The worst polluters began to give large donations to the more conservative environmental groups in the late 1980s. They sought not only to gain green credentials for their support of green groups but also to influence the agenda of these groups and enable them to overshadow and crowd out the more radical anti-corporate groups.
Whilst some environmental groups will take money from any where, the “more political groups” are cautious about who they accept donations from. For example, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) won’t take money from oil companies, developers and those whom they are likely to be opposing in their campaigns. In contrast the National Wildlife Federation established a Corporate Conservation Council for companies which donated $50,000 or more and these included Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Motors, Monsanto, Waste Management and Shell Oil. Similarly The Nature Conservancy (TNC) will take donations from any company, no matter how bad its environmental record.
This is the remorseless logic of modern environmentalism, in which non-profits are more obsessed with fundraising than the corporations that they are supposed to be battling. Indeed, the relentless cash hunt leads them serenely right into corporate boardrooms, hands out, mouth gagged.Source: 'Conservation International Greenwash', Don't Panic London, 2 March 2012.
Sponsorship opportunities spawned a bevy of new positions in the major environmental organisations such as the Director of Licensing at the National Wildlife Federation, the Director of Cause-Related Marketing at The Nature Conservancy and the Corporate Opportunities Taskforce at the Sierra Club. The World Wildlife Fund “even hired a marketing company to seek out and screen sponsors”. It had several of its projects sponsored by corporations including Waste Management and McDonald’s.
Corporations can win approval from environmental organisations, or at the very least a blind eye, through donations to these organisations. For example, RTZ (now Rio Tinto) a mining multinational that operated polluting mines in third world countries donated money to the National Trust, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and the Council for Environmental Conservation (the Environmental Council). In Australia Rio Tinto provided $1.2 million over four years to WWF Australia, for a frog conservation program.
Shell, which manufactured the pesticide aldrin which is now banned in the US, and whose oil operations in countries like Nigeria have attracted criticism from environmentalists and human rights activists, gives about £200,000 to environmental organisations each year. In fact it was the first corporate sponsor of WWF when it was founded in 1961 and John Loudon, president of Royal Dutch Shell from 1951 to 1965 was president of WWF International from 1977 to 1981.
Donations to environmental groups provided polluting corporations with a form of "reputation insurance":
every time they were criticized for their massive emissions of warming gases, or for being involved in the killing of dissidents who wanted oil funds to go to the local population, or an oil spill that had caused irreparable damage, they wheeled out their shiny green awards, purchased with "charitable" donations, to ward off the prospect of government regulation.
O’Dwyer’s PR Service Report explains how wealthy companies can coopt environmental groups with donations and job offers. Companies are funding cash-starved environmental groups “in the belief the imprimatur of activists will go a long way in improving thier reputation among environmentally aware consumers.” The advantage for environmentalists is that “private sector cash can increase an organisation’s clout and bankroll membership building programs.”
Such arrangements also enable corporations to get valuable information about environmental groups and how they work and think.
One employee of Hill and Knowlton gives advice to corporations: “Help them raise money... Offer to sit on their board of directors”. He also suggests hiring staff from environmental groups who are available “at very reasonable rates”. (see revolving door).
Donations are also a way that businesses and foundations can exert influence over environmental groups:
Marion Edey, who founded the League of Conservation Voters and praised the work of her successors, lamented what she described as "not enough diversity of thinking" in the modern environmental movement, placing blame on big donors, who she said often give directions along with their donations.
"What I've seen over time is a movement which started out with a lot of idealistic pioneers go through a revolution," Edey said. "People become a little more detached from the passion of the cause, and eventually these organizations begin evolving to the point where they become like large businesses. They become very dependent on the whims of funders."
The Walton Family Foundation (WFF), built on money made from Walmart stores, is one of the largest funders of environmental groups in the US. In 2011 it gave $71 million to environmental groups, most to groups it has done deals with. These include the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Conservation International, and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), "which began receiving foundation support the same year it agreed to certify and provide an eco-label for some of the seafood Walmart sells. These three organizations accounted for 46 percent of the foundation's environmental funding" in 2011.
it means that Walmart's money is exerting significant influence in setting the agenda, defining the problems, and elevating certain kinds of approaches — notably those that reinforce, rather than challenge, the power of large corporations in our economy and society.