Greenpeace ups ante against Airtel & other telcos; releases new video

Greenpeace, the World’s most vocal environmental activist group has upped the ante against private mobile operators in its fight to get them to “switch off diesel” and move to renewable energy for towers.

The activist group has launched a nation-wide sticker campaign against operators under which it will distribute stickers to mock their refusal to switch from diesel to renewable sources — starting with Airtel.

A month ago, the ‘direct action’ group accused India’s biggest mobile operator, Bharti Airtel, of hiding behind industry associations after Airtel said it would only go as far as the industry itself was willing go, on the renewables track.

Airtel, already one of the higher priced and premium service providers in India, is afraid of denting its margins or slowing down its growth by increasing costs. Though cheaper in the long term, it takes several years for companies to break-even on their investments into technologies like solar when powering telecom towers.

In an effort to drive momentum, Greenpeace has been targeting Airtel, the biggest and by far the most profitable of India’s dozen or so mobile operators. It released a video showing its activists climbing on top of the Airtel corporate office in Gurgaon and unfurling banners reading ‘Airtel, switch off diesel.’

The video also shows the young activists being arrested and led away by the Haryana Police.

The move marked the first time Greenpeace is using its high publicity “direct action” method to shame corporates into action. It had come close to it while trying to attract attention to the alleged degradation of environment caused by Tata’s Dhamra port in Orissa. It released an online game that featured the Tata logo in it, leading to a law-suit by the industrial group. The suit was thrown out by the Delhi High court earlier this year.

Greenpeace action against Airtel may be an indication that the group is switching to its ‘direct action’ method that has worked in the West. However, with constitutional safeguards of free-speech and protests not as strong in India, it remains to be seen how far the green group is able to apply the same methods here.