When Greenpeace emerged as an international organization in the 1970s, it embodied a spirit of courageous protest by activists who were willing to place their bodies on the line to call attention to environmental injustice. Its mission was to “bear witness” to environmental abuses and take direct nonviolent action to prevent them.
In the 1990s, however, a new current of thought emerged, both at the international level and at the level of national affiliates such as Greenpeace Australia. Greenpeace leaders and many members began to talk of going beyond negative criticism. The Greenpeace Australia website proudly asserts this new philosophy: “We work with industry and government to find solutions.”
This approach carries an obvious emotional and intellectual appeal, but it also carries dangers. Greenpeace continues its traditional work of exposing some of the worst instances of environmental degradation, but its new focus on “solutions” may undermine that work. Its activists, often committed and genuinely concerned to save the environment, are caught in the contradiction between “bearing witness” and the compromises that arise in the process of seeking solutions.
The philosophy that Greenpeace espouses today contrasts markedly with positions that it took in the early 1990s, when “green marketing” first emerged as part of a strategy that the PR industry calls “cause-related marketing”. A series of media reports and books, such as The Green Consumer Guide by John Elkington and Julia Hales, gave the impression that the environment could be saved if individuals changed their shopping habits and bought environmentally sound products. There was a surge of advertisements claiming environmental benefits, and green imagery became a symbol used to sell products.
When green marketing first emerged, it came under criticism from a number of Greenpeace campaigners, as noted in Chapter Eleven. They pointed out the problems associated with praising one aspect of a product whilst ignoring the environmental damage caused by the product or the company that produced it.
Yet this is just what Greenpeace did for Sydney’s Olympic Games. It not only allowed the organizers to “bung a dolphin on the label” but it also helped them to market the environmental virtues of the games while ignoring some key environmental vices. In particular, as described in the previous chapter, Greenpeace helped sell the concept of the Green Olympics to the International Olympic Committee without alerting it to the extent of the toxic waste problem.
A Solutions-Oriented Approach
Although it would be an oversimplification to say that Greenpeace’s change in direction was prompted purely by PR and financial concerns, the change occurred in the early 1990s while Greenpeace was in the process of organizational soul-searching as its membership began to decline after the boom years of 1989-1992. The number of paying supporters world-wide fell from 4.8 million in 1990 to 3.1 million in 1995, but the loss was particularly pronounced in the US, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia. In Australia, membership declined from 103,000 in 1992 to 60,000 in 1997.
Like many large environmental organizations that depend on subscriptions and donations, Greenpeace became sensitive to media portrayals of it as being “too radical” and “too negative”. So it reinvented itself as an organization that offered solutions and worked with industry and government to get those solutions in place, in the mistaken belief that this would bring in more subscriptions.
In 1992, Paul Gilding took with him the idea that Greenpeace needed to focus on “solutions” when he was promoted from head of Greenpeace Australia to head of Greenpeace International. There he argued for closer cooperation with corporations. “If we had just kept on saying there was a problem, then people would have switched off”, he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
When Lynette Thorstensen replaced Gilding as executive director of Greenpeace Australia, she continued his emphasis on “solution strategies” such as the Olympic Games village design and a CFC-free refrigerator. “Greenpeace is now convinced the best path to progress is via the country’s boardrooms,” reported Good Weekend magazine in an interview with Thorstensen in 1993. The state Minister for the Olympics, Bruce Baird, wasn’t complaining: “They’ve shown a much more constructive approach lately”, he told Good Weekend. “It is a new style of environmentalism I find much more persuasive. Before they were seen as ultra-green and opposing everything.”
Indicative of this shift is the replacement of the previous chair of Greenpeace Australia, former nuclear activist, author and academic Jim Falk, with Bob Wilson, a former government bureaucrat. Wilson presided over the Sydney Water Board in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Board was using large doses of public relations and outright secrecy to cover up the gross contamination of the ocean that its sewage discharges were creating, because they contained so much toxic waste. Fish studies showing that fish caught near the outfalls were contaminated with organochlorines that were hundreds of times the National Health and Medical Research Council maximum residue limits were kept secret on Water Board request (see Sharon Beder, Toxic Fish and Sewer Surfing, 1989). Now Wilson heads the Greenpeace board which selects the head of Greenpeace, who in turn appoints Greenpeace campaigners.
