Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Greenwash Corner

Some of us were hoping that Bristol's richly deserved failure to be awarded European Green Capital status back in February might have dampened their spirits somewhat, but it seems that the Green Capital crap is still being peddled.

Over on the Bristol Streets site, which masquerades as a wholly independent site but is in reality a mouthpiece for pro council propaganda and to which council officers appear to have privileged access, we find a puff piece entitled "Bristol Still Green Even if not Green Capital", which includes the claim that -
"The competition has reaffirmed Bristol’s Green Capital commitment to be seen as the leading city in Europe for the quality of its environment and in the way it is tackling climate change."
Oh really? Losing has reaffirmed? I suppose that's what you call looking on the bright side (something I have to admit I'm not familiar with). But if Bristol's strengths are the way it is tackling climate change and the quality of its environment (stuff like transport and noise?), how come it lost? The same paragraph answers our question-
"It (the competition) has also given a clear indication of the priority areas of action needed to be addressed; these are climate change, transport and noise."


Anonymous said...


I get the sense you prefer seeing Bristol losing rather than winning, whether this European award or cycling city, BRT funding, GBBN money etc all of which we won working together with the neighbouring councils. Might explain why progress on transport etc is so challenging...
Mark Bradshaw

Chris Hutt said...


I was pleased that Bristol failed to win European Green Capital and disappointed, to put it mildly, that Bristol won the Cycling City award. I've made no sectret of that and I'll happily explain why.

In both cases Bristol's bids were based on spin and hype with precious little substance. It would have been (and was in the CC case) a travesty if Bristol won on that basis.

In the case of Cycling City the 'award' came hard on the heals of an attempt to turn the city's most outstanding cycle facility, the Railway Path, into a bus route, as you well know. To see the Council behind that dastardly plan rewarded with Cycling City status was an extraordinary slap in the face for those of us who had committed so much time and energy into defeating, at least for the time being, the BRT on Path plan.

For Bristol to be a Green city, let alone capital, it would first have to demonstrate in practical terms how we can all live in an environmentally sustainable way, within a carbon budget that is consistent with avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Manifestly that is not happening.

alice said...

I remember experiencing an uneasy feeling of uncomfortable sickness when I heard someone was seriously putting Bristol forward as a potential Green Capital, similar to the time when I accidentaly watched a few minutes of Britain's Got Talent and wondered where they find all the delusional tone deaf "performers".

Anonymous said...

typical and predictable put downs for Bristol and Bristolians - marvel in failure if you will, but others want to make things happen

Chris Hutt said...

And others merely want to create the illusion of something happening, for which they are richly rewarded by the vested interests that don't want real change. Isn't that right Pete?

Read what it says on the tin. The quote from the puff piece is "Bristol’s Green Capital commitment to be seen as the leading city in Europe..." Note "being seen as", not "being". That is very telling.

Anonymous said...

Mr Hutt maybe you would be happier living in another city!

Chris Hutt said...

"Mr Hutt maybe you would be happier living in another city!"

There we have it, the level of debate of those who are complicit in the bamboozling of Bristolians over the reality of the city's environmental footprint.

They can't marshall a coherent argument to justify what they're doing so the resort to snide comments. Says it all.

Anonymous said...

Just worry about your happiness that is all. Why do you live in a city you seem to despise the way it is run. I have lived in many cities and Bristol aint too bad at all, in terms of a place to live. Debating with you is like banging your head against a brick wall as it is with most bloggers. You gain status from confrontation and will always be right otherwise you would not post your opinions on the web. Personally, I think there are bigger issues than words written on a website few people know about but thanks to you are advertised. I consider your approach negative and agenda driven and will do more to switch people off environmental issues rather than engage. Hence I am not engaging with the post itself just the style of your attack. If you were to layout your master plan for Bristol in full detail then you could be publicly scrutinised. Not that you would ever do that.

