Was Innocent’s takeover of Trafalgar Square an ecological own goal? – Advice Eating

Despite some efforts to offset emissions from the recent one-day takeover of Trafalgar Square, people took to social media to criticize Innocent and claim the event was yet another greenwashing stunt. Here, Don’t Panic founder Joe Wade explains what went wrong and what other brands can learn from it.

Last week, Innocent took over London’s Trafalgar Square to launch its new sustainability campaign, The Big Rewild. It installed 6,000 plants, flowers and trees, put up out-of-home posters that absorb CO2 and covered bus shelters with grass and plants.

Filling Trafalgar Square with plants for the day is like putting a wind turbine on the roof of your house and plugging it into the grid. It’s pretentious and actually worse for the environment than doing nothing at all.

An Instagram post from Innocent on launch day said: “We revived Trafalgar Square as part of our ‘Big Rewild’ campaign, bringing more than 6,000 plants, flowers and trees to the city.”

Transporting over 6,000 plants for just one day is utterly unsustainable and almost certainly generates more emissions than not doing the stunt at all.

While Innocent has a lot to say about offsetting on its website, there is no sign of transport emissions being offset for this particular project. People were upset with the one day installation – one person tweeted in reply to “innocent”: “What a huge carbon cost of greenwashing one day! Everything in and out again. Why not sort through your monumental plastic consumption?”

It’s very good to want to project an image of sustainability, but if promoting it means harming the cause you’re trying to advocate, it’s hugely damaging not only for the planet but also for the brand.

On the plus side, it seems that the days of symbolic stunts are numbered as younger generations become more familiar with greenwashing tactics. One climate activist took to TikTok to expose Innocent’s shortcomings, explaining, “I thought or hoped it would be an environmental justice campaign, but quickly realized it was just an advertisement for Innocent.”

Seizing the moment, the activist took the opportunity to distribute leaflets with a campaign to make access to nature a human right – and single-handedly market one of the largest global companies.

Just months earlier, Innocent had an ad banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for making “misleading” environmental claims.

The ASA ruling read: “The ad initially presented a depiction of a damaged planet and brown food. It then switched to images of the planet being ‘fixed’ while consuming Innocent drinks alongside images of Innocent products.” And: “We felt that this implied that there was a direct correlation between the choice of Innocent drinks and positive action to protect the environment.”

You may be thinking, is there ever a “good” way to pull off an environmental campaign? The answer is yes! There are ways to avoid greenwashing, and here are our top three tips:

  • Opt for a long-term approach that encourages real positive change, not a flash in the pan with no long-term benefit.

  • Know your place and don’t overcharge (and let ASA ban your ad) and be transparent about your credentials.

  • Partner with a nonprofit organization with the appropriate experience if your product or service serves no purpose. This creates credibility while ensuring that you support existing initiatives (bottom-up) and provide a platform for the nonprofit to gain support itself.

Don’t Panic worked with YouTube to promote its new show Seat at the Table, using the media budget normally set aside for a celebrity billboard instead working with The Wildlife Trusts to buy a tract of over-exploited farmland. Then a world first was born: a huge poster made of seed paper. This huge poster kick started an ambitious rewilding process that will see plants and animals return to the British countryside. Long after the show ends, promoting it will do the world good as The Wildlife Trusts will continue to tend the land for decades to come.

Don’t Panic also recently created a Get Fit For Purpose report, which shares advice from a number of environmental organizations on how to get targeted marketing right. You can download the report here.

What Innocent says:

“Every single element of the event was planned following a seven-step process with sustainability in mind. From the partners we’ve worked with to building ways to offset carbon emissions where more sustainable options weren’t available.

“The trees and plants in the activity have been temporarily leased from trusted, green-focused company Palmbrokers, with gift plants from The Natural Gardener and Evergreen Exterior Services – all taking care of their foliage and flora.

“Wherever possible, electric vehicles were used for transport, but some of the plants required special transport in vehicles that were not yet available in electric form – in these cases the CO2 emissions were offset.

“All trees, plants and flowers remained potted throughout the process to prevent them from being removed from their soil which could shorten their lifespan or cause damage. They were potted in coconut pots made from the unused shells of coconuts. Even the soil used was considered with reduced peat content. The naturally growing coconut palms actually help reduce CO2 emissions and the pots reach the UK via liners. They are also biodegradable, so when planted, a natural resource is returned to the soil.

“Anything rented from Palmbrokers was reused, brought back to the nurseries and cared for. All other plants went home into the hands of members of the public for replanting at home. This was in addition to 3 million seeds distributed at the event. All of this contributes to offsetting emissions.”

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