Nor is this shift in direction confined to the Australian branch which, according to the Greenpeace formula, has its agenda set by Greenpeace International. Greenpeace International wrote to Olympic sponsors; including BHP, Coca Cola, General Motors-Holden, McDonalds, and others&emdash;offering to help them earn the name of “green” in the same way that the Sydney Olympics had:
As sponsors, you have the opportunity to play a key role in this success. One of the many benefits of being part of the Green Games is the chance to demonstrate your company’s commitment to the environment and to future generations. The Sydney Olympics offer your staff the opportunity to take part in a long-term global initiative to protect the world’s environment… Greenpeace would like to work with you to explore the areas in which you can make an environmental contribution during the Sydney 2000 Games.
So, for example, although BHP was named one of the worst ten corporations in 1995 by Multinational Monitor for polluting the Ok Tedi River in Papua New Guinea with a “daily dose of more than 80,000 tons of toxic mining waste” and for “helping to draft legislation for the PNG parliament that would make it a criminal offence to sue BHP” , Greenpeace offered to help BHP demonstrate its commitment to the environment by conserving energy or using environmentally safe refrigerants. (BHP agreed in 1996 to pay the local landowners $500 million after a legal battle in Australia with affected PNG people, but recently it has been discovered that environmental damage may be even worse than first estimated).
In fact, Greenpeace Australia had already done a similar service for Nike, a company much in need of good PR following media coverage of working conditions in factories producing Nike shoes in third-world countries. In its 1998 Olympic Report, Greenpeace congratulated Nike for promising to eliminate the use of PVC in its products, making “PVC free sportswear available to athletes and consumers”. The report contains a picture of Greenpeace presenting a cake in the shape of a green Nike shoe (complete with trademark swoosh) to Nike, and the text reads: “Greenpeace is calling on other sportswear manufacturers to follow suit and ‘just do it!’” In fact, the only part of most Nike shoes that is made from PVC is the “swoosh,” according to a Nike representative in Australia.
In a strange twist, Greenpeace has also been promoting a technology developed by Australian Defence Industries (ADI), a manufacturer of armaments. Darryl Luscombe, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace Australia, has been advocating the use of ADI’s experimental mobile-treatment facility to treat 400 tonnes of hazardous organochlorine waste found near the Olympic site, and Greenpeace has congratulated the Olympic Coordinating Authority for selecting ADI to treat the wastes: “The on-site treatment will be the first of its kind in Australia, making the Sydney Olympic Games a testing ground for non-incineration waste treatment technology,” explains a Greenpeace brochure.
Gilding’s business-friendly approach was unpopular with “old guard” environmentalists in the organization, and in 1994 he was ousted from his position as head of Greenpeace International. However, the fight over the Greenpeace approach continued, various board members left, and a new CEO was appointed a year-and-a-half later who represented a win for the solutions/business partnership approach. He was Thilo Bode, an economist from industry with World Bank experience who had no environmental credentials before being appointed head of Greenpeace Germany in 1989.
Bode was hired for his management skills, which he demonstrated by making Greenpeace Germany the richest of all Greenpeace operations. Even before he took up his appointment as head of Greenpeace International, Bode “engineered internal changes that reduced the power of the seven-member Greenpeace International Board”, according to Time magazine, “and shifted authority to the executive director”. He stated shortly after his appointment that there was a need for cultural change in Greenpeace.
Bode, like Gilding, believes in liaising with industry and allowing the Greenpeace name to be used to endorse “green” products such as CFC-free fridges by Westinghouse. This is despite the fact that Westinghouse was used in The Greenpeace Book of Greenwash as a prime example of a company that benefited from corporate greenwashing. The case study outlining the environmental legacy of Westinghouse’s nuclear operations began: “In the US, when people hear the name ‘Westinghouse’ they think of household appliances. Only rarely does the company publicize another side of its business: nuclear weapons and reactors”. No doubt their Greenpeace endorsed CFC-free fridge will perpetuate that perception.
