Swans Commentary » swans.com June 2, 2014  



Britain's Corporate Garden Of Eden


by Michael Barker



"The Eden Project's story epitomises the power of regeneration to transform environments and improve people's lives. Together we created a global garden in a former clay mine to create a world-class attraction that has helped to boost tourism in the region. By collaborating with a network of like-minded people and organisations worldwide we have been working on similarly exciting projects across the globe."
—Eden Project, 2012.


(Swans - June 2, 2014)   Human life was present on planet earth long, long before corporate life, but this does not mean that the latter has to respect the former. Nevertheless, given that capital now dominates all aspects of the human realm it is understandable why some of the few people who benefit from this unjust situation prefer to prettify this systemic exploitation rather than uproot it. Some individuals, like Tim Smit and his powerful "green" friends, have taken such serviceable delusions to a new level and have actually sought to recreate an Edenic paradise in a corporate form. A world without capitalism is simply beyond Smit and Company's collective imagination: instead they have literally chosen to contain nature within their favored corporate framework. Smit's "dream," simply put, is to "bring the worlds of business and ideals together, so that each may profit from the other." (1)

Smit is correct not to place all the blame at the hands of the captains of industry, as he writes: "Our future is being dictated -- or worse, stolen -- not by 'them' but by our own inertia." This inertia is, however, not some mysterious phenomena, but is capitalism, which by its own twisted logic must always place financial profit above all other earthly considerations. Nestled firmly in his own position of privilege Smit conveniently overlooks this central problem and thus identifies the networks of power created by capitalism -- to efficiently rape humanity -- as constituting "necessary partners" in any bid to create a better future. (2)

Smit envisages his corporate garden (the Eden Project) as serving as the perfect place to hammer out an apolitical consensus on the future of planet earth, bringing ruling-class interests into harmony with the very working class that capital must oppress (if capitalism is to continue, anyway). The Eden Project in his mind therefore should be about "radicalizing the Establishment, working with it to arrive at solutions that it couldn't have arrived at on its own because of lack of time, organizational atrophy, vested interests or the absence of lateral thinking." (3) Admittedly I don't believe this is possible, but assuming I had been unlucky enough to have a ruling-class-styled private education, as Smit did, and that my friends were members of the ruling class, then I might also tend to lean towards reform rather than revolution. (4) Therefore given Smit's desire for reform, this article will make some strategic suggestions for how he might best use the Eden Project's excellent corporate connections to address some of the most egregious problems caused by his capitalist colleagues. Necessarily this radicalizing of the Establishment will not involve encouraging them to become more involved in greening their public images by planting trees and the like.

The founding trustees of the Eden Trust, the charity that owns the Eden Project, represented something of an all-star capitalist cast being made up by Sir Alcon Copisarow, Ian Hay Davison, Sir Ralph Riley, Sir Richard Carew Pole, and Sir Alan Donald. (5) Just to focus on the potential (caring) influence of the last two founding trustees we might observe that Sir Richard Carew Pole, who has recently served as a trustee of the Pilgrim Trust, could start to reform capitalism by encouraging current Pilgrim Trust trustee David Verey, who is a board member of the Daily Mail and General Trust plc, to stop the conservative Daily Mail newspaper from promoting virulent racism on a daily basis. As a senior advisor to the Blackstone Group and former chair of their UK operations, Verey, once he has been successfully won over to the reformist cause, might then be able to have a few harsh words with Blackstone board member, the Right Honorable Brian Mulroney, about his dubious support of the immensely unsustainable Barrick Gold and Archer Daniels Midland (Mulroney serves on both corporations' board of directors). Eden Trust founding trustee Sir Alan Ewen Donald, on the other hand -- who previously served as the British Ambassador to Republics of Zaire, Burundi, and Rwanda (1977-80), then as Ambassador to Republic of Indonesia (1984-88) and Ambassador to the People's Republic of China (1988-91) before joining J.P. Morgan -- might utilise his background best by persuading his diplomatic and financier buddies to stop plundering the wealth and resources of foreign countries.

Likewise, subsequent Eden Trust chairman Sir Ronnie Hampel could work wonders to inject idealism into the business world. As the former chair of United Business Media Limited, Hampel might initially exert undue influence on United Business Media board member and current chief executive of the Serco Group, Christopher Rajendran Hyman. Maybe Hampel could ask him if Serco could stop profiting from the global incarceration of working class people, which they do through the key role they play in the ongoing privatizations of prisons worldwide. If amenable to such advances, Hyman might in turn have a chat with Serco board member Tom Corcoran, who as a senior advisor to one of the center-pins of the military-industrial complex, The Carlyle Group, could perhaps talk his colleagues into seeing the downside of profiting from needless wars. Like many of the people associated with the Eden Project, Sir Ronnie Hampel's corporate ties are fairly extensive, and he could make similar efforts to win over his former colleagues at Imperial Chemical Industries (where he was the former chief operating officer), and at both Aluminum Company of America and BAE Systems. His connection to the leading British defence manufacturer, BAE Systems, might prove particularly useful in convincing another former board member of BAE Systems, R. James Woolsey, Jr., who previously acted as the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, that it might be time to give peace a chance.

Current Eden Trust board member Sir Simon Robertson could similarly work to undermine the military-industrial complex from within by terminating all the major defence contracts held at Rolls-Royce, where he serves as the chairman of their board of directors. This will be no easy task so it will be vital that he coordinates his peace activism with fellow Eden Trust trustee, Sir John Rose, who happens to be the chief executive of Rolls-Royce. Together surely they can convince their fellow board members that profiting from war is a big no-no, especially if like them they are concerned about the environment.

