Selling the province or “greenwashing” the problem
If you’ve been to an airport in Canada recently, you might have noticed an ad campaign promoting “sustainable Saskatchewan.”
The Sustainable Saskatchewan website and digital media campaign, which launched late last year, took the message to 10 Canadian airports with digital ads that read: “If you’re looking for opportunities to partner, innovate and conserve natural resources develop, Saskatchewan is the best place in the world to do that.”
However, critics say the government’s campaign is disingenuous because it focuses on emissions reductions in the agricultural sector but fails to define what “sustainability” really means for the province in the long term.
“I would say this is more of an investment in raising awareness among our country people of what we are doing here and how we are doing it,” Premier Scott Moe said of the $1.1 million campaign.
Moe calls it an invitation to Canadians to be proud of the products and materials that come out of Saskatchewan and how they are made: “That’s the outreach program that we do. You’ll see it in virtually every major airport across Canada. “
According to Moe, the first wave of the ad campaign will focus on agriculture, but will also include other industries such as mining, potash, and oil and gas. It runs in airports until the end of March.
“I can tell you that our customers who buy our canola and canola oil ask you how this product is made. The people who buy our oil ask about methane emissions in the province and we tell them, well, they’re down 60 percent from 2015.
“A great metric to share with our customers and I would suggest this. We need to make sure other Canadians are aware of this [it] as well as.”
He said the idea is to sell Saskatchewan as it compares to other jurisdictions with similar industries.
“[We’re] produce potash with half the carbon content of our competitors in other parts of the world. Those are strong numbers that I think we, as Saskatchewan residents, can be so proud of.”
Grant Wilson, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Regina, says the province is encountering an issue of growing concern.
“Certainly in this business climate, committing and committing to sustainability and making efforts is a requirement, and I think it’s something that if it doesn’t generate new business, it will certainly sustain existing business.”
In a letter to CBC, Glenn Wright, a board member of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES), criticized the government’s actions.
Wright said the ad campaign focused on emissions reductions already achieved in agriculture, but not what still needs to be done.
“There are no discussions about absolute emission reductions and only references to the broader social and environmental goals of genuine sustainable development,” he wrote.
“The problem with the word ‘sustainable’ is that it has been used and abused, making it difficult for the public to understand what the government is trying to imply by ‘Sustainable Saskatchewan.'”
He said the provincial government needs to “have a much broader focus beyond emissions reduction” to achieve sustainability.
Wright said while the agricultural sector has become more efficient and resilient, more can be done to reduce emissions, protect water and protect biodiversity.
He said the SES wants the government to set the following goals:
Decarbonize the economy.
Commit to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Cooperation with other levels of government and indigenous and Métis nations.
Accelerate the necessary transition to true sustainability that benefits us all together.
Naturalist calls campaign “greenwashing”
Trevor Herriot, a Saskatchewan naturalist, doesn’t buy what the Saskatchewan government sells.
He referred to the United Nations Brundtland Commission’s 1987 definition of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
“They just roll their eyes because we know that sustainability looks very different than what the current government is promoting,” Herriot said.
Herriot says he has questions about how the province calculates its data and what it’s leaving out.
“We’ve often heard that our greenhouse gas emissions per capita are the highest in Canada, and Canada has some of the highest in the world, so we don’t have much to boast about there.”
“This campaign is the pinnacle of greenwashing. It’s a classic move in any right-wing populist government’s playbook, given any criticism and the science-based facts you’re presented with: find a way to spin your own version of reality and use your platform to get it out there.”
Herriot says tackling climate change and being “truly sustainable in our energy and food systems” will come with economic costs for the province.
“But if we don’t start making those sacrifices and get on the plate today, it’s going to be so much more difficult going forward. And the effects of climate change are already intensifying. What choice do we have but to intervene?”
He said Saskatchewan’s priorities should include making agriculture more sustainable, reducing emissions and protecting native grasslands.