Anonymous said...


well said - and it needs saying- Chris is always first to attack and pull apart ideas but offers very few in return, except madcap extreme proposals. he's even turning on the Lib dems less than 2months after he said people should vote for them!!!
well, thats blogging I guess - but it doesn't move the city forward on iota

Chris Hutt said...

Ah, I see I managed to provoke something resembling an argument after all.

First point on debating. Sorry if it feels like banging your head against a brick wall but maybe if you focus more on the reasoning and less on ad hominem attacks you might make more progress.

I've often conceded points (recently with Tim for example) and in any case anyone is free to comment and so readers can make up their own minds. What more can anyone ask?

As for my "master plan for Bristol", since even my modest proposals for cycle routes (some of which I understand have since been adopted by Cycling City) are rejected as "madcap extreme proposals" I think a master plan might be premature. However I have explained something of the rational behind my thinking on several occasions so there's plenty to criticise if you want to have a go.

As I said above I make no apologies for my negativity towards the massive deceit being perpetrated by vested interests, including the city council and business interests, to persuade the people of Bristol that we are 'green' when we manifestly aren't. The purpose behind that it pretty obvious, to allow a business as usual agenda to continue under a green smokescreen.

Anonymous said...

You say: "Over on the Bristol Streets site, which masquerades as a wholly independent site but is in reality a mouthpiece for pro council propaganda" but I have found it to be a useful site whether it is run by the council or not. The sharing of ideas and problems for cyclists in the form of a map has been interesting. And I think some changes have occurred due to the input to the map from Bristol cyclists.

Chris Hutt said...

I didn't say it wasn't useful. In fact I've exchanged emails with the owner of bristolstreets and as a consequence I regret the words I used. I still think the site is not truly "independent" as claimed since it receives funding from the council and uses council PR material uncritically, but I wouldn't now say "masquerades".

Charlie said...

Of course, at least with Cycling City, money is being spent on cycling, which otherwise may not have happened.

Despite all the problems, the commitment to this is there.

Tim M. said...

I've read this post multiple times now, but I still have no idea what it's supposed to be about. Your comments make this much clearer though.

I don't see the problem with "The competition has reaffirmed Bristol’s Green Capital commitment...". What's wrong with re-affirming one's commitment to the goal and the commitment to try harder?

So it sounds a bit like you're claiming that it's all about marketing fluff without substance, and there's some giant fraud being perpetrated here against the good people of Bristol and the organisers of that competition.

But don't you think that everyone and their dog realise that they're living in a still highly industrialised, densely populated (at least for UK standards) urban area in one of the most resource hungry (in absolute and relative terms) economies on the planet? So when words like 'Green' are used, they are unlikely to be interpreted as some sort of absolute Green, but at best a "Greener than average".

Exposing vested interests and all that is good and well, but I don't think this is one of those cases. It's not just "vested interests" (in the narrowly defined sense) that have an interest in continuing with 'Business as usual', but pretty much the (dare I say 'democratic'?) consensus of the majority of the population. We all like our daily conveniences, and most of us are happy to do the right thing or pay a bit more to be a bit greener, a bit more sustainable etc., but only to the extent that it doesn't hurt our lifestyle or way of life, or only hurts a little. (That's what I claim at least.)

Would you rather see the city decide to ditch all that green aspiration stuff altogether? (Can't be too hard to argue for in the middle of a recession) We can't be perfect, so let's not even aim to improve things? Or are you claiming that "they" are just pretending to aspire to take sustainability/environmental issues into account, but don't really care?

The Bristol Blogger said...

There's no need for all this sarky 'they' in inverted commas like anyone questioning the Green Capital is a paranoid loon.

The identities of the people behind this Green Capital nmarketing scam are known.

The Green Capital campaign -
or whatever it is - is run by The Bristol Partneship, which is chaired by GWE Business West's John Savage.

Savage also sits on the SWRDA where he directly supports such green intiatives as airport expansion and the Ashton Vale Urban extension.

The RDA are also funding the building of BCFC stadium on the greenbelt (more on this soon) and I've yet to hear Savage criticise the proposed Tesco on Ashton Gate.

