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A Brief History of Greenwash
by Joshua Karliner, CorpWatch
March 22nd, 2001

What is Greenwashing, and Why is it a Problem?


Twenty years ago, dirty industries and dirty politicians ignored the environment. Today, those same industries and politicians now feel compelled to respond to environmental concerns--even if by lying about them. Curiously, on balance, this is a sign of some small progress.
-- Peter Dykstra, “Twenty Years: No Time Off For Good Behavior," Greenpeace, January/February/March 1992, p. 2

Published on Tuesday, January 23, 2007 by the Guardian / UK
If Tesco and Wal-Mart are Friends of the Earth, Are There Any Enemies Left?
The superstores compete to convince us they are greener than their rivals, but they are locked into unsustainable growth
by George Monbiot


environmentalists for NAFTA

Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund
In a May 5 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, a
coalition of major U.S. environmental organizations detailed their
demands for the environmental side agreement: the establishment of a
North American Commission on the Environment (NACE); assurances that
NACE decisions would be backed up by government dispute settlement
procedures, possibly including trade sanctions; funding for border
clean-up; and substantive public participation in debating
environmental issues under NAFTA. The coalition, made up of Defenders
of Wildlife, the World Wildlife Fund, the Audobon Society, the
Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy and the Natural
Resources Defense Council, went so far as to pledge its support for
NAFTA if its proposals are incorporated into the environmental side
While each organization purportedly favored trade based upon the
principles of sustainable development, three distinct trade
philosophies distinguish these organizations. The first philosophical
group, those largely supportive of the economic growth model,
includes most of the environmental organizations involved in trade
policy. National Wildlife Federation (NWF), World Wildlife Fund
(WWF), Natural Resources Defense Coundil (NRDC), the Environmental
Defense Fund (EDF), Defenders of Wildlife (Defenders), and the
National Audubon Society (NAS) all support liberalized trade policy.
The reasons for their support vary: as a 'market-oriented'
environmental organization, trade liberalization is consistent with
EDF overall philosophy; Peter Berle, President of NAS, is a trained
economist and is considered a `free trader' by staff; both NWF and
WWF argue that more trade is 'inevitable' and that environmentalists
should learn to work within the framework of free trade to push for
environmental reform.

Defenders apparently had some second thoughts about the betrayal ...
U.S. Green Groups Reject NWF Plan to Negotiate Fast-Track Demands
Inside U.S. Trade, Vol. 15 no. 36, 5 September 1997
If the Administration pushes ahead with a fast track that does not
measure up to the standard laid out in the letter to Gore, as they
expect will occur, most U.S. environmental groups, including several
former NAFTA backers such as the Defenders of Wildlife, World
Wildlife Fund and the National Audubon Society, expect to push to
defeat fast track. This would send the Administration a message that
its failure to pro-actively implement a trade agenda sensitive to
environmental concerns is untenable, according to environmental sources.
For the past few weeks, though. NWF has sought to build consensus
among key players in the environmental community for the idea of
seeking specific commitments from the Administration, both in the
negotiating objectives included in the fast-track legislation as well
as in trade arenas outside fast track.

Nearly all groups which previously supported NAFTA are disenchanted
with the Administration's subsequent follow-up in overall U.S. trade
policy, environmental sources said. As indications of U.S.
inattention with regard to NAFTA, they noted the absence of
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner at the
last meeting of the environmental side accord's main policy-making
body. They have also criticized the slow pace of the new NAFTA-
related border institutions, the Border Environment Cooperation
Council (BECC) and the North American Development Bank (NADBank), in
approving border-cleanup projects.


I wonder if the speaker from NRDC would be willing to talk about NRDC's endorsements of:
- the NAFTA treaty in 1993 (along with a few other foundation funded environmental groups, despite near unanimous opposition from the rest of the environmental movement)
- the 1991 and 1998 highway expansion bills (ISTEA and TEA-21)
- deregulation of ozone layer protection (along with Environmental Defense Fund, they signed on to the renaming of CFC-22 as H-CFC-22, a form of linguistic detoxification)
- Clinton's deregulation of food safety laws (in 1996, Clinton abolished the 1958 Delaney Clause that prohibited carcinogens in food, an action that NRDC praised since there was rhetoric to claim that a form of risk assessment would supposedly provide as much protection even though it has not)
among other problems.
We are not going to solve oil dependence through technological innovation, but through reduction of consumption. None of the alternatives to petroleum are as energy dense as oil, which is a sobering reality for those hoping for hydrogen powered highways. But that message does not attract foundation grants.
The propaganda push for "energy independence" that avoids the issues of overconsumption, growth based economics, Peak Oil and other resource depletion is merely a distraction from dealing with the crisis.