Although such rich examples help give us some insight into the potential impact that current and former Eden Project folk may exert on reforming the business world, it is equally important to focus on some of the credentials of their other more ecologically-minded colleagues who may be able to help them in such difficult endeavors. At the forefront of such efforts to persuade the corporate community that the Eden Project is serious about greening capitalism -- a process cynics refer to as greenwashing -- is Tim Smit himself, who sits alongside many erstwhile greenies on the "Advisory and Assurance Panel" of BP's carbon offsetting project targetneutral. The other four members of this select panel are Rita Clifton, who is the former chief executive and now chair of the brand consultancy Interbrand (a division of Omnicom, the world's third-largest advertising conglomerate) -- she is also a board member of private health care provide Bupa, and a trustee of the free market-orientated WWF UK -- Mark Kenber who is a former senior policy officer at WWF; and two former heads of Friends of the Earth UK who have now turned their green thumbs to corporate consultancy (Jonathon Porritt and Charles Secrett).

Another current board member of the Eden Project with a suitably useful green pedigree is Julie Hill, who is the former head of Edward Goldsmith's Green Alliance and a board member of the British government's Environment Agency. One might note that although Hill joined the Green Alliance in 1985, the Alliance's founding chairman (1979-83) was the late Maurice Ash. This is significant because close ties exist between the work of the Eden Project and Dartington Hall Trust, where Ash served as chairman between 1972 and 1984 (see "An Education Fit For The Elite"). The primary tie comes through Tom Stevens, who formerly acted as Dartington Hall's conservation manager and is now the project manager of the Eden Project's Green Foundation. A second connection then comes through Peter Mather, who as a managing director of BP previously served on targetneutral's assurance panel, and is a trustee of Dartington Hall.

Finally, to further aid the reformist efforts of the members of the military-industrial complex housed at the Eden Project, their current board of directors includes the former well-known feminist turned Tory food guru and organic farmer Rosie Boycott. (6) Boycott's other notable public duties include serving alongside Jonathon Porritt on the advisory panel of Resurgence magazine, which as one of the leading proponents of deep ecological thought counts leading green capitalist-cum-deep ecologist Doug Tompkins as one of their patrons.

With such powerful and well-connected eco-activists like Julie Hill and Rosie Boycott working alongside Tim Smit at the Eden Project, one can only imagine that a green capitalist future is on the horizon -- a world where the systematic exploitation of life by capital is duly mystified by green rhetoric. Smit's desire of bringing together the worlds of business and ideals for profitable self-interest is a dream no longer. At the newly revised Garden of Eden, green idealism is harnessed to bolster the rapacious public image of corporations (whose only legal mandate after all is to make profits), while a small percentage of their plundered profits are used to promote a pro-corporate approach to environmental activism. In Smit's highly constrained thinking this is a win-win situation, except that is for the losers -- the working class -- who are safely excluded from his elitist worldview, but of course not from acting as paying visitors to his Edenic paradise.


To e-mail this article


· · · · · ·


If you find Michael Barker's work valuable, please consider helping us

· · · · · ·



Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Michael Barker 2014. All rights reserved.


Have your say

Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.


About the Author

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


· · · · · ·



1.  Tim Smit, Eden (Corgi, 2002), p.261. For a detailed criticism of the Eden Project, see Michael Barker, "Greenwashing Eden: The Uses And Abuses Of Biodiversity," Swans Commentary, June 1, 2009. According to Smit the "virulent protestors" regarding the creation of the Eden Project were the Green Party. "They chose to be purist, much to the chagrin of Jonathan Porritt, whose help [Smit] tried to enlist to broker a truce." A truce never eventuated, so Smit adds: "We couldn't win, so we ignored them." (p.110) Porritt currently serves alongside Tim Smit on the "Advisory and Assurance Panel" for BP's carbon offsetting project targetneutral.  (back)

2.  Smit, Eden, p.264, p.265. Smit writes the "capital, infrastructure and webs of connections" of multinational corporations "make them necessary partners in the new future, if only a modus operandi can be worked out." (p.265)  (back)

3.  Smit, Eden, p.266. He continues: "But this is not possible in a vacuum; in order to effect change, all the parties involved in an issue need to have their seat at the table. This is precisely why Eden, if it is to play this role, should be as apolitical as possible." (p.266)

Smit is critical of the past excesses of capitalism, acknowledging that: "For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the great botanic gardens were little more than the economic development arms of the British or Dutch East India Companies." (p.25) However, he is unable to extend such criticisms to his own organization.  (back)

4.  The former mine that provided the home for the Eden Project was brought to Smit's attention when (in his words) "my friend Bill Rickatson, managing director of Lord Falmouth's Goonvean and Restowrack China Clay Company" had called him. (p.40) On Smit's experience in the British public school system, which he was "forced to go to" because of his "father's foreign postings in the airline business," he notes that he was "Dutch enough to find the whole notion of privilege distasteful..." (p.56) Smit's nevertheless made good business connections throughout his priviliged education, and later notes how when the formative Eden Trust was having initial problems getting support from a bank he called his "very good university friend" Rolf Munding, a Freeman of the City of London "who made calls to friends at Hambros and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)" and surprise, surprise -- within a week they had a bank willing to support the Eden Project. (p.92, p.93)  (back)

5.  Smit, Eden, pp.69-71.  (back)

6.  Rosie Boycott presently serves as the chair of the London Food Board, working directly for the Tory Major, Boris Johnson.  (back)


· · · · · ·


Internal Resources

Patterns which Connect

America the 'beautiful'

Activism under the Radar Screen

· · · · · ·


This edition's other articles

Check the front page, where all current articles are listed.



Check our past editions, where the past remains very present.

· · · · · ·


[About]-[Past Issues]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Copyright]



Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art20/barker152.html
Published June 2, 2014