Posted by keith on June 3rd, 2008
It’s very rare for me to be able to take an image straight from a web site and use it, completely unchanged. In the case of this one from London’s famous Science Museum, it says so much, how could I make it any worse? “Your Planet Needs You” juxtaposed with “Sponsored by BASF, HSBC and NISSAN” makes me think that either the public are really stupid (possible, but probably not) or the people who arranged this exhibition are so in awe of the greenwashing lies of the corporate sponsors, and their money, that they let anything pass.
Speaking to various people at the Science Museum and the company arranging the exhibition, The Science Of…, it seems as though there is some sympathy with my concerns, yet when you look at the companies doing the sponsoring, and the jury-rigged press information, you realise that this one has been greenwashed to the hilt:
Sara Milne CEO of The Science of… said “We are delighted to be working with BASF, HSBC and Nissan. Together we are confident that launching this project, which investigates one of the biggest challenges ever faced by mankind, will have a positive impact on society. With the support of our sponsors we have developed a compelling interactive journey that delivers these messages in a highly entertaining and accessible manner. The Science of Survival cuts through the confusion of climate change concerns to provide a positive experience which shows a sustainable future really is possible if we work together.”
The three global sponsors of The Science of Survival have made a five year commitment to see the exhibition through to the end of its global tour. BASF, HSBC and Nissan. are committed to tackling the important issues addressed in the exhibition, not only through their business operations but also by their investment in education and the environment.
Ok, nothing too surprising here — The Science Of are part of the trading arm of the Science Museum, and exist to make money which can then be funnelled back into the museum. A pity it’s dirty money, but that’s what happens when you open up public services to commerce. And that “five year commitment”; well, five years of having your company name associated with a world tour of a childrens education environmental exhibition is manna from heaven for the greenwashing corporate.
The sponsors themselves appear to be great environmental stewards:
BASF, HSBC, and Nissan all share a commitment to a more sustainable future.
BASF’s portfolio ranges from chemicals, plastics, performance products, agricultural products and fine chemicals to crude oil and natural gas. BASF develops new technologies and uses them to meet the challenges of the future. The company strives to combine economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility, thus contributing to a better future.
For HSBC, corporate responsibility means managing its business responsibly and sensitively for long-term success. HSBC lends and invests in areas such as low carbon energy, water infrastructure and sustainable forestry, sharing responsibility for the environment with governments and citizens to minimise the damaging effects of human activity — pollution of land, water and air and the depletion of resources.
Nissan’s philosophy towards the environment, “Seeking a symbiosis of people, vehicles and nature,” describes the company’s ideal for a sustainable mobile society, now and in the future. They initiated the Nissan Green Program with specific objectives to realise this vision, and are now pursuing it energetically and passionately.
Let’s see: one of the world’s largest chemical and biotech companies; one of the world’s largest commercial investment banks; one of the world’s largest motor manufacturers — all sharing “a commitment to a more sustainable future”. That would be economically sustainable wouldn’t it? I can’t think of any other type of sustainability the big players in Industrial Civilization are interested in.
But what about the kids; the real targets of the exhibition? For a start they will go away thinking that big companies are really nice friendly things trying to save the world — greenwashing for kids is big business. Not only that, there is a cast of four characters that guide the children through the exhibition; each of them has a particular characteristic, and I have to reproduce this in full so you don’t think I’m making this up:
Buz is what they call a people person. She is the one that keeps this group of friends together. Buz ‘s approach to a sustainable world is to make sure everyone’s needs are met, no matter who they are or where they live. She wants us all to agree on solutions which work for everyone, not just a few people. But sometimes keeping things equal and fair means making sacrifices that the others aren’t always happy with.
Tek really likes her technology. And she likes to talk about it too, though sometimes she is a bit hard to understand. Tek reckons that technology can come to our rescue and help us live more sustainably, conserving resources and minimising effects on the environment. Though developing new technology can take energy and resources, Tek thinks it’s well worth it.
[N.B. Tek is the only character on the main picture, just in case you didn’t realise what this exhibition is really trying to say…]
Dug likes tradition and would stick to the way everything used to be done, if he could. Dug reckons we don’t need new technology or approaches for us all to have a happy future. If we think about what we value, Dug thinks we can use what we already know to reduce our impact without radically changing how we live. He is thoughtful and likes to take time – a lot of time – to think about things.