Bode is keen to promote a more “solutions-oriented” approach in Greenpeace. One of his initiatives has been to work with car companies to produce a more fuel-efficient car. Greenpeace Germany has invested DM2.5 million to cut fuel consumption by about half in a Renault car. This investment, and the ensuing promotion of the car, has caused some disquiet within Greenpeace amongst those who are uncomfortable with the fact that, rather than promoting public transport, the organization was promoting an energy-intensive form of transport which pollutes the atmosphere. One campaigner told Polly Ghazi, who was writing for the New Statesman, “We should not be getting into the business of selling cars of any kind”.
Even Greenpeace USA is adopting “solutions-oriented” campaigns which involve “giving positive support for new technologies, products, and companies where appropriate”. Tim Andrews told Time magazine in 1996: “It’s an effort to sit down with businesses instead of coming out of the woodwork yelling. We use that as a last resort, yes. But we’re trying a more diplomatic approach.”
In London, Greenpeace UK hosted a conference in 1996 to identify solutions that could be achieved through alliances between environmentalists and industry. In attendance at the £375-per-head conference were delegates from corporations such as ICI (UK-based multinational chemical company), British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), BP, Shell, British Agrochemicals and Nestlé. Lord Peter Melchett, director of Greenpeace UK, argues that “solutions enforcement” is a new form of direct action.
Polly Ghazi, writing in the New Statesman, claimed that Greenpeace had strayed from its defence of nature to forge “closer ties with its former business enemies”, and suggested that its support of oil company BP for its solar-power initiatives gave BP huge “public relations capital” for a mere investment of 0.1 per cent of the BP group’s turnover. The campaign programme director of Greenpeace UK wrote in a reply to the New Statesman that Greenpeace opposed “the plan of the other 99.9 per cent part of that company to expand its oil operations into the Atlantic”. He also wrote: “In the course of our campaigns governments often turn from being opponents to allies. That does not mean Greenpeace is becoming an adjunct or supporter.”
More recently, BP Amoco has been the subject of environmental criticism in the form of a special Greenhouse Greenwash Award from the US group Corporate Watch for its “Plug in the Sun” Program. Corporate Watch noted that “the company hopes that by spending just .01% of its portfolio on solar [power] as it explores for more oil and sells more gasoline, it can convince itself and others of its own slogan: BP knows, BP cares, BP is our leader.”
In a similar satiric vein, Greenpeace USA has given BP Amoco’s CEO, John Browne, an award for “Best Impression of an Environmentalist” for his “portrayal of BP Amoco as a leader in solar energy” while running a company “with far greater investment in dirty fossil fuels that are causing global warming”. Greenpeace USA has opposed drilling and exploration by BP Amoco in Alaska. In this case, the “solutions” approach taken by Greenpeace UK clearly conflicts with Greenpeace campaigns in the USA.
As these examples illustrate, Greenpeace still carries on its historic mission of “bearing witness,” but its focus on “solutions” has required Greenpeace to sometimes turn a blind eye to the environmental sins of the companies with which it works. The problem is not that everyone in Greenpeace has sold out, but that the new emphasis on solutions is leading to compromises that the former Greenpeace would not have considered.
Corporations and their business magazines are encouraging this nascent tendency, which they see as evidence of growing “maturity” on the part of Greenpeace. “We’ve reached a detente with Greenpeace,” a spokesman for the multinational chemical firm Hoechst told Time magazine. A spokesman for Bayer, another multinational chemical company, said that “we can conduct substantive discussions with their people”.
“Some in Greenpeace acknowledge that the group’s confrontational tactics are losing effect and can be costly,” crowed Chemical Week, noting the shift to “solutions-based campaigning” and to “targeting shareholders and bankers involved in project finance”.
