Lancashire expert who appeared on BBC Greta Thunberg documentary is 'sick of greenwashing'

A Lancashire carbon expert was approached by BBC producers to feature in the documentary and has shared his views on climate change, calling for a campaign against 'greenwashing'.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 12:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th April 2021, 2:10 pm
Mike Berners-Lee was one of the academics who appeared in the recent three-part documentary.

Mike Berners-Lee founded Small World Consulting, a carbon accounting company that helps businesses 'respond to the climate and ecological emergency'.

Berners-Lee was one of the academics who helped to provide their expertise for BBC documentary 'Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World'.

He is also an author on climate change and a professor at Lancaster University’s Environment Centre.

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“The BBC got in touch and I think they have put things into all three episodes," he said.

“I was really pleased to have a chance to chip in to that documentary because I do think that Greta Thunberg has done the world an amazing service.

“She has brought a real clarity to the table and she has inspired a lot of young people to do likewise."

The three-part documentary aired this month and chronicles a year of Greta Thunberg's environmental campaigning as she meets with world leaders and climate experts to discover what changes are needed.

“My generation has found it so hard: we distract ourselves, we waffle around the point, we make it sound more complicated than it is," Mike said.

“There are complicated aspects to climate change but there are also some dazzlingly simple, important things that we just tend to forget about whenever it gets awkward.

“Greta has not been distracted and she has been clear and that has been exactly what the world has needed as it struggles to get on top of the climate and stop denying it.

“I think the documentary did a very good job of portraying the science, portraying the urgency and portraying Greta Thunberg as an unusual person doing an incredible job."

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During his role at Small World Consulting, Mike says he has seen more than enough 'greenwashing' where companies spend more time marketing themselves as environmentall yfriendly, than trying to fix the problem.

“We spend so much of our time trying to explain to companies that they can’t greenwash and we try to expose greenwash where we see it," Mike said.

“If I was sick once for every time I’d heard a piece of greenwash, we would all be drowning in my vomit.

“There has been so much corporate greenwash and governmental greenwash and people need to call it out.

“Greta has shown us how it is done and we should all try and model that as best we can.”

A key focus of the documentary is Greta’s desire to focus media attention away from herself and her personality as an ‘angry teenager’ and towards climate science and evidence.

“Personality cults don’t get us anywhere,” said Mike, “and Greta is not trying to be a personality cult, she just is a person who has done a great job.

“At the moment, it’s very fashionable to come out with headline comments and targets and nice phrases: they sound great.

“We have politicians announcing fantastic headline targets for the UK but what the situation demands is a coherent set of policies and actions, right across every facet of government, that are consistent with these headline statements.

“At the moment we are so far from that."

Mike says companies often approach him for help in becoming 'net zero' in their carbon emissions but he says Small World will not help them if they 'only want to look good'.

“If they want to achieve net zero, they need to do that in a quality way by cutting their carbon in line with what the science says," Mike said.

The expert called for companies to reduce their carbon in an ‘ecologically sensitive way’ and praised the BBC documentary for highlighting this.

“The BBC documentary pointed this out in a good way,” he said.

“If you just plant a load of monoculture trees you’re doing more harm than good probably.

“We want to separate out the companies that want to do the right thing, from the companies that just want to look good.”

The UK lacks a ‘serious green jobs campaign’ according to Berners-Lee who calls for ‘hundreds of thousands of green jobs of every skill level’ to be created ‘in all industries’.

“The green agenda is stacked full of high-quality job opportunities,” he said, “and we have an opportunity to come back from COVID on a totally new footing but it does require some imagination and seriousness about the climate.

“At the moment we’re getting headlines but we’re not getting what it takes to back it up.”

Mr Berners-Lee claims that the proposed Cumbria coal mine could create the ‘ultimate ungreen job’, referring to the carbon dioxide emissions that are released as a result of extracting coal.

He also criticised energy companies for what he calls ‘hideous examples of greenwashing’, claiming that their renewable tariffs are misleading.

According to Berners-Lee, Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (or REGOs) are being misused.

They are issued by Ofgem, the government’s energy watchdog, and are intended to provide proof to customers that energy was sourced from renewables.

Companies that produce energy from renewable sources, such as wind turbines, are awarded REGOs but can then sell them to other companies, technically allowing them to ‘offset’ their impact from burning fossil fuels.

Mr Berners-Lee says that REGOs can allow companies to use fossil fuels, offset the carbon for a small price and then call their tariffs ‘renewable’.

“You can get your electricity from coal, attach a REGO to it, and still call it renewable,” he said.

“There are an increasing number of businesses that are seriously trying to do the right thing but what we need is a campaign against greenwash from governments and businesses.

“It needs to become seriously embarrassing when a politician is exposed as having been careless with the truth on climate and young people like Greta Thunberg have made it embarrassing just to do lip service.”

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