'Greenest ever' Olympics claims dismissed as corporate spin

 

Lord Coe’s claim that London 2012 will be the greenest ever Olympic Games is “corporate spin” say human rights groups, who today launch a campaign to highlight the environmental record of three multinational sponsors.

Lord Coe’s claim that London 2012 will be the greenest ever Olympic Games is “corporate spin” say human rights groups, who today launch a campaign to highlight the environmental record of three multinational sponsors.

BP, Rio Tinto and Dow Chemical Company, who have paid tens of millions of pounds to become Olympic sponsors, collectively face allegations of causing environmental degradation, damaging public health and failing to clean up their pollution.

The companies, who are respectively providing fuel for the Olympic fleet, metal for medals and an ornate stadium wrap, will be criticised by a coalition of international grassroots organisations as part of their 'Greenwash Gold 2012' campaign in London. 

Meredith Alexander, the former Olympics 'ethics tsar' who earlier this year resigned from the Commission for a Sustainable London over sponsorship controversies, will chair activists from the United States, Mongolia, Canada and India.

Alongside personal stories about how communities have allegedly been adversely affected by the companies' activities, award-winning animators will screen short films about each company to reveal the “the green spin”. Medals will be presented to the companies in July based on the outcome of a public vote for the “worst corporate sponsor”.

Greenwashing is a form of spin by companies to promote themselves as environmentally and socially responsible. The term was coined by American environmentalist, Jay Westervelt, in 1986 regarding the hotel industry's practice of placing notices in each room promoting reuse of towels to save the environment.

Alexander told The Independent: "The UK promised that London 2012 would be the greenest games ever, but when it came to picking sponsors it seems someone didn't get the memo. The International Olympic Committee managed to select Dow, which owns the company ultimately responsible for Bhopal, one of the most polluted sites on the planet; a major mining polluter in the form of Rio Tinto; and BP who are investing in the dirtiest form of oil. Recycling rubbish and energy efficiency schemes are fantastic, but they can't make up for a failure to scrutinise sponsors."

All three companies maintain they are socially and environmentally responsible, and invest millions in clean technologies and community programmes.

Rio Tinto said it is providing the eight tonnes of metal for 4,700 gold, silver and bronze medals from its mines in Utah and Mongolia. The company is accused of threatening the existence of nomadic indigenous people in Mongolia who are being displaced by the operation. The Oyu Tolgoi mine in the South Gobi desert is already placing significant strain on scarce water resources, warned the London Mining Network.

According to Zanna Jurmed, from the Mongolian rights group, Centre for Citizens Alliance, there are not enough doctors, hospitals and medicines in the nearby town to cope with the massive increase in population – mainly Chinese construction workers. “How can a company that destroys thousands of shrubs and wastes millions of litres of water in a desert be a green partner?” he said.

Rio Tinto’s mine near Salt Lake City is alleged to account for around 30 per cent of the air pollution in the state. Doctors report high rates of asthma and lung disease among children, and hundreds of premature deaths every year.

The Utah Moms for Clean Air and the Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment have recently filed a law suit against the company for violations of the Clean Air Act.

Rio Tinto said: “We operate within the parameters of our air permits and are consistently in compliance with air quality regulations, which are based on strict standards for protecting human health. The environmental concerns of our community align with our goals to be leaders in improving Utah’s air quality.”

A spokeswoman added: “We are committed to maintaining, developing and conserving the water supply for Oyu Tolgoi and the local communities throughout the South Gobi region, including the herders and their livestock… indeed we have committed to zero impact on community water sources.”

BP has a prominent role in the Olympics, providing the fuel for 5,000 vehicles in the Olympic fleet, sponsoring teams and the Shakespeare festival as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

BP's controversial venture in Alberta, Canada is regarded by campaigners as evidence that the company's environmental claims do not stand up. The extraction and processing of tar sands in order to make oil is carbon intensive, polluting and damaging to the eco system, whichever technology is used, they say.