“Mature” is also a word Michael Bland, Greenpeace Olympics campaigner, uses to describe the new Greenpeace. The Greenpeace approach is “now more sophisticated”, he says, because it recognizes “the potential to use the market when that is appropriate”. The word “maturity”, however, has ambiguous connotations: it can either mark the culmination of development or the beginning of decline. And “sophistication” is sometimes a mere nudge away from sophistry. Greenpeace campaigners may view their emphasis on “solutions” as a natural evolution and a necessary response to changing world conditions. Some environmentalists, however, fear that this new path is a slippery slope. Will Greenpeace continue to uphold the principles of its founders, or will it become just another symbolic marketing hook, a subscription sold to suburban householders to be taken in regular doses as a palliative for environmental anxiety while they continue their lifestyles as polluting producers and consumers?
As noted in Chapter Eight (see p 134), Ronald Duchin, from the PR firm Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin, categorizes activists as either radicals, opportunists, idealists or realists. He describes idealists as altruistic and highly credible, with a sense of justice. Duchin’s formula is to isolate the radicals, turn the idealists into realists, and co-opt the realists to support industry solutions; the opportunists will go along with the final agreement. The radicals, he claimed, need the support of the idealists and realists to have credibility. Without them they are marginalized.
If Duchin’s formula is applied to Greenpeace, it can be seen to be shifting from being an idealist organization to a realist one with an emphasis on solutions. It is being co-opted to support industry solutions, and the opportunists within the organization have made the most of the situation. Radicals within Greenpeace have been marginalized; presumably, many have left, either disillusioned or forced out in the waves of downsizing that occurred during the 1990s as Greenpeace was restructured into an ‘efficient’ corporate machine.
In the downsizing of Greenpeace, the solutions-oriented people have come to dominate, and those unwilling to compromise have left. Those remaining seem to believe that what they are doing is right or have convinced themselves that it is. They don’t recognize it as greenwashing. Whereas once there was bitter division about the new direction of Greenpeace and its solutions focus, it no longer seems to be an issue amongst current employees. It is just accepted as the right way to go.
The Greenpeace Book of Greenwash by Jed Greer and Kenny Bruno, first published in 1992, points out that, by using greenwash, “industry has devised a far-reaching program to convince people that TNCs [transnational corporations] are benefactors of the global environment… Greenwash has worked, in as much as it has helped corporations distract the public while they simultaneously fight off measures which would make them liable for their actions and accountable to the people affected by their activities.” It warns citizens to look under the surface of corporate announcements of environmental initiatives “and be aware of the overall context in which they exist. It is clear that certain basic characteristics of corporate culture have not changed.” What may have changed, however, is the culture of Greenpeace so that corporate culture is no longer seen to be the problem.
As the number of world-wide subscribers to Greenpeace continues to drop (to 2.5 million in 1998), despite the shift to solutions-based campaigning, there are reports that Bode is considering how to take advantage of Greenpeace’s brand name. As early as 1994 Gilding noted that, “As a trademark, Greenpeace is right up there with Levis and Coca-Cola.” And from at least 1995 Greenpeace has been licensing its name to private firms which produce Greenpeace calendars, greeting cards and other miscellaneous items. The Economist reported that an American firm of management consultants estimated that the “worldwide value of the Greenpeace brand” was around $410 million in 1998. It noted: “Stamped on various eco-friendly products, it could lend a cachet that might become de rigueur in trendy green circles.”
To date, Greenpeace policy does not allow the organization to take money from industry or government, so it is not the commercial opportunities which are converting Greenpeace into a greenwashing operation. It appears to be the career opportunities available to individuals, rather than the funds available to the organization, that are influencing Greenpeace decisions. Like many groups, Greenpeace is at a crossroads. Will it remain a principled “green warrior” or will it become a deal-making, compromised collaborator with the powers that be?
The Revolving Door
The revolving door that operates between industry, government and public relations firms has been well documented. A similar revolving door between journalism and corporate PR helps grease a smoothly operating propaganda system in which both corporations and their supposed watchdogs are in fact drinking buddies and business partners.
Now Greenpeace, one of the world’s leading environmental organizations and a frequent adversary of corporate polluters, is itself a site of the ubiquitous revolving door. Not only are people like Bode and Wilson&emdash;who come from industry and government, and see nothing wrong with a ‘reformist’, solutions-oriented approach; coming into Greenpeace, but those who embrace such an approach such as Karla Bell (see previous chapter) and Paul Gilding are finding career opportunities as consultants to industry after they leave Greenpeace.
