Coldplay have been branded “useful idiots for greenwashing” after announcing a partnership with the Finnish oil company Neste to halve their touring emissions last week.
Neste claims to be the world’s largest producer of sustainable biofuels, but the firm’s palm oil suppliers cleared at least 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) of forest in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia between 2019 and 2020, according to a study by Friends of the Earth .
Carlos Calvo Ambel, a senior director of the Transport and Environment campaign group (T&E) said: “Neste is cynically using Coldplay to greenwash its reputation. This is a company that is linked to the kind of deforestation that would appal Chris Martin and his fans of him. It’s not too late, they should drop their partnership with Neste now and focus on truly clean solutions instead.”
“Coldplay’s commitment to reduce its emissions is no doubt well-intentioned. But teaming up with a company linked to deforestation makes them useful idiots for greenwashing.”
The award-winning rock outfit announced plans to shrink their touring footprint after Martin accepted that a “backlash” against their emissions record was justified in a BBC interview last year.
A tree will be planted for each ticket sold on Coldplay’s current “music of the spheres” world tour, which includes a kinetic-powered dancefloor and other green features.
A statement from the band said: “When we announced this tour, we said that we would try our best to make it as sustainable and low carbon-impact as possible, but that it would be a work in progress. That remains true. We don’t claim to have got it all right yet.”
“Before we appointed Neste as supplier of these biofuel products, we received their guarantee that they do not use any virgin materials in their production – most especially not palm oil. It’s still our understanding that they use renewable waste products only, like cooking oil and byproducts from wood pulp manufacture.”
Hanna Leijala, a spokeswoman for Neste, insisted that the firm “do not accept any sustainability violations in our own operations.”
“For our collaboration with Coldplay, conventional palm oil was not used as a raw material” she said, adding: “Neste plans to reduce the share of conventional palm oil to 0% of its global renewable raw material inputs by the end of 2023. ”
At present, crude palm oil makes up 7% of the firm’s fuel inputs. Its jet fuel is blended from used cooking oil, animal fats and other wastes and residues.
But Neste declined to say what percentage of the jet fuel mix is made up by palm fatty acid distillates (PFADs), citing “contractual and competitive reasons.” PFADs are considered a byproduct of palm oil refining by the UK, Germany and most EU countries, but not by Finland.
T&E argues that it is “dubious” to consider used cooking oil as sustainable when studies suggest that most EU supplies are imports from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Higher EU prices for used cooking oil incentivises adulteration and EU auditors have criticized Europe’s capacity to verify the source of these imports.
The use of animal fats also raises questions of agricultural methane emissions, as most fats come from industrial farming, T&E says.
Coldplay’s world tour has been separately criticized for collaborating with BMW, which is providing 40 rechargeable electric vehicle batteries to power the shows.
BMW is an influential lobbyist for the German car industry, according to a report by Influence Map.
“Coldplay have been taken for a ride,” said Eoin Dubsky, the senior campaign manager for Sum Of Us. “BMW is lobbying to prevent the EU from setting a deadline of 2035 for vehicles to be zero emissions only and they have been able to use Coldplay.”
The band’s statement said that they had approached other electric car manufacturers but “BMW were the ones that offered to help”.
“We have no connection to or influence on their corporate policies,” the release continued. “We just need their batteries so that we can power our shows with renewable energy.”
“We are doing our best, and always genuinely welcome suggestions as to how to do it better,” the band said.
Dubsky was sympathetic to their predicament. “Not many rock bands hire in a sustainability consultant, so credit to them,” he said. “But I think that they should take greater care when doing their due diligence,” he added.