Greenhorns and Greenwashing: An Interview with James Murray, Editor of Business Green Magazine

From energy efficiency to reuse, recycling and sustainability, green is an emotive issue. The subject is covered by the media and bloggers with differing levels of accuracy and relevance. RaceTalk took the opportunity to speak with James Murray, editor at Business Green.

James is one of the UK’s most respected specialists on green issues. Here, RaceTalk gets his insights:

RaceTalk: Hi James, many thanks for taking some time out to talk to us today. Have you been surprised by the growth in volume of communications on green issues?

James: Not really, it’s been one of the longest running but slowest burning issues of the last 10 years! I think the impact Al Gore made was a big kick-off point for the most recent movement – that’s almost two years ago now, so it’s taken quite a while for the majority of companies to get their houses in order.

RaceTalk: In terms of the volumes of PR communication on green issues – have you been seen a dramatic rise in that in the last 6-12 months?

James: Yeah, absolutely, that’s really come through. It took a year for companies to get their heads around green issues and decide whether they wanted to do something.

Now we’re moving into the second year and they are all trying to communicate and push the green message – it’s really taken off. However, while it’s approaching the mainstream, it’s still not completely mainstream and a large proportion of companies have yet to adopt a green strategy so the potential for it to expand is enormous.

RaceTalk: Given the rapid growth of green communications, how would you rank the quality?

James: It varies enormously. It depends on the maturity of the PRs and the companies they represent. What I will say is there’s an awful lot of rubbish out there – PRs just cobbling together a survey saying that: “businesses now care about green issues” or “90% of businesses are starting to worry about energy costs.” It’s so passé and it’s been done to death, but then at the same time you are getting a lot of organisations that have a good solid handle on how to adopt green practices and communicate them. These are the ones that have good stories to tell and products that actually meet green standards. Communication with these guys doesn’t come across as marketing fluff.

RaceTalk: Obviously, you are a specialist in this area and you know the issues inside out. How would you rank mainstream media’s coverage of green issues?

James: From a business perspective that’s part of the reason we launched. The environmental coverage particularly across the mainstream media tends to lean towards ‘tree-hugging’. There is an assumption that all businesses are raping and pillaging the planet.

The business press meanwhile has struggled to get their collective heads round this whole new sphere. It’s there for them to worry about, but they haven’t really got in-depth understanding of environmental issues and legislation to be able to report on it adequately.

RaceTalk: Do you think procurement departments are updating their buying and due diligence approaches by incorporating environmental considerations?

James: Certainly. It’s slow progress but it is happening. All Government departments are legally obliged to do so and now more than ever, you can see multinationals doing it. In fact, a good example is Walmart. They’re actually dropping suppliers that don’t meet required standards now on the environment. On the technology side, HP has a big outreach programme to all it’s suppliers to try and train to improve environmental impact. The importance of the issue is gradually filtering through to mass business and consumer consciousness.

RaceTalk: Does any organisation stand out as excellent communicators in this field?

James: It’s a very difficult one. In terms of the big names it’s hard to fault companies like M&S and HSBC – they’re not perfect but they have communicated their initiatives well. Aside from the big boys, some of the younger, less ‘sophisticated’ companies like Ecotricity, Innocent smoothies have grown quickly from a solid environmentally conscious base – ultimately, they find it a lot easier to communicate because they don’t have skeletons in the closets.

The consumer technology industry is a mixed bag. Most are doing it quite well and the majority are open about the fact that they have got major issues within the industry.

One thing I will say is that there’s a large and growing element of Greenwashing going on. It must be tempting to say that the latest model is green when in fact, more often than not, the greenest thing is for users not to replace the previous product! There is also the tendency towards communicating the benefits of energy efficient devices, but at the same time a lot of nasty chemicals are inside the product or being used in the manufacturing process.

There has been a degree of honesty I think from the IT industry that they’ve got problems, and the level of R&D investments from the big members in improving energy efficient has been pretty impressive so I’m hopeful that in the next 5 years we really will see progress.

Ultimately, the question in the back of our minds is whether the tech companies back away from green issues and revert to pushing as much kit as possible, regardless of environmental concerns, or whether they are genuinely serious about this.

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