Thanks to Johann Hari for his courageous article taking on Big Green groups that are always quick to claim any scrutiny of their behavior is "irresponsible." Their sanctimonious response, however, does not change the fact that many of our most important national groups have abandoned their mission to kowtow to their corporate sponsors and allies in Washington.
As I chronicle in my book, Green, Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause has Gone Bad, these organizations operate more like the corporations that fund them than the grassroots groups the public believes them to be. They act in wasteful and unaccountable ways. Unless they reform, they are going to lose all credibility at a time when we need our environmental groups more than ever to help the world step back from the brink of unimaginable climate changes.
But, as Hari points out, the momentum seems to be going in the direction--with Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and other large national groups backing positions approved by their powerful allies--though climate scientists say these proposals are simply too little, too late.
That's one part of the problem. The other is corporate money in environmentalism. I will leave you with just one example: EDF's ballyhooed relationship with Federal Express.
In 2000, EDF and FedEx unveiled a new hybrid vehicle that promised to dramatically cut the carbon emissions of the company's fleet of delivery trucks. Both EDF and FedEx reaped enormous public relations windfalls from what was hailed as a "revolutionary" win-win proposition that would be good for both the company and the environment. Fedex officials promised to roll out as many 30,000 hybrid trucks by 2013.
The initiative provided the cornerstone upon which FedEx has built a reputation as a "green" corporation. Executives at EDF, meanwhile, enhanced their credibility as environmentalists able to bring corporations to the negotiating table.
But FedEx has never moved seriously to adopt the new technology. By the end of 2009, the company said it was on track to have 325 of these hybrid electric vehicles on the road--a far cry from the tens of thousands it originally envisioned. To be fair to the company, it also says it has more than 1,800 "alternative fuel vehicles and equipment around the world." Those numbers sound good until you look at the size of FedEx's fleet--more than 120,000 vehicles plus hundreds airplanes.
If you do the math, it turns out the FedEx has "greened" just 1.7 percent of fleet. At this rate, we're going to have to wait for the golden anniversary of the EDF-FedEx partnership before seeing the "revolutionary" changes promised a decade ago.
Is this corporate "greening" or greenwashing?