Nuclear weapons firm AWE latest corporate criminal to seek membership of prominent sustainability body

Missile launching over the sea AWE IEMA
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The UK’s main manufacturer of nuclear warheads could soon become a corporate partner to a leading global sustainability organisation. The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) is allegedly seeking membership of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA).

IEMA is a UK-based not-for-profit that offers environmental and sustainability accreditation, membership, and training to individuals and businesses. It claims to be:

the professional organisation at the centre of the sustainability agenda, connecting business and individuals across industries, sectors and borders.

The global professional body has over 20,000 individual members. It also partners with over 300 organisations.

An anonymous source recently approached the Canary with information suggesting that the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) will soon join its large corporate members.

The AWE maintains and manufactures the UK’s nuclear warheads. It is also responsible for the UK’s Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD). The Ministry of Defence sponsors the company’s work.

AWE to become a corporate partner

IEMA offers companies the opportunity to apply for affiliation. Once a member, the company will be listed on its corporate partner directory.

Read on...

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In its corporate partnership guide, it states that:

IEMA Partnership Programmes can position your organisation as forward-thinking, sustainable and competitive.

Further to this, it details a range of services that IEMA provides to showcase the corporate partner’s sustainability work. For example, the organisation supports corporate members to write posts for the IEMA blog, which it promotes on its social media channels. The guide details a range of cushy networking benefits for its corporate clientele. IEMA has designed these to help businesses “expand” their reach.

The Canary’s anonymous source has indicated that nuclear weapons firm AWE will soon join this programme.

Moreover, previous collaboration between IEMA and the AWE could corroborate this. In July 2014, IEMA hosted an employer forum “made up of organisations that employ significant numbers of IEMA members”.

A majority of the companies it listed can be found in its current corporate partner directory. Notably, it stated that representatives from AWE participated in the forum.

In addition, companies with links to AWE already hold membership. For example, two of AWE’s construction contractors, Costain and Balfour Beatty, can also be found in the registry.

AWE would join the ranks of over 200 large companies that have acquired IEMA membership. Of course, it’s just the latest in IEMA’s long list of partners who are corporate criminals.

Extractive and destructive industry partners

Given its purported sustainability remit, partnering with some of the world’s most environmentally destructive companies would appear deeply hypocritical. Yet time and again, IEMA has done exactly that. Planet-wrecking multinationals and firms developing ecocidal projects grace the IEMA corporate partner hall of infamy

For instance, Nestlé, of multiple pollution and human rights violation notoriety, boasts inclusion on the list. HS2 and two of its key contractors, Skanska and Costain, are also corporate partners – the latter incidentally is also a construction company for AWE.

As the Canary has consistently reported, HS2 is an environmental and ecological disaster.

If you were looking to build a network of environment and sustainability practitioners, these companies would be the last place you’d look. Invariably, IEMA hasn’t been discerning in its choice of large corporate partners.

Sustainable fossil fuel companies?

Of course, standout mention goes to prolific polluter and climate criminal BP.

By the time IEMA had begun publicising its corporate partners on its website in 2015, BP was already on the list. Evidently, causing one of the largest environmental disasters in history is no barrier to IEMA membership.

Moreover, in the US BP tops the list of parent companies that have committed environmental offences. Violation Tracker records show that the company has 279 environment-related offences to its name, totaling over $34bn in penalties. This also doesn’t seem to matter to IEMA.

It begs the question: what exactly precludes a company of partnership? If it isn’t decades worth of climate denial, delay, and environmental devastation, what would it take to drop them from the list?

In February, BP also rowed back on its decarbonisation commitments. Nonetheless, IEMA maintains the oil giant as a corporate partner.

Needless to say, BP has benefitted from this membership. In BP’s 2021 sustainability report, the company highlighted its collaboration on a biodiversity initiative with IEMA and the International Chamber of Commerce UK.

Alongside other big polluters, BP was an early proponent of biodiversity offset schemes that multiple studies have shown to be a sham. For example, two BP forest carbon programmes in California have generated 24m worthless carbon credits. Unsurprisingly, fossil fuel majors like BP have used these false climate solutions to maintain their oil and gas operations.

Despite all this, somehow BP still fits the sustainability bill. In early July, BP’s token solar offshoot boasted an increase in biodiversity around its UK solar sites. The independent auditor used the IEMA’s biodiversity principles to assess ten BP solar farms. In essence, nevermind the many ecocidal projects it operates accelerating climate chaos – because IEMA attests to its biodiversity credentials.

