Shell—green wash or hog wash?

With Shell Canada markingthe fifteenth year of their Environment Fund, are the environmental organizations accepting donations from them making the same mistake as the leading arthritis charities that are sponsored by Merck?

Merck is the drugs companythat is accused of deliberately suppressing information about the health risks of its painkiller Vioxx. After a Texan court awarded $25.3 million in the first of thousands of Vioxx lawsuits to go to trial, the financial links with the pharmaceutical giant have led some critics to accuse charities of a potential conflict of interest.

Launched in 1990, the Shell Environmental Fund has granted over $11 million to almost 4,000 environmental projects across Canada.  Sadly, in the light of Shell’s business practices it seems that this is little more than green washing. 

As one of the biggest oil companies in the world, Shell is committed to increasing the most environmentally destructive methods of oil production while stating outright that it does not intend to move to renewable energy within the next decade.

Its actions in environmentally sensitive areas here in BC and around the world show that while Shell may have revolutionized the way it talks about itself, it appears to be business as usual when it comes to putting profits before the health of our communities and environment.

Shell employees are well-versed in the new environmentally-friendly corporate-speak and may even believe it.  But Nigerian human rights lawyer Oronto Douglas’s comment made in a 1998 ABC Radio National interview still holds true today:

You see, corporate rule, if you understand the driving force behind corporate rule, it is power, it is greed, it is money. Those are the components that drives a company. If Shell wants to reinvent itself it means that they have to rectify what they’ve done wrong, and that they are not willing to do. There are no plans for that. … they just want to send everybody on a debate, let everybody keep talking. While they are talking, we are taking all the oil and we are making more and more profit. The local people don’t matter. Those are the issues.”

$11 million is a drop in the ocean to a company which made record quarterly profits of $526 million earlier this year.  Spending less than 0.5% of its profits on a bit of PR to silence some of its most vocal critics is a small price to pay. 

For cash strapped non-profits, the issue of whether to accept funding from all sources is often a difficult one.  Some take the money, claiming that they have not compromised their independence.  Some claim that they are engaging with corporations in order to create change from the inside out. 

But I wonder how easy it is to be objective about a corporation’s actions when you know that they’ll be funding your next pay cheque.

Next time you see the Shell logo on an environmental organization’s website you might wonder too.

Defining Greenwash (from Corpwatch’s website)

green*wash:(n) Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing (n). Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash. The Tenth Edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary

green*wash:sh)o(gr~en-w -washers, -washing, -washed 1.) The phenomenon of socially and environmentally destructive corporations attempting to preserve and expand their markets by posing as friends of the environment and leaders in the struggle to eradicate poverty. 2) Environmental whitewash. 3) Any attempt to brainwash consumers or policy makers into believing polluting mega-corporations are the key to environmentally sound sustainable development 4) Hogwash. CorpWatch Definition

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