Janet Street-Porter: Why this award is a waste of energy

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The Independent Online

Has the world gone mad? In New York this week, the supermarket chain Wal-Mart received an award for its "contribution to the environment" from the Hollywood filmmakers Bob and Harvey Weinstein. It is true that a year ago Wal-Mart reacted to criticism that focused on a range of issues, from their employees' pay and conditions to the devastating effect they have had on town centres across America, by announcing a raft of environmentally themed initiatives.

Wal-Mart announced they'd reduce energy use in their stores by 30 pre cent over three years, use more fuel-efficient trucks, cut down on packaging and recycle carrier bags.

But hold on a minute! By building vast warehouses, carrying a huge range of stock and slashing prices which inevitably lead to smaller retail competitors going out of business and by concreting over thousands of acres of countryside in order to provide car parking around their air-conditioned mammoth warehouses, these measures seem like pitiful window-dressing.

Wal-Mart's ruthless expansion has already played havoc with the planet in all sorts of ways that renders gestures such as changing the kind of light bulbs they plug in and encouraging us to take our own receptacles for our shopping totally meaningless. Wal-Mart does not generally build up relationships with local growers and suppliers (reducing carbon emissions in the process) because it is committed to bringing produce to its stores thousands of miles by road and air. It sells cheap goods and clothing made in Third World countries where wages are low and environmental concerns are secondary to production cost.

The Weinsteins, who are Democrats, should be ashamed of sucking up to a monolith that has close ties to the Republican Party. The real reason for their bizarre decision to present Wal-Mart this award is because the retailer shifts 40 per cent of all DVDs sold in the US, and the Weinsteins are to produce a series of films for the family market, which would be sold only on DVD, rather than shown at the box office. So much for ethical values.

The idea of nominating any supermarket chain for an environmental award is ludicrous - until they are compelled to build all customer parking under or over their stores, thus limiting the size of their footprint. Until they can demonstrate that a sizeable proportion of the goods on sale come from within a defined region or locality, until they remove all packaging other than that which is biodegradable, then there is no case to answer.

Supermarkets hold considerable retailing power, which could be used to educate consumers into exercising more concern for their environment. Surprisingly, it is consumers who have taken the lead in demanding organic food and environmentally friendly products, not the retailers. Stores could, for example, insist that all their cheap clothing was made using Fair Trade fabrics and in conditions where workers are properly paid and cared for, but they don't.

The bottom line is the balance sheet, and the profit for their shareholders. WWF's report published this week shows that resources are being used 25 per cent faster than the planet can renew them. It assesses the ecological footprint, the extent of human demand on resources in hectares per person, at a staggering 9.4 in North America, compared with a world average of 2.23 - which is why giving an environmental award to Wal-Mart is an obscenity.

Fanny made a pantomime dame by BBC

I've not seen anything as repellent in months as the dyed, navy-blue, hard-boiled eggs featured in BBC4's Fear of Fanny.

This funny entertainment was loosely based on the life of the television cook Fanny Craddock. It suffered from the same shortcomings as two other recent television dramas based on other popular national treasures, Kenneth Williams and Elizabeth David.

When the subject is someone who died in the past half century, the costume designer, the set dressers, the wig makers and props people tend to dominate the end result, which comes to resemble a nostalgia-themed issue of Wallpaper magazine or Vogue. The script vanishes under the weight of ironic references. As Fanny, Julia Davis, trying to compete with all this, became a pantomine dame, which is a shame, because a quieter production (in all respects) would have told us a lot more.

* One of the only reasons to visit Crosby, near Liverpool, is to walk along the beach and admire the 100 cast iron men poking up out of the sand, a massive installation by the distinguished artist Anthony Gormley, who put Gateshead firmly on the map a few years ago with his monumental Angel of the North.

The pygmies that run Sefton council's planning department have decided that because of health and safety concerns, these sculptures should not remain in place for any longer than the 16 months that was originally agreed.

It seems they could represent a danger to sailors and windsurfers at high tide. I would have thought that was a small price to pay for being lucky enough to host a world-class piece of art. The charity set up to buy the £2.2m piece and keep it in the sands is appealing.

Liverpool is still trying to drum up supporters for its year of culture in 2008. If Gormley's piece is removed by small-minded bureaucrats, it won't bode well for Liverpool's efforts to attract world-class art in the future.