Greta Thunberg quits Edinburgh Book Fest: greenwashing claims

Greta Thunberg quits Edinburgh Book Fest: greenwashing claims

by Suswati Basu

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg pulled out of the Edinburgh International Book Festival just a week before the event, because of its links to the fossil fuel industry. The festival is sponsored by Baillie Gifford, an investment firm that has billions invested in firms that profit from fossil fuels. Consequently, Thunberg accused Baillie Gifford of “greenwashing” by sponsoring cultural events, and said she did not want to be associated with it.

In a statement released to the festival, Thunberg said: “I am unfortunately unable to attend the Edinburgh Book Festival. As a climate activist I cannot attend an event which receives sponsorship from Baillie Gifford, who invest heavily in the fossil fuel industry. Greenwashing efforts by the fossil fuel industry, including sponsorship of cultural events, allow them to keep the social license to continue operating. I cannot and do not want to be associated with events that accept this kind of sponsorship.”

What Edinburgh Book Festival said about Greta Thunberg

The festival’s director, Nick Barley, said he was “disappointed” by Thunberg’s decision, but that he respected her right to make it. He said: “We strongly believe that Baillie Gifford are part of the solution to the climate emergency. They are committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and have a strong track record of investing in sustainable businesses.”

The decision to pull out of the festival has been praised by some environmental groups, who have said that it is a “powerful gesture” against greenwashing. However, it has also been criticised by others, who have said that it is unfair to single out Baillie Gifford when many other companies are also invested in fossil fuels.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is one of the largest and most prestigious literary festivals in the world. It is held every year in Edinburgh, Scotland, and also attracts over 250,000 visitors. The festival’s program includes a wide range of events, from readings and discussions to workshops and performances.

Who are Baillie Gifford and what are the greenwashing claims?

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the act of misleading consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or service. It can be done through false or misleading advertising, or by making vague or unsubstantiated claims about environmental performance.

Baillie Gifford is an investment management firm based in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was founded in 1908 and is one of the largest independent investment firms in the world. Baillie Gifford manages over £300 billion in assets for clients around the world.

Thunberg accused the company of greenwashing because the firm invests in companies that profit from fossil fuels, while at the same time promoting itself as an environmentally responsible investor. Baillie Gifford has denied these accusations, saying that it is committed to investing in sustainable businesses.

Read: World Environment Day books: 7 reads to raise awareness

Based on figures released in its annual climate report, The Ferret calculated that Baillie Gifford had up to £5bn invested in companies which make money from the oil, coal or gas sectors at the end of 2022. 

The company also sponsors The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize, which is an annual British book prize for the best non-fiction writing in the English language. It was founded in 1999 following the demise of the NCR Book Award. 

The greenwashing claims against Baillie Gifford have highlighted the challenges of assessing the environmental impact of investments.

What did Baillie Gifford say?

Baillie Gifford denied investing heavily in fossil fuels, claiming 2% of clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels. They added that this was less than the market average of 11%.The company said: “We believe in open debate and discussion which is why we are long-term supporters of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.”

How have people responded to Greta Thunberg quitting Edinburgh Book Festival?

Climate activists approved of her decision, calling for other artists to do the same. Climate scientist and author of Hothouse Earth Professor Bill Maguire said it was “Time to decide which side of history YOU are on”:

What is the latest Greta Thunberg book?

Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book was published in October 2022. The book provides a comprehensive overview of the climate crisis, from the science of climate change to the challenges and solutions. Thunberg draws on the expertise of over 100 experts, including scientists, economists, and activists, to provide a balanced and informed view of the issue.

Thunberg also shares her own personal experiences and insights on the climate crisis. In addition to her own journey as a climate activist, she offers advice and inspiration to others who want to get involved in the fight for climate justice.

Greta Thunberg quits Edinburgh Book Festival. Activist seen in red T-shirt, standing up on stage as people clap
Greta Thunberg speaks at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2022 about her book. Credit: Suswati Basu

I was fortunate enough to see her 2022 talk about her book at London’s Royal Festival Hall, where she described the writings as “educational” and then joked that it was “ironic” given her position in the School Strike for Climate action. She added that she believed that “once we fully understand the climate emergency and the consequences of it, then we will know what to do”, and that her book was a contribution to that idea.

Read: What are we doing about climate change? – with 1,001 Voices on Climate Change author Devi Lockwood

She also mentioned that it was due to greenwashing that she did not attend the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt. As a result, the Swedish activist called it a “scam” that allows “greenwashing, lying and cheating” to continue.

The book therefore catalogues ways to combat climate change with concrete examples. Thunberg also called for more people to get involved in climate activism, saying the time had come for “drastic changes” to the status quo. “In order to change things, we need everyone – we need billions of activists,” she said.

Devi Lockwood speaks about her book 1,001 Voices on Climate Change

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