Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Trafford Centre greenwash

I was recently sent the event advertisement below with the request that it be publicised via a community group website I run. However, as it’s such a shameless attempt at out-and-out greenwash and publicity-grabbing, I thought I’d blog about it here instead. The text of the ad runs:

We all know that Greater Manchester really is Great, but can it be a world-record beater?
We’ll find out on the weekend of Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 June, when The Trafford Centre joins forces with the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority in an attempt to amass “the largest collection of clothes to recycle!”
The Trafford Centre’s partner, UK children’s charity Barnados, will be on hand to collect and sort all donated items throughout the weekend’s challenge, which is being organised to coincide with World Environment Day on Saturday 4 June.
The Guinness World Record regulations state that any item of clothing can be collected and it doesn’t have to be item specific, although the current record is 33,088 pairs of jeans which were collected by National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington three years ago.
Donations of unwanted clothing can be made on the day at the Trafford Centre. Everything will be sorted at the Barnados warehouse depot: clothes fit for resale will be distributed across their stores and anything else will go to the “rag bay” where the textiles are sold off to be recycled.

So, it’s a mass recycling event; what could be wrong with that? Surely it raises awareness of recycling and reduced resource use, and raises money for charity?
Well, yes, although I’d question the usefulness of one-off mega-events like this in properly educating people about recycling, which needs to be ingrained as part of normal daily life rather than as part of a glitzy event. Especially when the shiny events take place in a large shopping centre, the marketing team of which is presumably hoping that all those keen recyclers will then decide that it would be nice to pop into the Trafford Centre for a bit of weekend consumerism.
But my main gripe is with the fact that Manchester City Council’s Waste & Recycling Team took the trouble to issue a specific request to a community engagement officer that this information be sent out to all of the city’s Community Guardians. And I have a problem with that because this event is essentially a massive piece of greenwash for Peel Holdings, owners of the Trafford Centre. Peel doesn’t just own the grotesque temple to over-consumption which is the Trafford Centre, which is bad enough. The group’s environmental footprint (more like a big-booted stomp) spreads well beyond that, to include vigorous campaigning against attempts to reduce car use and boost public transport in Manchester (see here and here if you don’t have long and painful memories of Manchester’s TIF bid), and a substantial stake and major board influence in UK Coal. Peel also owns coal shipping operations and has put forward plans for at least one new coal-fired power station in the UK. And if that wasn’t enough, the group also has a finger firmly wedged into the aviation pie, owning several regional airports around the UK, the bulk of whose clients appear to be the fast-growing budget airlines and domestic flights which are most damaging to the environment.
So, forgive me if I’m sceptical when the Trafford Centre starts running high-profile sustainability events, while the rest of the Peel Group is busy trashing the planet.

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2 comments on “Trafford Centre greenwash

  1. Munford
    June 4, 2011

    The research behind this questionable. The Trafford centre has been part of capital shopping centres for some months. These rest of the article is poorly researched.

  2. Sarah Irving
    June 4, 2011

    Thanks for your contribution, ‘Munford’. However, if you look a little deeper you’ll find that the Trafford Centre sale to Capital Shopping Centres hardly took the Centre out of Peel’s orbit. CSC’s largest single shareholder is Tokenhouse Holdings – of which Peel Group is a subsidiary. As I understand it Tokenhouse effectively provided the funding for CSC to buy the Trafford Centre from itself. And presumably it means that Peel is still profiting from the Trafford Centre’s business. Peel head John Whittaker certainly was on the board of CSC, but I haven’t check if he still is.
    I also notice that you don’t challenge my main point, which is that charities shouldn’t be helping to greenwash big out-of-town shopping centres (which encourage rampant consumerism, credit card debt and heavy car use), and that local authorities shouldn’t be helping them do it.

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