Eden Project – Corporate Con

Dec 27, 2007

The Eden Project – great big golf balls of plants down there in Cornwall, so out-of-the-way they put the black performers there during Live 8 in 2005. Locals aren’t best pleased with the supposed green credentials of the Project. Here’s why.

Hoardes of representatives of the Eden project hogged the road at the front the build up to this years Climate Change demonstration, handing out cards urging demonstrators and passers by to help them get more money. Eden’s message was that they need environmentally concerned individuals to vote for the project to win £50 million of the `Peoples Millions’ Lottery funding for their new educational development `the edge’. Of course, Eden are hugely deserving of this award because, well, they want to save the planet, and although founder Tim Smidt is a multi-zillionaire, they are, like, all leftie and greenie just like everyone else on the march.

Or not. There were several things that these representatives were not telling protestors. Firstly, Eden are experts at getting money from both public and private sources, and you know what? They really don’t care where the money comes from, and secondly, Eden ain’t really that green, or certainly not as caring about the environment as we all would assume and expect.

Of course the build was expensive but public money is very accommodating. The Millenium Commission was very nice and donated a cool £86 million to help towards this, and they got a total of £35 million of European funding designed to help the most economically deprived parts of Europe (through Objective One funding). But it still has running costs. Even charging £14 per head entry to its `attraction’ and in 2006 receiving charitable donations totaling nearly £22 million it still is not financially sustainable, and so it also has to look to the private sector for a bit more cash.

Fortunately they’ve been quite lucky, and Coca Cola very kindly provided can crushing machines to help with recycling, and green Coke vending machines to hype the botanical elements of the drink, engagingly entitled `the little nut that traveled the world’. They were also given money by Sita, a subsidiary of privatized water nasties Suez, who are regularly cited in `top 10′s’ of the worst corporations worldwide. The GM crops company the Syngenta Foundation made a big donation, as did Estee Lauder, and they have close links with Rio Tinto, a mining company with a long history of human rights abuses and who also supplied the Copper for the `Core’ building. Shell International sponsored a recent conference hosted and joint organised by Eden, where a representative from Walmart took part in a session about Corporate Responsibility and Sustainabilty. And although not strictly funding, one of their trustees, Lord George of St Tudy (the former governor of the Bank of England) is also a non executive director of Nestle AG.

But Edens corporate identity is built around the environment and the protection of our planet, so perhaps human rights abuses are not so important. However. there are issues with Eden’s environmental credentials too. What skaters on Edens outdoor ice rink (equivalent to the energy usage of 250 homes – or at least, according to their blurb) probably do not realise is that a new road had to be built to enable the infrastructure in the immediate vicinity for visitors to come to the attraction. Further roads to tackle queues of cars from the main trunk routes are under development. Also the ice rink (paid for by the Millenium Commission) nestles at the bottom of the former china clay pit, well below the water table. Construction of the development first had to shift a lake, and then work out how to drain away the 22 litres of water a second that wants to refill the area.

But the real reason why Eden’s presence at the demonstration was such a surprise was linked to its continual reluctance to engage in any form of overt political process, even about the environment. They have firmly resisted attempts to draw them into the waste debate currently raging in Cornwall (although this is compromised by donations both from Sita and Cornwall County Council) and consistently remain silent on a range of other environmental issues. Neither did their recent attempts to engage with the community (a condition of the Lottery funding that they were asking for your votes for) encourage them to attend a recent public meeting about climate change held a few miles from their facility. Moreover, Eden as a corporate brand have always stayed away from other grass roots environmental actions or conferences. They were not at the 2006 Climate Change demonstration, or at either of the previous two Campaign Against Climate Change conferences.

Eden only wants people who can give them money. If this happens to be some of the nastiest companies in the world, then so be it. If we, the people can contribute to the Eden coffers, then Eden will court us even if it means getting its hands grubby (or in the case of the Dec 8 demonstration, rather wet). But at the end of the day, the Eden project is just a tourist attraction for the well off, and not even a particularly good one as they don’t seem to be actually financially viable.

Fortunately though, ‘the public’ had more sense, and voted for Sustrans, the national cycle network, to get the money, with a massive 42% of the vote.

this article was written by a GR activist in Cornwall


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