Greenfreeze: the ozone and climate-friendly solution for home refrigeration. Industry said it wouldn't work, was too costly, and would never find a market. Until we proved them wrong.
The debate in the European Parliament today was ostensibly
aboutregulating a class of chemicals, fluorinated greenhouse gases,
known asF-gases. But it was really a battle between the interests
of amultimillion dollar industry and the future of our planet.
Members of Parliament at the plenary session in Strasbourg
rejected a proposal to replace hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs (a
fluorinated gas 1,300 times stronger than carbon dioxide), in
household refrigerators, even though the EU market is already
dominated by the climate-friendly alternative
Greenfreezetechnology. They rejected other strong measures
recommended bytheir own environment committee and instead approved
only the weakestprovisions.
F-gas: the cure that's as bad as the
F-gases are used in many appliances such as refrigerators,
airconditioning, foam blowers and car tyres. They replaced
ozone-depletinggases such as chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs), which are
being phased outglobally as part of the 1990 Montreal Protocol.
F-gases likehydrofluorocarbon (HFCs) are thus often portrayed by
theirmanufacturers as 'environmentally friendly'.
However, whilethey were introduced to address the problem of the
hole in the Earth'sprotective ozone layer -- discovered in 1985
--they were introducedbefore scientists became worried about
dangerous climate change, andwere subsequently discovered to be
In most appliances, natural alternatives to F-gases are either
alreadyavailable and widely used, or are in development. For
example,Greenpeace and German company DKK Scharfenstein introduced
"Greenfreeze" hydrocarbon refrigerators into the European
market in the 1990s.
"Greenpeacebegan research on Greenfreeze (hydrocarbon) refrigeration technology toreduce the destruction of the ozone layer. It is now a highlysuccessful example of a green organisation and industry workingtogether..."
==UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking at the launch of the Sustainable Development Commission (October 2000).
Todayfridges made by major European companies such as Siemens
and Bosch arenearly all F-gas free. Big food corporations are
switching to F-gasfree commercial refrigeration.
But American manufacturerscontinue to expand their use of
F-gases, and they're looking for newforeign markets, despite the
documented dangers of these chemicals forour planet's climate.
They also hold a sizeable market sharein Europe, and have not
been idle in trying to ensure that profits, notthe planet, are
primary on the EU agenda.
Enter Mahi Sideridou, one of the secret weapons in the
Greenpeacearsenal. You won't have seen pictures of her handcuffed
to an anchorchain or hanging a banner from a smokestack. As a
Greenpeace climateand energy policy advisor stationed in Brussels,
she's more likely tobe decked out in a smart suit than a wetsuit,
working the corridors ofthe European Parliament. And if it weren't
for her nearly lonepresence, the industry would be the only point
of view that EuropeanMinisters would hear.
"I'm totally outnumbered here" she saidin a recent phone
interview. "There are dozens of industry lobbyistsyammering on
about how these climate-killing chemicals are 'a part ofthe social
fabric of Europe' and suggesting that banning them will
meandisaster for European industry. When I tell parliamentarians
that thehome refrigeration market has already demonstrated that
alternativesare available and commercially proven, it's often the
first they'veheard that alternatives even exist."
Because she works forGreenpeace, Mahi has found herself excluded
from the back-roomdiscussions that industry flacks like to have
with parliamentarians inprivate. But despite the smart suit, Mahi
is Greenpeace: getting into aclosed door meeting --like getting
into the grounds of a nuclear powerplant -- just takes a bit of
determination and inventiveness.
"I found out about a closed lunch session that was being held
the dayof a debate between Parliamentarians on F-gases. Industry
was going totell key parliamentarians why they should water down
legislation thatwe thought was weak already. I called the German
Liberal partyrepresentative who was hosting it and asked if I could
be included togive a balanced view. He replied that there was no
I said I was a very small person, but he didn't seem to get the
So I called the UK Liberal representative and asked him if he'd
knownabout the meeting, as the issue was technically his area
ofresponsibility. He invited me to come along as his guest. This
didn'tgo down very well at the door, and they insisted there was
only a placefor one. The British MEP graciously excused himself and
instructed thatI be given his chair. Had I not been there, nobody
would havechallenged the "facts" according to Hill and Knowlton,
the industry'sPR company, which turned out to be running the
Hard work and hard information led the EU environment committee
topropose extremely aggressive controls on the F-gas industry.
Butall that fell victim today to a well-funded industry
Why would a PR company be lobbying the
The most vocal lobby on the F-gas regulation has undoubtedly
come fromthe F-gas producers themselves. But they generally do so
in disguise.If you, as a parliamentarian, were asked to take a
meeting with the'European Partnership for Energy and the
Environment' to hear theirviews on F-gas regulation, you'd probably
expect to be meeting withenvironmentalists. From Europe.
You'd be wrong on both counts.
It's actually an industry front group, made up largely of
American andJapanese multinationals with plants in Europe, who are
lobbying againstregulation of F-gases out of cost concerns. And
while their websitemakes a flashy show of
how their chemicals don't destroy the ozone(which is true) they
fail to mention that they're contributing toglobal warming.
It's exactly the kind of economy with thetruth you could expect
from a smarmy PR agency. In this case, Hill& Knowlton is
painting DuPont and other f-gas manufacturers inearth-friendly
shades of green for their wonderful ozone-friendlychemicals.
Ironically, Hill & Knowlton is exactly the samecompany which,
in 1975, trotted out reports and scientists claimingthat the Ozone
hole was a myth, environmentalists were scare-mongering,and
industry shouldn't be required to take costly and unnecessary
action to ban CFCs. They now make flashanimations which pat
themselves on the back for not making the ozonehole any bigger than
the 8 times larger than Europe that it already is.
Democracy: on sale now at prices any
multinational can afford
Under current EU legislation, lobby groups such as the
EuropeanPartnership for Energy and the Environment are not required
to revealtheir funding sources. Unless MEPs do some digging, or
Greenpeace orClimate Action Network tells them, decision-makers
might never knowthat the same multinationals which are making money
off pollutingchemicals are the ones asking them not to regulate
And, as Sideridou points out, that's not the only place where
"Whilethe parliamentary discussions and votes are open and
transparent, thediscussions of the environment ministers are
closed. So we have todepend on leaks to find out what's happening
behind those closed doors."
When the environment committee of the European Parliament
recentlyendorsed the tough legislation which went to the full
Parliament, theindustry responded with a detailed action plan. It
instructs theirlobbyists to "raise safety issues," "call to
question the committee'scompetency," "find friends who can put
doubt on results...and carry themessage to wider parliament." What
are friends for?
Unfortunately,industry's friends succeeded in weakening what
would have been a goodstep toward addressing global warming.
"Why does anyone vote against phasing out a harmful,
man-madegreenhouse gas if alternatives are commercially available
and alreadyon the market? The companies that produce fluorinated
gases have arguedthat life as we know it would come to a halt if
these chemicals weregradually replaced. This couldn't befurther
from the truth. The European Parliament has today failed in itsduty
to act inthe interests of the public and the environment," said
But while she found today's vote particularly depressing, she's
"I've taken this very, very personally. A year ago I thought
aboutgiving up --wondering what the point of banging my head
against thewall might be. But the motivation for staying is that if
you leave theother side wins. And when you're right, you just can't
let the otherside win."
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