Noted science writer Fred Pearce writes a regular column in the UK’s Guardian called Greenwash: Exposing False Environmental Claims.

The title of his latest column, published last week: New Zealand was a friend to Middle Earth, but it’s no friend of the earth. Pearce takes NZ to task in particular for what he regards as the country’s failure to meet its pledges on greenhouse gas reduction and its current weak position on climate policy.

After slamming a number of other countries for their greenhouse gas emissions, he says:

“But my prize for the most shameless two fingers to the global community goes to New Zealand, a country that sells itself round the world as ‘clean and green’.

“New Zealand secured a generous Kyoto target, which simply required it not to increase its emissions between 1990 and 2010. But the latest UN statistics show its emissions of greenhouse gases up by 22%, or a whopping 39% if you look at emissions from fuel burning alone.

“…the country’s minister in charge of climate negotiations, Tim Groser, has been busy reassuring his compatriots that ‘we would not try to be ‘leaders’ in climate change.’

“This is not just political spin. It is also commercial greenwash. New Zealand trades on its greenness to promote its two big industries: tourism and dairy exports. Groser says his country’s access to American markets for its produce is based on its positive environmental image. The government’s national marketing strategy is underpinned by a survey showing that tourism would be reduced by 68% if the country lost its prized “clean, green image”, and even international purchases of its dairy products could halve.

The trouble is, on the climate change front at least, that green image increasingly defies reality.”

As I write my article, there are 112 comments on Pearce’s column, virtually all of them critical of NZ and many amplifying the claim of brand “greenwash” by noting other environmental shortcomings.

In the internet age, this viral process is how brands unravel … and it can happen fast.

I tracked down the study Pearce mentioned. You can download it here (including a readable executive summary). Prepared by NZ’s Ministry for the Environment back in 2001, it includes a rigorous attempt to calculate a data-based economic value for NZ’s “clean, green” brand. Without doubt, the same methodology would yield an even higher value today.

Or conversely, an even higher cost for damaging the brand today. It would be great to see the study updated … it might give some backbone to National as it deals with environmental issues.

Consider another study released last week by Edelman, the world’s largest privately-held public relations firm. They surveyed consumers in the UK, US, China, India, Japan, Brazil, Canada and several European countries and found overwhelming evidence that, across cultures, consumers are placing higher and higher importance on the environmental and ethical behavior of the companies and brands they will purchase from or associate with.

Said the study’s director: “People all over the world are now wearing, driving, eating, and living their social purpose, as sustained engagement with good causes becomes a new criterion for social status and good social behavior.”

The consumer expectations reported here apply equally to any brand that is used to drive consumer behavior, be that an individual company or a nation, like NZ, that projects a particular brand image to sell itself and its exports.

Globally, consumers are headed in a direction that should favor New Zealand’s “clean, green” brand, but only if we can deliver on its promise. The danger? No one really knows when an epidemic of comments like this one on the Pearce column — “Truly a country with, as far as its green credentials are concerned, a triumph of style over substance” — might tip our brand over.

Tom Belford

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  1. Fizz Fight!
    Here’s your chance to test whether the most famous French champagnes deserve their lofty status (and price tags) or are the New Zealand bubblies just as good. Tuesday 1st December at EIT will see a selection of the worlds elite champagnes tackle their kiwi rivals and you should be there. The tastings will be conducted blind and the ticket price includes a complimentary glass of wine pre-tasting and delicious nibble afterwards. There will be only one tasting like this, tickets are $95 and seats are limited so phone Clive Holland on 06 835 2395 or 027 285 5999 or email to book your place.

  2. Tom, you know where 3R stands on this subject!

    Consumers and many developed countries world wide have moved beyond debating the science to changing their behaviour. At the same time NZ, who many already expect are world leaders in green, are stuffing around.

    We should not be concerning ourselves with the impending costs of the Emissions Trading Scheme. We definately should be concerning ourselves with the loss of credit and international customers when the world realises that we have been selling a story which lacks substance.

    We are being exposed, we have our fair share of environmental issues and they simply won’t go away if we stick our head deep in the sand. NZ can benefit from taking a firm lead on environmental issues….Green is the new Gold!

    Now is the time to be bold and when it comes to clean, green and 100% Pure, we’d better walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

    Branding is everything.

  3. A recent visit by immunologist and biochemist Dr Stephen Hardy highlighted for me that climate change is a symptom of a much bigger problem; a world view that puts economy as the defining parameter when it comes to decision making, followed by social (human) considerations and finally consideration of the environment. This paradigm is flawed; the impact on our environment must become the overarching concern in decision making, followed by social issues and finally economic aspects. Our human needs (food, air, shelter etc) are directly affected by the resources of our natural environment. The Inuit people consider 7 generations when they make decisions; the three generations that have gone before them, the current generation and the three generations to come. Sadly our decision making usually considers only our own wants. If growers, industry and commerce in New Zealand stopped arguing on the pros and cons of climate change and really embraced the concept of ‘environment first’ we could all walk tall on the world stage.

  4. Noted science writer Fred Pearce – is that sort of like Noted film producer Al Gore.

    Neither of those people will ever show that Man Made Greenhouse Gases cause Global Warming – look for weasel words;

    might, could, likely, about, possible, models show, and a fair bit of sensationalism.

    After all, they need sales of their works/efforts just as IPCC needs funding to continue.

    And then Fred Pearce goes on to say – "trouble is, on the climate change front" – now there is the standard method of lumping Man Made Greenhouse Gas with Climate change as if they move in the same direction at the same time by the same amount, but at least it does provide more spin – another Shell Game to get everyone looking in the wrong direction.

    Expect them all to shy away from the temp drop since 2002 – if u doubt that comment, then Google – Professor Robert Lindzen and Lord Monckton – Listen to them they sound far more logical and reasonable than the popular myopic view of Made Made Greenhouse Gas induced Temperature Changes.

    What is more scary, is that in December our Politicians will probably sign over 7% of our GDP to this new world government that is not even Elected. And because it is a Treaty, there is no 'Opt Out' clause. Now THAT is Scary.

    Why would they do this? probably because they have not read all 200 pages of the Treaty, but rely on their 'Advisors.' At least some in Australia can see the damage of that plan. Google Alan Jones on 2GB – he interviews Lord Monckton.

    Fortunately there are a few in the world that will stand up to this Junk Science of Al Gore et al and whats more – Kyoto, while well meaning, made 3% of difference in 100 years time and you can bet that the Copenhagen deal will be similarly well intentioned but Expensive and wrong in terms of bringing any change other than the size of our wallets.

    Ignore the same regurgitated Alarmism and listen more carefully, if we can stop NZ being run by the African Countries, and that is the plan under this Copenhagen Deal, then we can manage our own affairs.

    Wake up people.

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