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Scottish woodland charity criticised for “greenwashing” partnership with BP

This news post is 7 months old

Future Woodland Scotland will receive £10 million from the fossil fuel giant

A Scottish charity creating new native woodland has been censured by fellow environmental groups after it announced a fresh multi-million pound partnership with a fossil fuel giant. 

During National Tree Week, Future Woodlands Scotland (FWS) announced a partnership with BP to help “deliver greener cities, towns, and urban areas through an innovative forestry programme”.

The charity, whose mission is creating and conserving woodlands across Scotland, has signed a contract with BP, with the fossil fuel company intending to commit funding of a total of £10 million to the newly-created urban forestry programme as part of the development of its latest Scottish offshore windfarm. 

A spokesperson for BP said: “BP has been involved in woodland regeneration in Scotland for decades, helping plant millions of native trees, enhancing biodiversity, and improving community access by restoring woodland paths. 

“We are very proud of what our long-established partnerships have achieved and, as part of the commitments made in our offshore wind development located off the coast of Aberdeen, we are pleased to be able to expand on this important work by supporting Future Woodlands Scotland's Urban Forestry Programme."

But significant concerns have been raised by leading green groups, who pointed to the decades of environmental destruction caused by bp and other global energy companies. 

Friends of the Earth Scotland climate campaigner Alex Lee said funding from BP on this scale is tokenistic. 

They said: “BP is one of the world's worst climate polluters and is hellbent on extracting as much oil and gas as possible, including from the North Sea. BP is drilling for the oil that ends up choking our streets from fossil fuelled vehicles and are making record profits from the cost of the gas that people can't afford to heat their home.   

“We will need more greenery in our towns and cities to help adapt to the more extreme weather that is coming but it is firms like BP who are accelerating that process of climate breakdown. Token tree-planting initiatives such as these are little more than greenwashing attempts by BP to distract from the dirty truth of how they make their money. 

"Given the long-standing campaigns against BP sponsorship of cultural institutions, organisations should be considering the reputational damage of having their name associated with a company with a reputation like BP.” 

The programme will reportedly be used to find new and emerging technologies to target urban areas where creating greenspace will be of the most benefit to people.

As a result of the funding, the charity recruited its first urban forestry manager who will lead the delivery of the urban forestry programme, which it expects to launch in mid-2024.

BP has supported FWS in Scotland for more than 20 years and says it is “committed to making a positive impact to restore and enhance biodiversity where its people live and work”. 

A Future Woodlands Scotland spokesperson said: “FWS is committed to creating and conserving trees and woodlands across Scotland, and we have a long-established partnership with BP which helps us to deliver projects that align with our charitable aims. BP’s support is directed towards initiatives that contribute to our overall mission. 

“Our partnership to develop the Urban Forestry Programme will allow us to make a meaningful impact on the urban environment.”

The potential positives of the partnership have still been questioned by experts in the environmental sector, with long-term campaigns describing this latest attempt as “deeply problematic”. 

Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch UK told TFN: “Such partnerships with big polluters are deeply problematic, and urban woodland as well as forest restoration schemes should never depend on funding from fossil fuel companies and other polluters. 

“BP, as the fourth-biggest oil and gas company in the world, remains a major contributor to climate change, and it also has a history of backing lobby groups against climate action. While BP is trying hard to greenwash its image, it significantly watered down its own carbon reduction ambition just this year.

“Global heating is already killing trees and forests on an ever greater scale: In Canada alone, an area twice the size of Portugal went up in flames this year, and drought is causing tree die-off and large bark beetle outbreaks even in countries like Germany. 

“If BP genuinely cared about trees and forests, it would shut down its core business, which remains in oil and gas.”

However, representatives from Extinction Rebellion (XR) Scotland has said there needs to be some nuance when considering working with BP and other groups. 

Jennifer Newall of XR Scotland - a former climate scientist now working on ecosystem restoration and community partnerships - said it is key that groups benefiting from this money have the ability to call out the worst work done by BP. 

She added: “It’s one of those polarising issues that actually requires nuance, and space to look at it from both sides. My gut instinct is that we should be refusing potential greenwashing from BP. I’m a keen cyclist, and we saw the same with British Cycling. 

“But as someone who works in these spaces, these projects need funding, and perhaps our role as climate concerned citizens is to be aware of the transparency that this funding comes from BP.

"That FWS do fund grassroots initiatives gives this a little more potential to not be fully greenwashing. Some of the responsibility relies on citizens to apply for funding and make sure there are no ties, that the money is being given to community projects and that there’s not a tie to supporting BP further - that we still have our free speech and ability to call out BP for the destruction it has done. 

“In that big picture context, the likes of BP are responsible for so much damage. Since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, there’s been over £13 billion in public money given to the likes of BP and other fossil fuel companies in subsidies. £10m is such a drop in the ocean for BP. 

“We should be very dubious of this greenwashing narrative as BP should be putting so much more into projects like this. But as grassroots projects struggle for funding, and we are in a world that requires money to manage community initiatives, and do research and development, it’s positive that FWS is being supported, so we as citizens have a responsibility to take it with a pinch of salt, and make sure it doesn’t change our holding of BP to account, while acknowledging this is better than not having anything. 

“We each as individuals can take a little bit of responsibility. If we want BP and the like to change their reputation, we do have to give space for that, but not be naive, let greenwashing happen, and scrutinise every part of that. 

“We must be aware BP has underwritten this, and make sure we don’t see any signs this is tied funding that you can’t speak freely to BP’s destruction. We can be trusted as the public to prevent this from being another case of greenwashing and hold BP to account, while benefiting from the funding.”



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Lok Yue
7 months ago

Two points: first have the righteous complainers asked those potential lothian pensioners if they would be happy to see their pensions cut and secondly I'm sure I could find a large number of charities with the desire and need for funding from legally-compliant corporate entities.

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6 months ago

Pension fund managers are able to choose to divest from harmful industries. It's not an immutable law of nature that pension money has to be stuck in BP and other oil giants. There is a very active divestments movement working to make sure that pension fund investment does not continue to prop up firms whose core business has resulted in massive environmental destruction.

Charity trustees are also at liberty to consider matters other than purely financial when setting their policies. If receiving a donation will cause the charity reputational harm, conflict with charitable goals, or directly or indirectly harm beneficiaries, then it is right and proper to not accept that donation. This is a decision for trustees to make - and guilt tripping them about other people's pensions that will not be affected in the slightest by the charity refusing a donation is simply desperate PR spin. "We are a legally compliant corporate entity" is a bare minimum threshold to cross, not the be-all and end-all of acceptability.

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