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Are businesses in Glasgow genuinely taking steps towards a sustainable future, or are they merely trying to make some extra cash during COP26?

COP26 has brought the world to Glasgow’s doorstep, with environmental activists, world leaders, NGOs and businesses descending on our city. With a whole host of live events, talks and promotional opportunities up for grabs, there’s one certainty in all of this: well placed businesses are going to make a lot of profit. 

You’d be hard pressed not to notice the calls to action when walking through the city. Cafes with window displays about the importance of this moment for our planet, billboards purchased by corporations calling on us to make the change. Finnieston sushi restaurant Pickled Ginger is offering to plant a tree for every £15 spent during the conference, while other Glasgow eateries have signed up to reduce their food waste for a month through the Plate Up For Glasgow initiative. However, invoking the immortal words of the queen of country pop, Shania Twain, “that don’t impress me much”.

The real question is, are businesses genuinely beginning to care about their impact on the environment? Or, are the claims of environmental responsibility just capitalists salivating over the sought after green pound?

While acts like this may seem like a commitment to take action in combating the climate crisis, I wonder if business’s intentions are pure. Unfortunately, all signs point to the negative. While businesses giving up profit to plant trees and taking steps to reduce their waste might look like we’re finally moving in the right direction, these commitments have a time limit. It’s often said that actions speak louder than words, and in this case, the timings of these actions speak the loudest. 

Similarly to businesses who rush to get the rainbow flags out during pride only to remain silent on LGBTQ+ issues for the other 11 months of the year, businesses who are quick to jump on the “go green” campaign this November should be met with heavy cynicism. Let’s use Pickled Ginger as a brief case study, although I will acknowledge that other businesses around Glasgow have used the same performative marketing. It would be naive to think that their promise to plant trees wasn’t partially, if not wholly, motivated by a desire to get more people through the door. I’m by no means a Pickled Ginger historian, but I don’t recall them ever standing out as a strong advocate for climate activism. Browsing through their Facebook timeline you’ll find a few references to using “sustainably sourced” fish, but as anyone who’s watched Seaspiracy knows, the term “sustainable” when used regarding fishing can be a vague and meaningless descriptor. 

As for the Plate Up campaign, it’s surprising that many of these businesses felt they had to wait for COP26 to openly tackle food waste (granted, I do recognise a few names on the list who have participated in environmental awareness in the past). Tackling food waste for a month is not going to make a big enough impact.Really, it's too late for small steps towards sustainability in the food industry. We've known about the climate crisis for a long time, yet businesses weren't motivated by it before - their actions to “go green” during COP26 are tarred with insincerity. All these actions need to be happening consistently throughout the year to have any meaningful impact, and they need to be coming from everyone. Maybe I’m being overly cynical, and the businesses I’m talking about will decide to take their green initiatives forward after the circus has left town. If that’s the case then brilliant, no harm, no foul. Time will tell. Next year we can look back and see if they were really in it for the long haul or if it really was just about the lure of that sweet green pound.


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