Greedy Environmentalists: Green, Inc. (Book Review)

| 1/29/2009 12:17:56 PM

Cover of Green IncorporatedThe highly paid leaders of big environmental organizations are compromising themselves and the planet by cutting deals—as well as wining, dining, and scuba diving—with corporate executives whose firms pollute and plunder resources. That’s the rather damning case laid out in Green, Inc. by environmental journalist Christine MacDonald, who challenges green groups to wean themselves from these tainted corporate donations and relationships, which range from apparent conflicts of interest to out-and-out scandal.

As an environmentalist, MacDonald is acutely aware of the interconnectedness of all things, and she touches on a constellation of related issues: greenwashing, green certification, dicey political alliances, indigenous rights, out-of-control logging and mining, even human rights and slavery. Green, Inc. doesn’t contain enough fresh enterprise reporting to be deemed a full-blown exposé, but the book ties together enough data, anecdotes, and previously reported material to be taken seriously as a critique of the business of environmentalism.

MacDonald singles out three organizations for her harshest criticism: the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International, where she briefly worked and thus attained “insider” status. She also notes improprieties and ethical lapses at other groups, and to be fair widens the circle of accountability to include all consumers: “Demanding to know where the products we purchase came from and how they were made is maybe the most important thing we can do to press corporations to clean up their operations and supply chains.”

This review was originally published in the January-February 2009 issue of Utne Reader.

Keith Goetzman_1
2/3/2009 2:41:35 PM

Jeffery: The high salaries of environmental organization heads are part of MacDonald's critique in "Green Inc.," and she includes a chart of the most luxuriously compensated leaders. And I agree that many organizations seem to be working toward similar goals but often aren't coordinated. Jaymie: I'm a Patagonia fan, too. The only new clothing I've bought in the last year was made by this pioneer in environmentally responsible business. Keith Goetzman

2/2/2009 2:31:17 PM

I agree with Mac Donald’s assertion that as consumers we must ask more questions. Where does this come from and how did it get here? How was it made or grown? Were the farmers or the factory workers given a fair wage for their work producing this? Do I really need this? Many would rather not know the answers. As one gets in the habit of asking one begins to learn about companies who do give fair compensation to their employees, are not exploiting natural resources and produce quality goods that last. One company that comes to mind is Patagonia. An item may cost more at the cash register but in the long run I ultimately pay much less. Their stuff lasts, is made responsibly and a percentage of their profits go toward conservation projects. It’s a great model to follow.

Jeffery Biss
2/2/2009 1:09:44 PM

What I see as bigger problems are: - The huge salaries of the org heads. Most of us work for a better world for nothing. Our contributions mean nothing until we pay off the $250,000 plus salary of the leader. What about the staff? Most of these people are like the contributors, sure they get paid but no better than most employees, working for a greater cause. If these leaders actually cared about the cause then wouldn't they demand a reasonable salary? Are they really like CEOs, in the Good ol' Boy network for the bucks, sort of like Mega Church ministers? - The number of orgs is staggering. Are they coordinated? I get emails from a number of groups telling me to write my Senators about the same thing. Why can't groups coordinate so that they aren't wastefully duplicating efforts and can better allocate resources to achieve wide-scale success? In Illinois the ASPCA and HSUS have teamed up to support anti-puppy mill legislation, so it can be done. Maybe the problem is due to the need to control empire, leaders don't want to give up control and money from contributors. Environmentalism and animal rights are not special interest, they are general interest, at least for us grass-roots advocates and activists. I just don't know about the leadership. If they cared about the ultimate victims that they purport to be concerned about then they would want to use contributor money to help the cause rather than line their pockets. Supporters sacrifice for the voiceless, why don't they?

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