Just when one former nemesis seems to have turned a corner and embraced sustainability leadership and engagement over megaphone PR (see Asia Pulp & Paper post here http://tiny.cc/2t85sw ), as sure as night follows day, up pops a new one in the form of EDF Energy.
EDF has in recent days managed to trump Shell (quite an achievement; more on the latter’s incompetence here http://tiny.cc/mx85sw ) as my ‘PR idiot’ firm of the year. If you’re reading this, you’ll probably know this is because of EDF’s ludicrous and disgraceful attempt to close down peaceful protest in this country by filing a civil claim for £5 million against a group of brave campaigners who trespassed on one of their sites last year. This is quite unprecedented. Legal facts of the matter aside, it is reputational suicide for EDF Energy.
In a battle of hearts and minds, who will win, I wonder; the big French nuclear giant wanting to bankrupt young people or the climate change realists in their twenties who face jail, in some cases possibly losing their homes, and a lifetime of paying money to EDF?
As with all good campaigns, the backlash has started and is growing. Twitter is awash with environmentalists, journalists, business people and, crucially, EDF customers, attacking the brand and deserting its products. And it hasn’t even really got going yet. Sometimes you just know, it’s a hunch thing, that a movement will start and it will stick, until the battle is won. The battle in this case is not about energy policy, the rights and wrongs of gas, nuclear or renewables. It’s not even about whether people should trespass on company property; that’s a criminal matter for courts to determine. This fight, as ably articulated by George Monbiot in the Guardian, is about the future of protest in Britain.
I felt so angry about this that a couple of days ago I started firing off a few tweets about EDF. They’ve been helpfully compiled here http://tiny.cc/n985sw The response was fast, strong and amazing. Yesterday I spoke briefly with the brave Hannah Davey, one of the people who faces financial ruin courtesy of EDF. She wanted to thank me for my pledge of a donation, far too little, towards a new fund that will help people like Hannah if they end up being broken by EDF’s bullying tactics. As I put it yesterday, I made the money helping the clean up of business, so it might as well go back to the same cause.
It will take EDF a generation to recover from its idiocy if the firm persists with this unprecedented civil claim against the individual protestors. EDF will be the poster child for all that is wrong, not just with energy policy, but with big business. Those of us who work with very large companies day in day out, must speak out. And those in the PR firms sustaining EDF’s feeble morals should be ashamed. The agencies should resign the accounts. If they do not, then account directors and managers should refuse to work on EDF Energy until they drop this misguided strategy.
One of the legendary tales in Private Eye magazine’s history was its owner Peter Cook gleefully waving his cheque-book at Robert Maxwell during the latter’s libel action against Ian Hislop & Co. A simple message from a flamboyant man: ‘You won’t bring us down, you bully’.
We need the same ethos here – a fund that will help and sustain the brave young campaigners if the worst happens. EDF won’t be allowed to crush their spirit or their finances. That’s why I made my own pledge. Who else is in?
I want to stress that at Robertsbridge Group we work with big business. We believe it’s important, that we can create progress, and that companies are part of the answer to the planetary emergency. A big part, in fact. But we are very clear about where we draw the line. Against our criteria, EDF has crossed it and indeed lapped it several times over. It’s unforgiveable. No-one with even the slightest interest in the green agenda should have anything to do with EDF’s sustainability stategy or communications until the company backs down, stops behaving like a despotic regime and starts behaving like a citizen.