[Marxism] Fat Cat Greens

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 24 11:50:00 MST 2008


Folding Green Trumps Real Green

An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad
By Christine MacDonald
288 pp. The Lyons Press $24.95

Reviewed by Marty Carlock

In the mid-1960s, when Russell Train was recruited to head a small 
environmental organization, he demanded a salary of $50,000 a year, the 
same as he made as a judge. His would-be employer was shocked; at that 
time conservation groups were headed by independently wealthy gentlemen 
who served without compensation.

Those were the days.

Today, Christine MacDonald reveals, CEOs of green organizations pull 
down the same kind of salaries as CEOs of big business and enjoy the 
same kind of perks on the side. Moreover, much of their lavish living 
comes from the polluting, cynically anti-ecological companies they are 
supposed to police.

A lot of MacDonald’s material has been circulating in the green 
community—I think of such publications as Orion, High Country News, and 
the online Grist—but Green Inc. may be the first place that pulls it all 
together. Her statistics about the fat cats of environmentalism are news 
to me. So is her contention that green groups will take “contributions” 
that require them to endorse products in misleading ways.

She names names and prints numbers. Delving into the tax returns of some 
of the best-known green organizations, she finds CEO salaries two years 
ago ranging as high as $833,290 (National Parks Foundation), followed 
closely by the World Conservation Society ($825,170).

Is it an axiom of life that whenever a cause, however good, gets some 
clout, it will be corrupted by the bottom line? Apparently so. MacDonald 
has worked for Conservation International and knows the environmental 
industry from the inside. She paints an ugly picture.

Major corporate sponsors of conservation groups include 29 
companies--names we know like GE, Kodak, du Pont, ExxonMobil, Nissan, 
and Dow Chemical—that are listed among the Toxic 100, the worst 
corporate air polluters.

To bolster their membership and their influence, green groups turn to 
marketing--a euphemism for advertising. Marketing is expensive, forcing 
the organizations to solicit rich donors, including corporations. Not a 
surprise: businesses expect some return where they spend their money. 
All the environmental people have to offer is their good name—and the 
corporations will take that, thank you very much.

I could scarcely turn a page of her book without a surge of indignation. 
Here’s a random sample: In 2008 the makers of Clorox bleach approached 
the Sierra Club, asking it to endorse a new line of “environmentally 
friendly” products—in exchange for a percentage of sales. (How much? 
Undisclosed!) To its credit, the club’s corporate accountability 
committee advised against it.

But the lure of folding green trumped real green, and the club’s 
national executive committee voted to lend its name and its logo to 
Clorox’s advertising for “Green Works” products. Never mind that the 
endorsement implied that the Sierra Club had tested the products and 
found them better than Clorox’s green competitors—the club actually had 
no testing facility. Executive director Carl Pope offered some defensive 
excuses (the deal would bring the Sierra Club to the notice of a vast 
demographic of bleach-buyers) and at least one outright lie (the 
products had been vetted by its toxics committee) and went through with 
the endorsement.

Such a link is called “cause-related marketing.” MacDonald points out 
that instead of merely soliciting a donation with no strings attached, 
the environmental organization is entering into a commercial transaction.

MacDonald devotes an entire chapter to Wal-Mart, whose chairman became 
buddies with the top man at Conservation International and was publicly 
“converted” to an environmental stance. The author gives the retail 
giant credit for attempts to reduce its carbon footprint, but argues 
that its very size and emphasis on cost-cutting contribute inexorably to 
despoliation. Wood for the factories of its Chinese suppliers, she says, 
comes illegally from some of the world’s last great forests. Wal-Mart 
executives turn a blind eye to that, while they never neglect 
enforcement of their demanding price and quality requirements.

Then there was the cozy relationship between Centex, one of the nation’s 
largest contributors to suburban sprawl, and The Nature Conservancy, 
which received $35 for every home built (several million bucks, 
MacDonald says) and which reciprocated by bestowing “conservation 
leadership” awards on Centex. “Ironically,” she adds, “fears about the 
effects of sprawling new suburbs on once pristine landscapes was one of 
the reasons TNC was established more than half a century ago.”

Bad enough that our one-time watchdogs have become corporate lapdogs. 
Still, I thought, these environmentalists are sponsoring botanists and 
biologists who do good science in the field, aren’t they? Yes and no. 
Green groups like to trumpet their wildlife research in those four-color 
brochures. Yet, MacDonald reveals, so much money is plowed back into 
slick fund-raising that on-the-ground science has been put on slim rations.

Scores of examples that make you grit your teeth could be cited, but we 
have a space limitation here. Read the book.

Freelance journalist Marty Carlock, author of A Guide to Public Art in 
Greater Boston, has published more than 1,600 articles in thirty-plus 
publications. At present she writes for Sculpture and Landscape 
Architecture magazines and for her own amuseme

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