Michael Bland left Greenpeace in 1989 to work for the Sydney-based green marketing firm Environmental Marketing Services, founded by Kevin Condon who was then Australian agent for Elkington’s SustainAbility. The latter was a UK consulting group which shares ideas and analysis with Gilding’s Ecos Corporation and which, according to Gilding, does similar work. Bland then started his own consultancy, Environment Matters, before returning to work for Greenpeace in 1993.
Blair Palese left her position as director of communications for Greenpeace International to work as head of public relations for the Body Shop International. She has since returned to Greenpeace, and for four days a week she is the international coordinator of Greenpeace’s Olympic’s campaign. On the fifth day she works for Gilding’s consultancy, Ecos Corporation, in the area of communications. Palese is comfortable with the fact that Ecos clients are often Greenpeace targets, denying that she has any conflicts of interest.
One example of the conflict between Ecos Corporation and Greenpeace is the development of an oil-shale deposit in Queensland, which is opposed by Greenpeace because of the fossil fuel emissions associated with it and the damage it could do to the Barrier Reef. The developers, Canadian company Suncor and Australian company Southern Pacific Petroleum (SPP) are clients of Ecos.
Greenpeace press releases accuse Suncor and SPP of “misleading the public and their own shareholders over the amount of greenhouse pollution” from the planned development, and argue that “oil shale is the most polluting source of energy currently being developed”, with much higher carbon dioxide emissions than conventional oil sources. Ecos literature, on the other hand, names Suncor as “one of the leading fossil fuel focussed energy companies in the world on climate change”.
Paul Gilding’s career with Greenpeace began in the late 1980s after he left the Royal Australian Air Force. He was hired by Greenpeace Australia in 1989, and within six months was appointed its executive director. It was under Gilding that Greenpeace first became involved in Sydney’s “green” Olympics. (See previous chapter.) In 1993, Gilding became executive director of Greenpeace International but was pushed out of that position 18 months later due to internal disputes, including disagreements over his belief in “solutions-oriented” corporate collaborations. However, he remains a member of the Greenpeace Australia general assembly, a select group of 37 people who elect the Greenpeace Australia board of directors.
After he left Greenpeace, Gilding started his own consultancy in 1995, originally named Paras Ecos and now named Ecos Corporation. He is now chairman of Ecos, which employs seven or so staff. According to its literature, “Ecos Corporation provides strategic support and advice to corporate clients and partners seeking commercial advantage through a focus on sustainability… Our clients are primarily large corporations in the finance, energy, chemical and resource sectors.”
Past and present clients of Ecos include:
• Monsanto, used as a case study in The Greenpeace Book of Greenwash, and currently warring with Greenpeace in the US and Europe over its genetic engineering of the world food supply;
• DuPont, a multinational chemical company that has been targeted by Greenpeace and other environmental groups for its environmental misdeeds;
• Placer Dome, a Canadian-based gold mining company which owns half the controversial Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea. The Porgera mine has caused as much if not more environmental destruction than BHP’s Ok Tedi mine, according to the Minerals Policy Institute, an Australian watchdog group;
• Suncor/SPP of Canada/Australia;
• BP Australia, a multinational oil company; and
• WMC Ltd (formerly Western Mining Corporation), a mining company whose uranium and other mining activities are cited as a case study in greenwashing by the Minerals Policy Institute, which criticizes WMC for chemical dumping, deforestation and human rights impacts on indigenous people.
According to the Australian Financial Review, Ecos turned over about $A1million in the financial year 1997-98. Gilding told the paper: “We are there to service the interests of our clients… We are there because we seek to improve the profitability of the people we are working for, so we’re very clear as to who we’re aligned with. We’re saying we can increase your profitability by focusing on sustainability”.
Ecos defines sustainability as “society’s expectation that business adds economic, social and environmental value from its operations”, according to Mark Lyster when he was one of Ecos’s directors. This is very different definition of sustainability from the usual ones about the needs of future generations and maintaining environmental quality. Lyster, a development economist “with extensive operational banking experience”, left Ecos to join the multinational financial and management consulting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers.
