RED FACES all round at Greenpeace this summer as it emerged that one of its directors regularly commutes by air from his home in Luxembourg to the NGO’s HQ in Amsterdam.
Greenpeace initially defended Pascal Husting’s frequent flying on the grounds that he has a young family, the train journey is a 12-hour round trip, and it was only meant to be temporary.
This argument would stand up for anybody other than the director of an organisation that has campaigned fiercely against air travel. If you make environmental protection a moral issue, then you cannot make high-carbon life choices out of convenience – because that’s exactly what you are criticising others for doing.
It’s not only campaigners who fall into the “one rule for them” trap. I have come across several examples of business leaders who have declared a bold commitment to environmental issues and then turned up a week later in a brand new gas- guzzling company car. They immediat§ely undermined everything good they had tried to do through a piece of crass self-interest.
In contrast I had a coffee last year with the sustainability manager at a blue-chip client in their funky foyer café. When we got up to leave, she panicked as she hadn’t touched her drink, so couldn’t put the cup in the recycling bin. After looking for a sink, she necked the cold tea, winced, and recycled the cup with relief. “That might look stupid,” she explained, “but I can’t be seen to do the wrong thing – my reputation would be shot.”
It all comes down to authenticity – being what you say you are. People believe what they see, not what they read. So you must do more than say the right thing, you must be seen to do the right thing.
The coda to the Greenpeace story is that a chastened Husting is now taking the train.
Gareth Kane is a sustainability author, blogger and director of sustainability consultancy Terra Infirma