They have been on the side of the polluters regarding:
they helped compromise away ozone layer protection in the late 1980s (the renaming of some CFCs to "H-CFC")
they were one of seven corporate funded environmental groups to endorse the NAFTA treaty (99% of the environmental movement was against this)
EDF came up with the absurd concept of pollution trading credits
EDF praised Clinton's abolition of the Delaney Clause in 1996 (an Eisenhower era law that prohibited cancer causing food additives).
EDF supports new toll roads.
EDF crafted deals in the mid 1990s to support incinerator ash (which is very toxic)
EDF undermined grassroots environmentalists in late 1980s who were trying to get McDonalds to stop mindless trash pollution. It's a long story - in short, EDF and McDonalds made a deal to allow McD's to stop using styrofoam supposedly because EDF asked them to - and not grassroots groups around the country who had a big campaign. But, McD still continued to generate about as much trash (just different types) and the environmental impact of the phood is probably worse than the packaging.
EDF was the primary backer of an environmentalist blessing of the proposed "American Dream" mega mall in Silver Spring Maryland, a $600 million shopping maul / theme park. Perhaps one in eight customers would have used public transit to get there, so EDF (and other, similar elitist environmentalists) gave it their blessing. It took grassroots environmentalists about a year to succeed in stopping it (I was pleased to play a role in that campaign).
Groups that take oil money laundered through foundations are unlikely to propose meaningful solutions.
EDF was a good group in the early 1970s when they filed lots of lawsuits to sue the bastards. But in the 1980s, they got co-opted by money and power. George H W Bush reportedly said they were his favorite environmental group. Their action alerts are great marketing, but the history of this organization shows they are not to be trusted. It's a sad commentary on why the environmental movement was not as effective as it could have been - and now we are seeing the consequence.

Non Profit Watch (an environmentalist perspective on the corporate funded part of the "environmental" movement)
Lots of links about EDF at:

Rachel's #442 - The Right To Pollute
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Source: Rachel's Environment & Health News
Rachel's Environment & Health News
#442 - The Right To Pollute, May 18, 1995
The Right To Pollute
Washington is buzzing. Old-style environmental protection--in which people expected government to protect their clean air and clean water-- is out. A new "third wave" of environmentalism is coming into vogue. This "third wave" relies less on confrontation between polluters and their victims and more on cooperation between polluters and the big environmental groups. The key concept of the "third wave" is market- based incentives for polluters to clean up, rather than demands by government to clean up. What are market-based incentives? The only working example of a market-based incentive that we know of is the trading of "emission reduction credits," also known as buying and selling "pollution rights." This concept was invented by lawyer Fred Krupp and economist Dan Dudeck, both with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in the late 1980s.[1] EDF's "pollution rights" scheme was written into the Clean Air Act of 1990. ...
Mark Dowie says, "The worst aspect of third-wave environmentalism is that it is essentially anti-democratic. Environmental protection, to the extent that it is achieved at all, is won through negotiation among the powerful. When Fred Krupp, director of Environmental Defense Fund, cuts a deal with General Motors over automobile emissions there is no public participation. When he enters that board room in Detroit whom does he represent? The 36 members of the EDF Board? The 120,000 passive contributors? The donor foundations? Himself, or some vague principle he believes will benefit the environment? More important than these questions is whether or not he represents the public. And if he does, where was the public hearing?" Dowie asks.
REVIEW - Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century by Mark Dowie.
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Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century by Mark Dowie.
Editorial Reviews
From Booklist
Dowie is an award-winning journalist with a penchant for radical inquiry. He has tackled the American environmental movement out of frustration, believing that it should have accomplished much more than it has. Why environmentalism has failed to live up to its potential occupies much of Dowie's rigorous analysis. He begins with a scathing history of the movement's first stirrings, an effort by well-heeled, elitist white men to maintain wilderness areas for recreational purposes. The next phase pitted conservationists interested in "wise use" against the more prescient preservationists. Dowie tracks the rapid devolution of "wise use" into abuse during the Reagan years and the foolish fallback tactics of the green movement, which bureaucratized itself into little more than a direct-mail machine. As critical as Dowie is, he does see hope in the next phase of this phoenixlike movement. He believes that a genuinely democratic form of environmentalism--linked to civil rights, focused on urban as well as rural environmental issues, and involving women and men of all races and cultures--is possible and promising. Let's hope so. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Book Description
"Losing Ground is an ambitious and brave book. Mr. Dowie has marshaled an exceptionally broad array of facts and produced a provocative explanation for why a once vibrant social movement is of the truly important books on a genuinely American social movement." -- Keith Schneider, New York Times Book Review "Perhaps the most interesting environmental book published yet this year." -- The Washington Times
A recent history replete with compromise and capitulation has pushed a once promising and effective political movement to the brink of irrelevance.
So states Mark Dowie in this provocative critique of the mainstream American environmental movement. Dowie, the prolific award-winning journalist who broke the stories on the Dalkon Shield and on the Ford Pinto, delivers an insightful, informative, and often damning account of the movement many historians and social commentators at one time expected to be this century's most significant. He unveils the inside stories behind American environmentalism's undeniable triumphs and its quite unnecessary failures.
Dowie weaves a spellbinding tale, from the movement's conservationist origins as a handful of rich white men's hunting and fishing clubs, through its evolution in the 1960s and 1970s into a powerful political force that forged landmark environmental legislation, enforced with aggressive litigation, to the strategy of "third wave" political accommodation during the Reagan and Bush years that led to the evisceration of many earlier triumphs, up to today, where the first stirrings of a rejuvenated, angry, multicultural, and decidedly impolite movement for environmental justice provides new hope for the future.
Dowie takes a fresh look at the formation of the American environmental imagination and examines its historical imperatives: the inspirations of Thoreau, the initiatives of John Muir and Bob Marshall, the enormous impact of Rachel Carson, the new ground broken by Earth Day in 1970, and the societal antagonists created in response that climaxed with the election of Ronald Reagan. He details the subsequent move toward polite, ineffectual activism by the mainstream environmental groups, characterized by successful fundraising efforts and wide public acceptance, and also by new alliances with corporate philanthropists and government bureaucrats, increased degradation of environmental quality, and alienation of grassroots support. Dowie concludes with an inspirational description of a noncompromising "fourth wave" of American environmentalism, which he predicts will crest early in the next century.