In 1996, the Australian Financial Review reported that Gilding had got together with Michael Roux (responsible for the privatization program in the state of Victoria ) to form a green investment fund “which they see raising anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion”. According to the AFR, Gilding and Roux recognized that a green investment fund was not a new idea. But in the past “these have usually been ethical or emotional funds”, whereas theirs was to be driven by profit. “It could even invest in chemical companies, or at least the greenest ones.” Their idea was that this new fund would be “marketed off the back of Sydney’s green 2000 Olympics”. This venture has since fallen through.
The idea of increasing shareholder value by increasing environmental performance, or at least the perception of it, has been promoted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, an international corporate lobbying organization set up in 1990 in the lead-up to the Earth Summit. According to Joyce Nelson, author of Sultans of Sleeze: “With the able assistance of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, a very elite group of business people (including Burson-Marsteller itself) was seemingly able to plan the agenda for the Earth Summit with little interference from NGOs or government leaders”. Its members include the CEOs of Dow, DuPont, Shell, Mitsubishi, Browning-Ferris Industries and many more.
The Council’s 1992 book, Changing Course, quotes Ben Woodhouse, director of global environmental issues at Dow Chemical and a member of the Council’s liaison group, as pointing out that “the degree to which a company is viewed as being a positive or negative participant in solving sustainability issues will determine, to a very great degree, their long term business viability”. Woodhouse has now joined up with Gilding as CEO of Ecos, having retired after 31 years with Dow Chemical.
Woodhouse received special thanks in the acknowledgments of the Council’s 1997 report, Environmental Performance and Shareholder Value, written by Jerald Blumberg from DuPont, Georges Blum of the Swiss Bank Corporation, and Age Korsvald of Storebrand&emdash;all corporations that featured in the report as case studies. This report promoted the idea that investors were more likely to invest in companies they believed had a better environmental record. This claim has since been reinforced by an Ecos study.
Following the Business Council’s lead, Ecos, “in association with a leading fund manager in Sydney”, undertook a survey of the top 150 companies on the Australian Stock Exchange in order to develop a portfolio of 50 “green” companies. The companies chosen by Ecos and its associates as “environmental leaders” included mining companies with poor reputations amongst environmentalists, such as WMC and Placer Dome (both Ecos clients) and Rio Tinto. When questioned about the choice of companies for this survey, Gilding said that they were not chosen because they were “green” but because they were companies that had undertaken some environmental initiative that was like to have financial benefits. However, this qualification of the term “environmental leaders” is not mentioned in Ecos literature.
The share price performance of this supposedly “green” portfolio in the years 1992-98 was tested by the fund manager against the Australian All Ordinaries Index, and was found to have outperformed ordinary shares by four per cent. All this is supposed to confirm the Ecos philosophy that “sustainability” can be a key business “driver” (a term also used by the Business Council), as it pushes share prices up. Ecos claims to assist its clients to: “develop and implement business strategies which deliver competitive edge and superior financial performance through the interpretation of key environmental and social business drivers; identify specific new business opportunities and strategies to capture them; [and] increase efficiency and reduce risks and costs through advanced environmental, social and economic performance.”
But how real are the improvements in environmental and social performance? To what extent is shareholder value being added through communications rather than substance? Ecos is not staffed by environmental scientists and engineers who can offer environmental solutions but by financial, public relations and communications specialists. Apart from Gilding there is:
• Ben Woodhouse, CEO of Ecos and former Vice-President and global director of issues management, crisis management and industry affairs with Dow Chemicals;
• Blair Palese, former director of communications for Greenpeace and former head of public relations for the Body Shop International and;
• Alan Tate, former television news reporter (described in public relations hyperbole in Ecos publicity material as “one of Australia’s pre-eminent experts in the full range of business, political and scientific aspects of climate change”);
• Sheena Boughen, an associate, whose expertise seems to be in developing individual and organizational potential and effective relationships;
• Cath Bremner, a business analyst;
• Carolyn Butt, Gilding’s personal assistant; and
• Kim Grosvenor, who has experience in the financial sector.