Oh, and he also sits on Bristol's World Cup bid executive board. Really green event that isn't it?

Chris Hutt said...

And Savage is a leading light on the West of England Partnership which is behind such green initiatives as the South Bristol Ring Road and turning green corridors into Bus Rapid Transit tracks.

WoEP were of course behind the plan to turn the Bristol Railway Path into a BRT route and have just secured approval from BANES conservatives for a highly controversial BRT scheme in Bath, again degrading the urban environment to help those from outside Bath to get into the centre more quickly.

Tim said...

@BristolBlogger: you're absolutely right about the inverted commas, sorry about that. It wasn't meant to be sarky, it was just thoughtlessness on my part.

Chris Hutt said...

Tim, to address a few of your main points above -

"What's wrong with re-affirming one's commitment to the goal and the commitment to try harder?"

But the goal is "to be seen as" green rather than to be green. It's about image rather than substance. As such it is a deceit, a bid to create the illusion of Bristol being green.

"So when words like 'Green' are used, they are unlikely to be interpreted as some sort of absolute Green, but at best a "Greener than average"

That's the problem. It's like saying that those of us whose skin is less white than the average are black (or vice versa). Green does not mean being less environmentally damaging than the average but having a footprint that is environmentally sustainable.

We are fundamentally un-Green and we all need to realise that as the first step towards changing our lifestyles, collectively and individually, so that we can live in some kind of harmony with the environment on which we depend.

"It's not just "vested interests" (in the narrowly defined sense) that have an interest in continuing with 'Business as usual', but pretty much the (dare I say 'democratic'?) consensus of the majority of the population."

I'm not sure about that. It all depends what we think is in the interests of the population as a whole. Long term survival possibly? I can't see that wrecking the eco system on which we all depend is in the collective interest.

What we are seeing already is that as the crows come home to roost it's the poorest and weakest in society (globally and locally) who bear the brunt. The wealthy like those behind the "vested interests" will have their financial and geographical lifeboats.

"Would you rather see the city decide to ditch all that green aspiration stuff altogether?"

The easy answer is "do it or ditch it". But what we actually have is of course an inevitable part of a process, just as the kind of criticisms expressed here are part of that process.

"are you claiming that "they" are just pretending to aspire to take sustainability/environmental issues into account, but don't really care?"

I don't know how much "they" believe in what they are doing or are merely being cynical and exploiting the current vogue for Green concerns for their own advantage. I suspect much more of the latter at the top tier, but then I would, wouldn't I. However I don't think the motivation matters all that much. What counts is the outcome, which is much the same either way.

We all have two choices. We can turn our backs on what is happenning in (and to) the world on the grounds that there's nothing much we can do about it anyway and we're best off focusing on securing our individual and family futures. Or we can do what we can to intervene in the hope that we might be able to make a difference, perhaps even a significant difference (butterfly effect).

Sensible people will do the former but there are always a few oddballs like me who do the latter. Sometimes it seems like a futile exercise, but I have tried the former and it just doesn't work for me.

Anonymous said...

How green are you Mr Hutt? I think to call oneself green often results in contradictions. Very hard to be truly green.

Tim M. said...

Know what - after seeing that 'Green Companion Bristol' booklet that came with this week's Venue magazine, I almost start to see where you're coming from.

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, I don't think I've described myself as Green, have I? I'm very concerned about the impact we're having on the environment but I wouldn't claim to be Green on that basis.

It's Bristol City Council that likes to call itself Green, not me, so I think we're entitled to question their 'green credentials', don't you?

Anonymous said...

Do you take personal action to be green..that is all I am asking. Why do you want to turn it into confrontation, I know it is fun. Can you give ideas to people to help them live more sustainably. What do you do to minimise your impact on the environment?

Chris Hutt said...

If only being Green could be reduced to following a set of tips. I'm afraid that that approach is a folly. We have to identify, agree and carry through some kind of global strategy otherwise individual actions are just pious (or naive or cynical) gestures.

Anonymous said...