Eco likes nature, man. He is always out and about doing the outdoors thing. He thinks that preserving all the natural environments on the planet and rebuilding some that humans have destroyed – is key to a sustainable future. And whilst he wants to keep us all from messing with the planet, he can be a bit annoying when he tries to show us how to do it.
Two problems here: Dug likes tradition, so why does he think we can reduce our impact without radically changing how we live? Surely if he doesn’t want technology then he would insist on getting rid of it: but then that would run counter to the needs of the sponsors, so that option is conveniently removed.
Eco is even more badly misrepresented: apparently he is “a bit annoying”, well of course he is because he doesn’t want hi-tech corporate solutions; he wants to do the obvious, most sensible thing. That’s really annoying, isn’t it.
This exhibition is an atrocity — no one should tolerate companies messing with childrens’ minds. The Science Museum should be ashamed for letting this corporate toy into their halls.
ADDENDUM:I received the following comment about this post on Indymedia, which shows that I am not some lone crazy on a mission…
The whole thing stinks of turning environmentalism into a brand (not that they’d be the first, but it is rather blatant here). Apparently we are “the Eco-Generation” (complete with capital letters, how special we feel now!), presumably the successors to “the Coca-Cola Generation”, and “the MTV Generation”. This is one of the most serious threats to attempts for a sustainable human way of life – the whole movement, and in particular, the more primitivist/radical/etc elements being marginalised and recuperated by big business.
Here is the email exchange between myself and Chris Rapley, Director of the Science Museum – it’s a pity he didn’t feel able to response to my second email. You can decide for yourself why he chose not to…
I have just spent a few hours chatting to various people at The Science Museum, The Science Of and their press agency about your exhibition The Science Of Survival. My main concern was the use of large corporate sponsors to fund an exhibition which is supposed to be informing children about the damage being done to the global environment (damage that is largely the fault of the selfsame large corporations), and what can be done about it.
In short, this exhibition is nothing short of a greenwashing exercise, and I am surprised that a man of your calibre could have been taken in my this kind of thing. It really does put the Science Museum in a very bad light. My findings and comments are here:
This article will be syndicated to a number of other blogs. I would have given notice, but considering your Does Flying Cost The Earth exhibition is sponsored by EADS (http://www.eads.com/1024/en/Homepage1024.html) and your Can Algae Change The World was sponsored by Siemens (http://www2.sea.siemens.com/Industry%20Solutions/Chemical/Biofuels/) then I really don’t think it would make any difference.
Pity – since we have the same main objective in mind – alerting humans to the serious nature of the environmental crisis and helping them (us all) find the path to a sustainable future – which we are far from following at present.
My view is that that outcome is more likely if one includes all the key players, including the corporations, especially since it is they, not government or the individual (though they have major roles to play) who will determine the true shape and character of the future. You assume that the companies involved in sponsoring the Science Museum do so in bad faith. That is not my judgement or experience. In any case, the SM retains full and absolute editorial control of the content of our exhibits, and draws on respected independent experts to ensure that the information and messages provided are as truthful and balanced as we can achieve.
I note that your website has many sections on hypocrisy; I wonder if for completeness you should add a section on your own – I assume that you eat, travel, use commodities and merchandise, all of which will have been produced by the corporations you so despise. In the meantime it is not clear what you contribute yourself. I would be more impressed by a constructive approach, rather than one which seeks to polarise and divide.
Thank you for responding.
Ultimately, and there is a very good reason for saying this, the answer lies with the individual and not governments and most certainly not corporations which are the primary reason that Industrial Civilization is so destructive. There is a great deal of information on my Earth Blog (http://www.theearthblog.org) which shows in more detail where I am coming from. In a few weeks time you will be able to read a complete and detailed analysis of the causes of and the solutions to the global environmental crisis when my book is release, for free at www.amatterofscale.com.
As for my apparent hypocrisy, I have been undergoing a continual distancing from corporations for many years and would suffer far less than most should every corporation disappear from the face of the Earth. I think it would be rather foolhardy of me to run an anti-hypocrisy web site if that were not so.
It surprises me tremendously that you should have such a pro-corporate viewpoint (at least from the tone of your message), given your background — it is not a question of “bad faith” on the parts of the sponsors as simply “business as usual”: they exist to make money and if the Science Museum can provide them with a tinge of green, or whatever tinge they require, then they will have no hesitation in stepping into whatever breach is presented.
On a separate note, the BAS has always, in my eyes, been a bastion of straight-talking, agenda-free science: it would be wonderful if the Science Museum could become similarly distanced from outside influence.