Eco-innovation and green thinking for students

21Feb08

A new national student award for environmentally friendly design was launched this month. Environmental student campaign organisation People and Planet and green events organiser UK AWARE are behind the project. 

However, despite such noble schemes, the mainstream ecological movement is gradually being co-opted by people motivated by cold economics.  As our government ignores the environmental damage our industries wreak, and shifts the onus of climate-change prevention to private households, some of the most unethical businesses are investing in our renewable energy programmes.

New Green Students

The Eco-Innovation Award is supposed to nurture new design and engineering talent in post-GCSE students. Entrants will be judged by industry bigwigs such as Charlie Browne, the sustainability coordinator for IKEA, and Martin Carter, from the Centre for Sustainable Design. Events co-ordinator for UK AWARE, Jodie Carnegie Fowler, was excited: “We hope to see anything that is inventive, from redesigns of a system such as refuse, to environmental protection itself.

“The event will be a good opportunity for networking and a platform for the students to talk to future employers. All sorts of ideas can be turned into things that change the way we live, and sometimes they just start out as ideas.” 

More awareness is indeed needed. Research by the government’s department for Environment food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) shows that most Britons are still confused about the specific causes of climate change and what they can do about it.  

University of Central Lancashire Forensic psychology student, Kirsty Williams, 21, said: “Normal people are not taught enough about how to be environmentally friendly.

“Unless universities have programmes, they’re not going to know. In a big house like mine, you see how much goes to waste.” 

However, like many things in the post-Blair era, the industry awaiting these bright young things is a vivid and exciting brand, but not necessarily what it seems. 

Government Green Spin

In a May 2006 speech, Minister for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health, Jeff Rooker, treats the environment as a marketable commodity. 

Speaking at the UK Eco-innovation and Environmental Technologies event, he asked for a “focus on high growth companies employing leading edge sustainable technology,” and said: “There is a big role for the private sector and the Government does not always know best.” 

The focus on wealth, growth and profit is all too familiar. He said: “Large corporate investment is essential. BP plan to invest £5bn in renewable energy technologies over the next decade.

“The environmental sector is emerging as a key business sector for wealth creation, as well as delivering a cleaner and more sustainable world.”  

Energy companies need to be sustainable and profitable, but Rooker’s onus on growth and wealth creation is repellant, and his words are deceptive.

Inevitably, DEFRA will defer to powerful organisations such as British Petroleum (BP), but it is clear that ecological conservation is not their first concern. 

BP’s terrible environmental Record

 Aside from a catalogue of human rights abuses, swathes of the Canadian Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were decimated by their activities.

BP expected to make £3.5 billion between 2005 and 2015 from renewable energy, and are routinely accused by environmental groups of using this as a “greenwash” for their heavy-polluting activities. 

Same old story

But why would we expect better? In December 2006, government figures predicted aeroplane carbon emissions would rise by between 22 and 36 million tonnes by 2030 because of an increase in no-frills flights.

This is despite the government’s promises to double passenger duty and cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.  

Under European law, the government can also fund the start-up costs for airports, and plane companies, who buy “carbon credits” from other companies rather than cut their own emissions.  

The number of passengers travelling on internal flights will inevitably increase given the spiralling costs of public transport and vehicle-running. 

Paper Waste

If this was not enough, a study by Lexmark in May 2006 showed that British businesses were the worst paper wasters in Europe. At the same time, a high profile government television campaign encourages ordinary people to use recycling banks.

Recyvling bins

Dr Rob Marchant, senior lecturer in the Environment Department at the University of York, said:  “Many companies have questionable records, but seeing them invest money is always a positive thing. It’s better that they should be on our side than against. 

“The government are certainly not doing enough on air travel, and large plane companies have a lot of influence in dictating policy. It’s going to take a long time as people like to travel.” 

Dr Marchant added, however, that new European legislation on waste, will force council to address paper wastage on a company-by-company basis. 

But as long as environmentalism is run by big business, the student eco-innovators will be forced to work for those who all too often use their power and wealth to prevent progress.

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2 Responses to “Eco-innovation and green thinking for students”

  1. 1 messiernumber

    I’m going to have to play devil’s advocate here. Surely in this money-driven society, big business has most of the power. Given the scale of environmental problems, I’m not sure the well-meaning efforts of individuals can really have that much effect. Business does need to be involved, especially as they’re the ones making all the fumes, and business isn’t motivated by morals. Business likes money. So, if the only way to get companies involved is with a cash-flavoured carrot, we might just have to accept it.

  2. 2 Leon

    There seem to be two different threads a work here. First the heartwarming concept of Eco-Innovation Awards which encourage young people to think of green ideas and second green washing for multinational corporations.
    As Messiernumber points out the well meaning efforts of individuals will have almost no effect on big business which does a large amount of the environmental damage. The whole idea does seem to re-arranging to the deck chairs on the titanic, the concept of getting a group of 16 year olds to come up with good ideas so save the planet while the developing world keeps on producing massive amounts of CO2 which hastens global warming. Still the labour government is always very good at coming up with heart warming concepts which look good but have no real effect. Rather like assuming that a payment of £120 pounds to low income people will somehow solve the sickening discrepancy between the huge and lowly taxed earnings of multinational giants who threaten to leave England is taxes are increased and the grinding and deeping financial crisis that effects huge swathes of the British population.


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