So you can't answer the question as to what do you do to be green? Or should we not bother until the Government change their ways?

Chris Hutt said...

Whatever you or I do isn't going to make any difference unless it's part of a coherent global strategy to address environmental issues. There are plenty of life style tips available from others if that's what you want.

Anonymous said...

Of course but if you do not act in an environmental way yourself how can you critise others for not. Just say how you live to reduce your impact on the environment. By saying global strategies need to be a place does very little to empower the public to make change and very easy to dismiss it as not their problem and vote for the status quo.

Chris Hutt said...

I've already said I'm not setting myself up as a model for sustainable living and I'm not criticising other individuals for not doing so either. But bodies like Bristol City Council choose to set themselves up so are open to legitimate criticism.

Anonymous said...

cope out!

Anonymous said...

I meant cop out

Anonymous said...

"Although a Green in the broadest sense of someone who considers caring for our environment a fundamental duty."

Title of the blog Green Bristol Blog

Might give people the impression you are green and thus it must be simple to answer how you live a green life. Maybe not. Or could you be accused of misleading people.

Jane Hopkins said...

Hey, everyone, calm down. Chris is very good at alerting us to some of the hype about cycling provision and green issues that emanate from the Council House. OK, he get's cross and frustrated and sometimes is guilty of ranting. I think that's fair enough. And he's all negative either - in my opinion, he is the best cycle route finder Bristol has and I find these really useful. Jane.

Chris Hutt said...

Thank you Jane, athough I think you may have missed the 'not' out of "he's all negative either".

Actually the anonymous criticisms above look like they're mostly from the same person so it's not like they're all ganging up on me (yet). I'm still working on that.

My negativity has to be seen as a counterpoint to the relentless positivity of the corporate line we get from the council and its partners. I try to supply what is missing, namely a critique.

We need positive and negative elements in ou lives and in our understanding of the world around us, like ying and yang, male and female, etc.

The two poles do not exist in isolation but as balancing forces that help us to steer our course through life. The glass is both half-full and half-empty at the same time.

Imagine a Pravda-esque world of corporate PR and spin in which we are only allowed to hear good, positive news (or just read Orwell's 1984, or work for the City Council).

If I was surrounded by people spouting a relentlessly negative view I think I would instinctively look for the positive side, although that's unlikely to be tested in the foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...

I havent seen an answer to the question yet?

Anonymous said...


anyone in the city (and elsewhere) could probably give you a list of what you could do to be 'green'.

Chances are that whatever list anyone gives you would necessarily be open to criticism.

To end up in arguments (as opposed to discussions) about the relative merits of specific 'green' actions carried out by individuals runs the risk of diverting from the very real issues that face all life on this planet.

My thoughts are that we all need to be as informed as possible on the issues from all the sources available and this of course is very time consuming. Starting from extensive reading, discussion and consideration it becomes more and more obvious what our individual and collective responses could be and these will be very varied according to personal preferences, skills, influence etc.

It's likely that Chris to a greater or lesser extent acts on his understanding of the issues and clearly has a talent for spotting incongruity that presents an obstacle to Bristol authentically becoming the green city it really is capable of being.

Tackling the obstacles is just as important as creating green initiatives since the obstacles can totally undermine everyones efforts and what Chris is arguing here is that this is exactly what is happening.

hope I'm making sense

Gary Hopkins said...

The fact that compared to many European cities Britain's cities are Blue Square premier should not prevent a city like Bristol from trying for "promotion".
If you are going to improve things you have to start somewhere and the message that we have a long way to go but we are already ahead of our local competition is realistic and we hope motivating.


Challenge is a good thing and whilst recognising that "always look on the bright side of life" is probably not what you wake up in the morning singing you have at least put in some real ideas.Of course we have to deal with massive servings of nonsence froom central government and I am not naive enough to believe that some competitions organised by government do not have political "winners". We have to do the best we can with what we have got.
I know that the cycling city was a shambles but it is STARTING to improve and it can do some good for Bristol.