The 10:10 campaign: Corporate greenwash?


What is 10:10?

The 10:10 campaign was launched on 1st September, 2009, and aims to encourage people, businesses and institutions to reduce their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. It was conceived by the team behind climate blockbuster ‘The Age of Stupid’, who now run the campaign with support from a dream team of partner organisations including The Guardian, ActionAid, Comic Relief, the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust, the Public Interest Research Centre and many others.

The campaign aims to demonstrate that people and organisations can show initiative, thereby enabling them to demand the government adopts a 10% reduction as a national target. This would enable the government, they argue, to push for more international action on climate change in the lead up to the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen (COP15) in December this year. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, claimed that 10:10 will show support for an international deal to combat climate change.

As the US and the EU argue over possibilities for a post-Kyoto climate deal, grassroots campaigners are battling over how best to move forward with the climate change movement so that it is as effective as possiblein as short a time frame as possible. Some people have welcomed the 10:10 campaign arguing ‘something is better than nothing’. ‘Unintimidating ventures’ like 10:10, they say, may make a difference because, otherwise, instead of 10%, we’ll have 0%. This is, however, a dangerous and misguided road to take…

Could 10:10 be useful?

To assess whether 10:10 can contribute something positive to the broader climate change and anti-capitalist movement, it is useful to start by situating it within the broader movement, which is not being done in most mainstream and corporate media coverage of the campaign. On the contrary, the fact that the campaign is ‘not political’ is generally seen as a good thing. Needless to say, this assessment is not necessarily about the intentions of the organisers or the participants, but about the potential impact of the campaign.

10:10 is about simple mass-engagement. It urges small changes, such as using low-energy lightbulbs, and hopes to replicate, according to The Guardian, the ‘grassroots success’ of the Make Poverty History campaign around the G8 in Scotland in 2005. This is problematic because, first, Make Poverty History was clearly not successful in its aims to eliminate poverty and, second, it was not exactly what one would call grassroots. Neither is the 10:10 campaign a mass grassroots movement; it is not a political movement based on solidarity and collective action. Rather, it is a populist, corporate-friendly initiative.

Why, then, would putting energy into a new mass campaign be useful? Could 10:10 really be different, or more effective, than other campaigns? According to the campaign’s website, it is “unique because it asks people to take a simple but meaningful action that everyone can understand and contribute to.” This is nothing new, of course, and environmental groups have been calling for such action for decades, but climate change is still advancing. The truth of the matter is that no matter what a few individuals do to reduce their carbon footprint, business needs to drastically change as well.

10:10 would not try to persuade the worst culprits in terms of climate change, such as the military, to sign up to their campaign. It is small businesses and a few people who care about the effects of their actions who sign up and not those who make the most detrimental impact on the environment. In addition, the behaviour of those who do sign up will not even be monitored. So what would stop companies signing up simply to promote themselves as green, whilst doing very little to actually be green?

The campaign claims it will ensure people ‘make the pledge’ and ensure they follow up on their pledges. George Monbiot has rightly indicated that the cuts made will not be independently audited, which is likely to undermine their credibility with the government. Thus, if one of the main aims of the campaign is to appeal to the government, it likely to fail even at this (liberal) end. Even if the campaign succeeded in cutting emissions by 10%, this will be seem meaningless if the government continues to support a new generation of gas and coal power stations.

The campaign, however, is not doing very well on the governmental level. On 21st October, the government voted against signing up to 10:10 and ministers argued that signing up the government estate would make no sense. Even though many MPs have signed up, this shows that solely relying on people voluntarily signing up may not be enough. In addition, the campaign is likely to fail on an international level as well if it solely focused on putting pressure on the national government with the hope to affect the Copenhagen summit (COP15). Opinion is divided as to whether COP15 has any potential to come to a deal that is useful in terms of tackling climate change. At this stage, a meaningful deal seems very unlikely given the corporate influences on the process (see and the fact that many NGOs have already decided there is no real hope and are simply asking for concessions.

In terms of actually doing something useful, we can all easily reduce our carbon footprints without it having to be a demand on or from government. Thus the campaign does not really add anything new. In fact, 10:10 diverts people from other tactics that are required, such as direct action at Copenhagen, by disseminating a false sense of security. It gives the impression that taking small individual actions is enough and that if enough people and organisations signed up to their campaign, the government will somehow choose to listen. This is, at best, a naïve liberal approach to politics that has failed over and over again.

Is 10:10 greenwash?

As well as assessing whether 10:10 could contribute something positive to the movement against climate change, it is important to ask whether, and how, 10:10 is greenwash. On the campaign’s own website, the FAQ section contains this ‘hard question’: Is this just another greenwash campaign? The answer given, of course, is that it is not greenwash because, if everyone joins up, it will be effective, and also because offsetting is not recognised as a legitimate contribution to reduction. The second point is a good start but the first point begs the question of how exactly are they going to ensure people do sign up and keep their word?

Celebrities, individuals, around 1,200 corporations and various organisations have signed up, including energy companies Centrica (which owns British Gas), EDF, Scottish and Southern and E.ON. Other signatories include the Tottenham Hotspur football club; Microsoft UK; Pret A Manger (owned by McDonalds), Aviva, The Royal Mail, Cheshire Police, Hackney Council and the Carbon Trust. The Guardian also supports 10:10 and is encouraging people to book a meeting with their boss and get their company to commit to the 10% reductions.

10:10 is corporate-friendly in that it equates individual with corporate emissions: 10% applies to every person and every organisation equally, regardless of the starting point, which is much easier for those with a larger carbon footprint to achieve. The campaign goes further to support a corporate model of change. For example, E.ON is encouraging its customers to reduce their emissions by 10%, but it is not reducing its own production emissions, which means it is only about individual lifestyle change and not business change. As George Monbiot put it, this allows businesses to claim reductions in carbon intensity as if they were real cuts. In other words, they can measure their reductions relative to turnover rather than in absolute terms. The precedent for this was George Bush’s proposal for cutting carbon intensity to tackle climate change.

And there is further capitalist bias in the campaign as companies only have to make an annual 3 percent cut, although it is not explained what this means for the collective target. They are encouraged to make cuts by eliminating waste and increasing efficiency, rather than addressing broader issues to do with mass production and economic growth. In short, the campaign enables companies such as E.ON to promote themselves as becoming greener, whilst ensuring little concrete action is taken.

Conclusion: Do we want green capitalism?

Economic, energy, food and other crises are the current global reality. The only proposal from global elites to address all of these seems to be the ‘Green New Deal’, which is basically a new phase of ‘green’ capitalism that focuses on the welfare of corporations rather than people or the planet. The 10:10 campaign does not challenge the constant growth of ‘green’ capitalism. In fact, it gives corporations more opportunities to re-market themselves. Liberal initiatives like this have in the past acted as safety valves to make sure that demands for social change remain within the boundaries set by the needs of capital and governments. The strength of corporate lobbying at COP15 and the widespread nature of greenwash mean such a campaign can never be sufficient. It is impossible to win in an alliance with EDF and British Gas. Instead, activists need to also focus on the threats of corporate technologies, such as agrofuels, which are as significant as that of climate change. Our fight against climate change should go hand in hand with our fight against capitalism, no matter whether it is painted green or not.