The Edinburgh-based bank, RBS, and the British oil multinational, Shell, have both been shortlisted for the government-backed 2012 Vision in Business for the Environment of Scotland (Vibes) awards, to be announced in Glasgow this week.
The selection of the two firms has infuriated environmentalists, who label them as among the world's worst polluters. They are demanding that the companies’ nominations be abandoned.
“To suggest RBS and Shell are paragons of virtue and to brand these awards as green is to corrupt the meaning of the word,” said the Green MSP, Alison Johnstone.
The environmental reputation of RBS was “shredded” and Shell was guilty of major oil spills, she argued. “I don't know who decided on the shortlist for these awards but they're astonishingly out of touch.”
The RBS headquarters at Gogarburn in Edinburgh and Shell’s St Fergus Gas Terminal in Aberdeenshire have both been shortlisted in the large company management category of Vibes. The Shell plant has also been shortlisted for a waste award.
Other nominees include a fish and chip shop in Stonehaven, a hairdresser in Inverurie and a bookshop in Dunfermline. The awards, which are supported by the Scottish government and half a dozen of its agencies, will be unveiled at a ceremony at a Glasgow hotel on 29 November.
According to Vibes, the awards are to recognise “those working in Scotland that are trying to help make our country more environmentally aware and work towards Scotland’s 2020 carbon reduction targets.”
But Friends of the Earth Scotland pointed out that RBS is the UK’s biggest funder of climate-wrecking fossil fuels and also backs companies involved in exploiting tar sands in Canada, dubbed “the most destructive project on earth”. Between October 2011 and March 2012 the publicly-owned bank was involved with £40 billion worth of loans to fossil fuel companies around the world.
“The award that RBS should be nominated for is a climate-trasher award,” said Paul Daly, the environmental group’s corporate accountability campaigner. “Friends of the Earth Scotland is calling for the Vibes awards to acknowledge their oversight, and to drop RBS from their shortlist in order to maintain credibility.”
He accused the bank’s spin doctors of going into overdrive to try and convince people that they had cleaned up their act. “Creating a good public face is obviously a priority for the bank, which has been caught up in a sequence of financial and environmental scandals,” he said.
Vicky Wyatt, the senior energy campaigner at Greenpeace, argued that Shell should not be in line for any kind of green award. “It is without doubt one of the least green companies on the planet,” she said.
“Their plans to drill in the pristine and fragile Arctic for oil are a huge threat to the environment. A spill there would be catastrophic, would wreck vital habitat for animals like polar bears as well as the millions of people living there.”
Vibes stressed that the awards were for business operations in Scotland, rather than their impact around the globe. RBS and Shell had been shortlisted for their commitment to “sustainable practices” at their Scottish sites.
“The final shortlist has been chosen using robust criteria and all have demonstrated commitment to reducing environmental impact on their Scottish sites,” said a Vibes spokesman.
“Vibes commends the dedication and commitment to reducing carbon emissions in Scotland of all the businesses in this year's shortlist.”
Shell said that it had succeeded in reducing carbon emissions by five per cent between 1990 and 2010, and by a further three per cent in 2011.”We continue to roll out our global carbon dioxide energy management programmes, which use common tools, techniques and technology across our operations to optimise energy use,” said a company spokesman.
RBS declined to comment.