Losing Ground unveils the inside stories behind American environmentalism's undeniable triumphs and its quite unnecessary failures. Journalist Mark Dowie, who broke the stories on the Dalkon Shield and the Ford Pinto, delivers an insightful, informative, and often damning account of the movement many historians and social commentators at one time expected to be this century's most significant. Illustrations.

About the Author
Mark Dowie is currently editor at large of InterNation, a transnational feature syndicate based in New York. A former publisher and editor of Mother Jones magazine, he is the recipient of fourteen major journalism awards, including an unprecedented three National Magazine Awards.

Reader Reviews

Critique of mainstream's blindsiding of the environment., October 5, 1996
Reviewer: A reader
Perhaps the greatest weakness of individual environmentalists and the environmental "movement" is the absence of public self-examination. While political insiders may clearly see the difference between the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, the public has few resources to gauge them. Opening the doors is author Mark Dowie, a champion of local activism and the integration of environmental issues with other social movements. Tracing the origins and bureaucratization of the environmental movement, Dowie criticizes the most recent surge of co-option, the "third wave" or economics-based environmentalism. "Regulatory flexibility and 'constructive engagement' with industry have created some business heroes, but they can be counted on one hand," he writes. "The rest, unfortunately, need to be regulated." This is not to say this book is a rant against environmental business. There are no heroes or villains in this book, which makes it a rarity in the environmental lexicon. Instead, Dowie criticizes the corporate structure of environmental groups, and portrays each organization with their individual merits and flaws. Compromising Local Leadership Dowie reminds readers of the decision by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Cultural Survival to negotiate with the Ecuadorian government over oil drilling in the Yasuni Reserve. Arguing that oil drilling would be inevitable, and "[w]ithout consulting the Huaorani people or the appropriate Ecuadorian environmental organizations, [NRDC's] Scherr and Kennedy struck a deal: Conoco could drill on the Huaoroni reserve in return for a $10-million donation to an Ecuadorian foundation created by NRDC and Cultural Survival, an indigenous-rights groups based in Cambridge, Massachusetts." The NAFTA debate saw essentially the same argument made: free trade is inevitable, so environmentalists have to go along and get what they can. NAFTA's "It's a win-win-win situation" argument was accepted by various environmental groups. In the long run, the agreement and side provisions may indeed provide resources and rewards for cross-border environmental planning. But Dowie draws back to review the consequences of increased commerce. "It should be clear to any environmental thinker that free trade can only lead to the globalization of massive, consumer- based economies that are, in the long run, whatever the legislated safeguards, ecologically destructive. But mainstream environmental officials evidently don't think a lot about the distant future. Like the corporations they have come to resemble, they tend to be occupied with the day-to-day imperatives of strategy, competition and survival." From a parochial viewpoint, it would have been interesting had Dowie included a critique of the way in which many D.C. groups finally "discovered" environmental problems along the border and how most of these organizations lost interest in the border after NAFTA passed. It would also be interesting to document the criticism the mainstream groups made of those local groups that disagreed with them on the potential consequences of NAFTA. At the Center and Stumbling The problem with mainstream environmental groups stems from their decisions in the 1980s to focus energies on power plays in Washington, D.C., instead of reaching out to state and community organizations. Had the focus remained on "reaching out to state, local and regional organizations," he writes, "the American environmental movement today would be much stronger and more consequential than it is. An explosive critical mass of national activism could have been formed. Instead, a relatively harmless and effete new club appeared." Dowie suggests that the disproportionate ratio of funding (70 percent to 30 percent) between mainstream and grassroots groups remains an obstacle for community organization, suggesting that "a 20-point shift, of $200 million would change the complexity of the entire environmental community." The publication of Losing Ground offers readers an insightful view of relations among environmental groups, many of which demand transparency in government and business circles, but not among themselves or their colleagues. This is one of the most valuable guidebooks and is one of the year's must-reads.