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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 10:32 GMT
How green is my Auntie?
Jeremy Paxman
Jeremy Paxman
Newsnight presenter

BBC TV Centre
Paxman describes recycling practices at the BBC as "laughable".

The other week I had to interview the environment secretary. He was at a conference in Nairobi, so, for amusement value, I asked him how many people he had taken with him, and how much carbon their journeys had spewed out into the air.

Luckily, it was a recorded interview, conducted in pouring rain. So his answer did not make it to air. Just as well, for David Milliband said that their journeys had all been 'offset'. He wondered whether the BBC had the same policy. It does not.

The BBC's environment correspondents, even the makers of series like Planet Earth, are trapped in a bizarre arrangement in which they travel the globe to tell the audience of the dangers of climate change while leaving a vapour trail which will make the problem even worse.

The BBC believes that people do not pay their licences fees to see them spent on offset arrangements. So correspondents like David Shukman - who was standing nearby as Milliband made his jibe - pay from their own pockets to offset the costs of their flights.

When I asked Yogesh Chauhan, the chief adviser, corporate responsibility, why, he replied: 'The biggest impact we can make is through our programmes.'

The problem is that no one has yet worked out how to generate electricity by hand-wringing.

Of course, projects for carbon offsetting suffer from the significant disadvantage that they don't stop the carbon being emitted in the first place, and so can only be worthwhile if the journey is unavoidable. But with the massive deployment to the Beijing Olympics looming, and filming for another Planet Earth series under way - to say nothing of the numerous vital overseas fact-finding tours of senior management - a corporation-wide policy is urgently needed.

Maybe the BBC could even demonstrate its green credentials by planting an entire forest, and making a series about it?

And while we're at it, we should do something about other forms of travel, and the buildings in which we work.

According to the corporate responsibility adviser, new BBC buildings are required to meet high environmental standards. I find this hard to believe when the tens of millions spent on the news centre at Television Centre has resulted in an edifice in which the air-conditioning units have to be kept running even in the middle of January. Computer terminals and lights blaze away all night.

If it wishes to have its green credentials taken seriously, perhaps the BBC ought to have a guiding principle that production will take place as close as possible to home.
Jeremy Paxman, Newsnight presenter

Recycling practices are laughable. Many BBC workplaces may have green bins for paper collection (although I have seen the bags collected from them tossed into general rubbish skips on more than one occasion), but every office should also be supplied with bins for glass, plastic, tin and anything else that can be recycled.

If it wishes to have its green credentials taken seriously, perhaps the BBC ought to have a guiding principle that production will take place as close as possible to home (this would also have the benefit of redistributing the licence fee back to the people who paid it). We are told, for example, that it is cheaper to make Robin Hood in Hungary than in the UK. How would the sums look if we took into account the carbon costs of all the to-ing and fro-ing?

We have to recognise that broadcasting is a product of the age of energy abundance and is unlikely ever to be entirely cost-free. But we can make an effort. In the last three years the BBC's electricity bill has doubled (from almost 6.5m to nearly 13m).

The corporation says that it has embarked on a programme to reduce energy consumption by three percent a year. We shall see whether the targets are met, although we should give it credit for buying more than 90 percent of its electricity from 'low, or zero carbon' suppliers. But the environmental aspects are a marginal concern and it is unarguable that other policies, set at the top of the organisation, conspire to magnify the carbon footprint. Digital broadcasting is an environmental idiocy, designed not to reduce carbon but to multiply it.

It does not add up to a coherent picture. There are some issues on which the corporation does not attempt - and never has attempted - to be impartial. Racism is an obvious example.

I have neither the learning nor the experience to know whether the doomsayers are right about the human causes of climate change. But I am willing to acknowledge that people who know a lot more than I do may be right when they claim that it is the consequence of our own behaviour.

Gavin Esler
Imagine my surprise because in the BBC office Jeremy and I share with Kirsty and Emily, the computer and monitor (which we also share) were left switched on all night. The culprit? Hmmm.
Gavin Esler, Newsnight presenter

I assume that this is why the BBC's coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago. But it strikes me as very odd indeed that an organisation which affects such a high moral tone cannot be more environmentally responsible. If a commercial operation like Marks and Spencer can commit itself to becoming carbon neutral, why cannot the BBC?

As first steps, I suggest the following:

1. A comprehensive assessment of the corporation's environmental practices, to be carried out by external analysts and completed within three months.

2. A commitment to reduce overall carbon emissions by at least three percent each year for the next ten. (It is not good enough for this task to be left to an 'adviser', however conscientious. It has to become a core management function, with clearly defined chains of accountability.)

3. No new building to be commissioned without meeting the most stringent energy standards.

4. All BBC vehicles to be 'green,' staff to be encouraged to minimise air travel, and the carbon cost of all unavoidable journeys to be offset.

5. All transport contractors to be informed that as from January 2008 the BBC will only enter into arrangements with companies using hybrid or other 'green' vehicles.

None of them will save the planet. But they might save the BBC from looking like corporate hypocrites.

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