No stranger to greenwashing

Consequently, without what seems like a shred of irony, IEMA has hosted multiple webinars on ‘The associated risk to businesses from Greenwashing’. In one article on its blog, it even helpfully highlighted the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition which states that greenwash is:

disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.

Moreover, in a 2012 blog, IEMA wrote about BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. Notably, the post focused on the reputational ‘cost’ to the company and others from large-scale environmental pollution incidents:

The problem for these companies, and others involved in high-profile environmentally and socially damaging incidents, is that it’s not only about money… its tarnished corporate reputation will take much longer to repair.

Significantly, the blog perhaps gets to the heart of what IEMA means when it refers to ‘sustainability’. It stated that:

Reputation is the ultimate indication of corporate sustainability.

In other words, it seems IEMA is primarily concerned with a company’s survival in the face of reputational ruin. Reinforcing this, CEO Sarah Mukherjee opined in the introduction to the corporate partner guide that sustainability will:

make your business more resilient, more competitive and better prepared for what’s to come, both in terms of changes in legislation and our rapidly changing climate.

A who’s who of corporate criminals

Ostensibly, it all suggests that IEMA’s priority in terms of ‘sustainability’ is to shield corporations from business risks and reputational damage. Naturally, this tracks with IEMA’s partnerships through other notable corporations that hold chequered histories on human rights.

IEMA has welcomed morally contentious companies like Serco to its registry. As the Canary has previously reported, the British multinational has profiteered off a litany of corporate failures and reprehensible misdeeds. It almost goes without saying that it rakes in profits through industries harming some of the most marginalised groups.

For example, the outsourcing company operates the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, where detainees have repeatedly reported human rights abuses.

IEMA also already features arms companies like BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce among its corporate partners. Corporations like Balfour Beatty (also an AWE contractor), that are swimming in workers’ safety and rights violations, pepper the list.

A nuclear weapons company will be right at home. Moreso given its history of alleged union-busting activities and multiple fines for health and safety offences. As recently as 6 July, a worker died in a serious incident at an AWE nuclear site in Reading.

There simply doesn’t appear to be any stringent criteria for partnership. In fact, as far as the Canary could establish, there is no specific criteria at all. It’s the Elon Musk Twitter verification scheme equivalent for climate criminals. Pay to become a partner, and wherever you are on your “sustainability journey”, welcome to the club.

Public relations for polluters?

The Canary approached IEMA for comment. In response to the allegations, the organisation replied that:

IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, is a not-for-profit professional membership body representing over 20,000 individuals and 300 organisations working, studying or interested in the environment and sustainability sector. We provide resources, tools, research and knowledge and offer training and qualifications to meet the real-world needs of our members.

We work with our corporate partners, through their individual members, to develop the environmental awareness and skills of their workforce and to enhance their internal capability to address the sustainability challenges they face. Whilst we don’t comment on individual cases, we believe that organisations making the commitment to upskill their workforces and embedding the professional best practices that IEMA develops can only be a positive step.

As an organisation, we are here to provide support, skills, training and resources. Environmental and sustainability challenges are ultimately pan-economy, so we believe that it is imperative to work with organisations of all shapes and sizes to address them.

Naturally, working “with organisations of all shapes and sizes” includes partnering with corporate criminals and nature desecrators alike. Referring to our finding that it doesn’t stipulate any stringent criteria for membership, IEMA also said that:

We have a code of practice for our corporate members which stipulates all members must adhere to a professional code of conduct, available to read here IEMA – Code of conduct. We believe that in order to transition to a green economy, everyone must play their part.

This appears to be little more than a standard workplace code of conduct for employees. It calls for members to “apply high ethical standards” and “protect & enhance the environment”. Ironic given the inethical, environmentally destructive behaviour and activities of the corporate partners it hosts in its directory.

Better yet, to the Canary’s accusations of greenwashing, the not-for-profit stated:

Corporate members receive IEMA core benefits and any articles they submit are subject to an editorial process. Using the IEMA corporate partner logo is recognition that they are aligned to IEMA’s professional standards, training of staff and code of conduct.

IEMA is little more than a glorified public relations firm, badged with not-for-profit status and peddling in corporate greenwashing. It talks big on ‘sustainability’ but partners with some of the planet’s most heinous climate and environment offenders. Accordingly, you don’t need morals to be sustainable capitalists. In fact, you don’t even need to be sustainable.

Feature image via GetArchive/U.S. Navy, resized and cropped to 1910 by 1000, image in the public domain. 

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