you had a list of the companies that had improved against their own non-financial performance indicators, and those that had not, year on year.

Sweden gets real about green dreams

Those eco-friendly Swedes, hailed by some academics as kicking off consumer environmental interest in Europe in the 1960s, have long been against nuclear power. Back in 1980 they voted to get rid of nuclear power in the country by 2010. No more.

Realpolitik, it seems, has raised its ugly level head. The Swedish government is worried that it just can’t get non-nuclear renewable power sources off the ground, so has back-tracked on plans to phase out nuclear.

Sweden wants to become carbon-neutral by 2050, phase out fossil fuels by 2020 and source 50% of its energy from renewables by 2030. Bold stuff. And, it seems, this cannot happen without nuclear power. After all, for all its anti-nuclear talk, Sweden’s current power supply is still more than 45% fission-fuelled.

Clean tech crash?

Is there a crash in clean technology investment? According to a new report from Ernst & Young, clean tech was the 2008 exception in the downturn, at least in venture capital. VC firms put $4.7bn into the sector in 2008, some 68% more than in 2007. Back in 2002 the figure was just $234m.

But this year’s low oil prices, tight credit and the sector’s reliance on debt and equity financing are likely to mean a tough year for the sector, at best. Clipper Windpower, a top turbine maker, has just announced an 11% workforce reduction in a recent trading statement, a cut of 90 jobs. All down to ultra-tight credit markets, or so the firm says.

As with many other sustainability related sectors, the hope is that US president Barack Obama’s green jobs plan will provide a much-needed boost to the industry in 2009. We will see.

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