A Nasa scientist recently warn that full development of tar sands would mean “game over” for the climate. BP has interests in three areas in Alberta, and expects to see the first oil in 2014. Meanwhile, it is winding down its solar energy operation. A BP spokesman said: "We have interests in three proposed areas in Canada. Only one  – Sunrise - has been approved and is under development... using steam assisted gravity drainage, not mining... Sunrise is being developed under the full environmental and social requirements of the government regulators."

The ongoing economic, health and environmental fall-out from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 makes their association with the Green Games “totally absurd”, according to Derrick Evans, an activist campaigning for the rights of coastal communities in the Gulf.

The $20bn trust fund set up by BP to compensate “individuals, businesses, and government entities, clean-up costs, and any natural resource damages”, is not reaching families on the ground, [quickly enough] according to Evans, who works closely with families across five Gulf states still waiting for their payments.

Jess Worth, from the UK Tar Sands Network, said: “BP has bought itself the prestigious title of London 2012 'Sustainability Partner', but this is dangerous greenwash. Its entire business is geared towards keeping the world addicted to fossil fuels and driving us towards uncontrollable climate change. And the Olympics are helping BP get away with it."

BP said it was committed to paying all legitimate claims and had already paid out $8bn to individuals, businesses, and governments. The spokesman added: “London 2012 sponsorship is an investment in our business and brand and does not have any impact on funds available for unrelated matters.”

Dow is sponsoring the £14m Olympic stadium wrap. It also has contracts to provide the artificial grass for hockey pitches and roof insulation for some stadiums and accommodation in the Olympic village.

Campaigners say Dow's failure to make Union Carbide Corporation, its wholly owned subsidiary since 2001, appear before the Indian criminal court to face outstanding charges related to the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, and its refusal to pay a share of the clean-up of contaminated water and land, make it an unsuitable Olympic partner.

A Dow spokesman said the company “has no connection to the [Bhopal] tragedy or its aftermath. Dow never owned, operated or inherited Union Carbide India Limited’s Bhopal site and has no liability or responsibility for it.”

The campaigners also highlight that Dow was found guilty in September 2010 of bribing Indian officials in order to register banned pesticides. Dow Agro Sciences Pvt Ltd (a 100 per cent owned subsidiary) was blacklisted by the Indian Agriculture Ministry for five years. Dow said it discovered and reported the unethical behaviour to the authorities. A spokesman said: “We have strong ethics and compliance culture and expect all employees to abide by these stringent policies and procedures and conduct themselves with high integrity.

He added: “We could not disagree more with the groups’ characterization of the company. In fact, sustainability is one of the company’s four strategic themes and is governed by our CEO and Executive Leadership Committee– it factors into everything the company does.”

Locog did not respond to requests for comment.

Case study

Cherise Udell is the founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air. She started getting repeated sinus infections and a chronic sore throat after moving to Salt Lake City in 2005. The city, which lies in a valley and is only 30 miles from the mine, sufferers from ozone layer problems every summer and high Particle Matter levels every winter. Her daughters, aged 7 and 5, are “lucky” because they do not have asthma but suffer from sinus and ear infections every year. All the city's children are stopped from playing outside and doing PE on the really bad days, which are among the worst in the US. Her sore throat and runny nose only clear up when she leave the city.

She said: “In Utah, Rio Tinto is the number one emitter of toxins known to cause harm to human health. Every year, between 1000 and 2000 Utahans die prematurely due to chronic air pollution and Rio Tinto's Bingham mine is responsible for about 30 per cent of this.

“So it's ironic that they are awarding athletic excellence using metals  mined from my community where our children's lungs are being damaged by the mining… We are not trying to close down their mine. We all use their products, but we want them to pay a fair price for doing their business - which means cleaning up.”

A Rio Tinto spokeswoman said: “We are committed to having reliable and efficient operations, reducing our environmental impacts and working within our community to improve air quality in Utah. We are investing in upgrading our power plants to make significant reductions in emissions. 

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