Gilding argues that Ecos staff are strategy consultants rather than technical consultants; they advise on business strategy rather than environmental performance. They can’t design an environmental-management programme but they can help companies to see the risks and opportunities created by external developments to do with the environment, such as market changes and international negotiations. They “advise companies what they need to do differently to secure their long term commercial future in the context of sustainability changes”.
One role that Ecos plays is to help companies produce environmental reports. Gilding stresses that this is within an overall programme of change. Ecos helped Placer Dome, the Canadian gold mining company, to “produce the world’s first mining company sustainability report outlining their economic, social and environmental performance.” It has also worked with them to implement “new approaches to stakeholder engagement at operations in Australia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea”.
Before joining Ecos, Woodhouse (then running his own US-based consultancy, Sustainable Solutions) helped WMC produce its 1997 environmental report. In November 1998 the managing director of WMC, Hugh Morgan, was appointed to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development on the basis of WMC’s demonstrated commitment to sustainable development. WMC’s award-winning 1997 annual report and environmental report (which also won an Australian award for Best Environment Report) were given as evidence of this commitment to sustainable development. But it was these reports that the Mineral Policies Institute referred to in their publication Glossy Reports, Grim Reality which documented environmental damage caused by WMC operations, as well as the company’s campaigns to oppose environmental legislation in Australia, the Philippines and North America, and its opposition to legally binding greenhouse-reduction targets in the lead-up to the Kyoto conference.
Ecos was hired by the Queensland Timber Board after years of fighting against environmentalists had undermined the Board’s public credibility. Gilding had no problem with taking up their cause. He was quoted by Between the Leaves, a Queensland government publication, as saying: “Ultimately forest products are inherently sustainable… Therefore the future of the industry lies in embracing environmental issues as a marketing tool.”
This line is reminiscent of the statements of Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace and director of Greenpeace International from 1971 to 1986 and head of Greenpeace Canada from 1977-1986. Moore also has his own consultancy, Greenspirit, and is on the board of, and spokesman for, the industry-funded Forest Alliance of British Columbia (set up by Burson Marsteller), from which he champions wood as a sustainable material and clear-cutting as an environmentally appropriate method of forestry. He has also been employed by BHP, Canada to write a paper on the environmental impact of submarine disposal from their mine on Vancouver Island and to facilitate a Round Table discussion on a landfill proposal. He has been on a speaking tour of Australia, sponsored by the National Association of Forest Industries, and has advised the Canadian Mining Association, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, Westcoast Energy and BC Gas, and the BC Hazardous Waste Management Corporation.
Like Gilding, Moore claims to retain his environmental goals but to be achieving them in a more cooperative way: “I’ve gone from the politics of confrontation to the politics of consensus building”. Both Gilding and Moore argue that the solution to environmental problems will come from business. Gilding told the West Australian newspaper, “Everywhere now the market is supreme and this is the victory of the capitalist system. There has been a breakdown in environmental conflict and the free market is now driving change.” And he told the radio programme Background Briefing, “In many ways the environmental and social communities are still back in a decade ago where they see government as the main force for driving change.”
When Jacquelynne Willcox Bailey of the Weekend Australian asked Gilding about his work with the Mirvac-Lend Lease consortium on the Olympic Village, and its proximity to a toxic waste treatment plant (see previous chapter), Gilding told her that his job had been to help them win the tender and that, as he hadn’t been asked by the client to consider the treatment plant, he hadn’t done so.
Gilding has received various awards from the business community for his work, including an Environmental Leadership Award in 1997 from Tomorrow Magazine, which is an outlet of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
The rewards for environmentalists and former environmentalists who are able to “work with” industry can be great. And environmental groups willing to take money from corporations, such as the US-based Nature Conservancy, can become very rich indeed. But the solutions that such individuals and groups offer will inevitably fit with the existing business/market paradigm, and will provide little challenge to prevailing ideologies or interests. In some cases, working with companies or governments to achieve minor reforms can undermine environmental protection in the long term by greenwashing these organizations and enabling them to continue with other damaging activities out of the spotlight of public scrutiny.
Source: Sharon Beder, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, 2nd. edition, Scribe, Melbourne, 2000, chapter