The race to build eco-cities, BAE Systems and the laws of unfortunate coincidence, and good news for corporations with something to hide

Dongtan still dead in the water

As regular readers of Greenwasher’s scurrilous meanderings will recall, the non-existent Dongtan pseudo-eco-city project near Shanghai has not had the easiest ride on our pages. A cursory search on will tell the uninitiated a bit more.

Now, a UK research firm, Verdantix, has compared the project’s progress with Masdar, an eco-city initiative in Abu Dhabi. Their report makes interesting reading. While the Masdar development began later than Dongtan, it actually appears to be going somewhere, unlike its Chinese counterpart being planned by Arup, the global engineering firm.

The Verdantix report points out that despite huge media hype around Dongtan, “to date there has been no construction activity” since plans were launched over three years ago. Meanwhile, at Masdar, ground has been broken and, according to the report, “the photovoltaic testing facility, intended to power the construction of the city itself, has been connected to the national grid since December 2007”. Verdantix concludes: “Masdar is now best placed to be the ‘first’ eco-city with Dongtan still on the drawing board.”

BAE Systems: unfortunate timing

On 10 April, the very day BAE Systems released its corporate responsibility report 2007, the UK’s High Court ruled that the Serious Fraud Office acted unlawfully by dropping a corruption inquiry into a £43 billion Saudi arms deal dating back to the 1980s involving the defence firm. Something of a PR disaster, particularly when Greenwasher flicks to the company’s corporate social responsibility website and finds listed under the company’s “key issues”, the following:

· workplace
· education
· community
· environment
· supply chain

Greenwasher could suggest a sixth, but what might it be? Readers are invited to submit their suggestions to

Business case for CSR in a recession? Not a bit of it

Conducting “research” from which pliant journalists ideally construct stories to suit the client is all the rage in PR these days. And so it is that GCI, a PR firm, and Infiniti, a research company, recently sent out a note to media about ethics and the coming economic slowdown/recession.

One might have thought that bang for the buck would be top of the agenda for sustainability-minded firms in these now-tougher times. But no, according to new “research” and oddly written press release from GCI: “Ninety-five per cent of companies in the US and UK … will increase their focus on and funding of corporate sustainable development in 2008.”

But, “despite the high level of commitment, only 34 per cent of organisations see the business value of implementing sustainable development initiatives”. This slightly bizarre finding goes against what companies say regularly, ie that the business case is a strong one. So who is telling porkies? Greenwasher suggests it’s probably both.

Only in America

According to yet another survey of consumers and sustainability things, this time by PR firm Cone in the US, “almost half (48 per cent) of the population erroneously believes a product marketed as ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ has a positive (ie beneficial) impact on the environment”. Such cynicism from a PR firm is usually unheard of. Surely green products, often pushed by PR firms for clients, are all good for the planet?

Corporate crime moves

According to campaigners, if the current Attorney-Client Privilege Protection Act is passed as it is in the US Congress, it will undo much that has been done to encourage big US firms to be more honest.

Since Enron et al, the US government’s various agencies, particularly the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice, have been going after big firms on corruption-related issues. Witness the unfair witch-hunt of Chiquita as an example.

Now, says the Center for Corporate Policy, an activist group in Washington DC, if the Attorney-Client Privilege Protection Act goes through, it will be a sword in the side of business accountability “because it would allow corporate attorneys to withhold potentially incriminating evidence under the doctrine of attorney-client privilege”. This could then make investigation of individuals harder. A law to watch, perhaps.

Tricky decisions

A senior editor at a major newspaper rang Greenwasher recently. His dilemma? Should his paper take sponsorship of a supplement on biofuels from one of the largest companies in the sector, which happens to be based in Asia? One major NGO is apparently onside, but there are still concerns. No problem, said Greenwasher, pointing out that if oil companies are already sponsoring newspaper climate supplements, what is there to worry about?

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