Front Group Strategies
Corporate front groups use various strategies to promote the corporate agenda in environmental affairs.
Perhaps the most common strategy of corporate front groups is to portray themselves as environmentalists and the corporate views they are promoting as those of environmentalists. In this way corporate interests appear to have environmental support. The names of these groups are chosen because they sound as if they are grass-roots community and environmental groups; for example:
- the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, which represents the forest products industry
- the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF) established by the corporate-funded think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA)
- the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the lobby group for the US sewage industry
- the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which fronts for the nuclear industry in the US
Reference: Mark Megalli and Andy Friedman, Masks of Deception: Corporate Front Groups in America, Essential Information, 1991, pp. 3, 148; Barbara Ruben, ‘Root Rot’, Environmental Action (Spring 1992), p. 29.the National Wetlands Coalition, which had a logo that showed a duck flying over a wetland, was not campaigning to protect wetlands as its name suggests. The group was formed in response to a policy statement made in 1989 by President George Bush that his government’s aim was to have no net loss of wetlands. The Coalition which was largely made up of oil and gas companies, including Exxon, Shell and Mobil, was formed to protect the right of its members to build and drill in wetlands without impediment.
In the case of these pseudo-scientific groups, the aim is to cast doubt on the severity of the problems associated with environmental deterioration and create confusion by magnifying uncertainties and showing that some scientists dispute the claims of the majority of the scientific community. For example
- JunkScience.com, which labels as junk science, any science that shows the dangers of industrial products and corporate activities. The site was begun by the now defunct front group, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC).
- Sense about Science, funded by various corporations, pharmaceutical associations, and biotech organisations, which argues that claims of the dangers of genetic engineering and synthetic chemicals are exagerated.
Some corporate front groups acknowledge environmental problems but argue that the solutions being promoted are too expensive, cost jobs, and would have detrimental economic consequences. For example,
- the Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy, representing chemical companies, argued that the substitution of Hydrochlorofluorocarbons, HCFCs, for chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, would not be in the public interest because of the costs. They were thinking of course, of the costs to the chemical companies.
Such front groups tend to portray themselves as moderate and representing the middle ground and therefore often use words like ‘reasonable’, ‘sensible’ and ‘sound’. The use of these words is a way of implicitly saying that environmentalists are extremists, whilst hiding their own extreme positions. They downplay the dangers posed by these environmental problems whilst emphasising the costs of solving them.
Examples have included:
Reference: Mark Megalli and Andy Friedman, Masks of Deception: Corporate Front Groups in America, Essential Information., 1991, pp. 3-4; Carl Pope, ‘Going to extremes: Anti-environmental groups hide their extremism’, Sierra, Vol. 80, No. 5 (1995), p. 14; ‘Public Interest Pretenders’, Consumer Reports, Vol. 59, No. 5 (1994), p. 317.the Centre for Regulatory Effectiveness, funded by foundations, trade associations and private firms.
Reference: Mark Megalli and Andy Friedman, Masks of Deception: Corporate Front Groups in America, Essential Information, 1991, pp. 80-81.Consumer Alert, which was supported by corporations like Exxon, Eli-Lilly, Chevron, Estee Lauder and Philip Morris, campaigned against safety regulations for consumer products. It fought against such measures as mandatory air bags in cars, safety seats for babies in aeroplanes, acid rain regulations as well as filing a law suit against protesters at a Californian nuclear reactor.
Some groups are formed purely to oppose a particular piece of legislation such as:
- the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition, whose members include developers, utilities and mining interests, who seek to reduce environmental protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act in the US.
Reference: Mark Megalli and Andy Friedman, Masks of Deception: Corporate Front Groups in America, Essential Information, 1991, p. 70-3; Barbara Ruben, ‘Root Rot’, Environmental Action (Spring 1992), p. 29; Andrew Rowell, Green Backlash: Global Subversion of the Environment Movement (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 84.the Coalition for Vehicle Choice was established in 1991 by the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers of America with a $500,000 grant
- and the help of public relations firm E. Bruce Harrison, to fight standards for fuel consumption in new cars. Its members include a variety of automobile manufacturers associations, motorists associations, and business groups. Behind the facade of the front group these organisations argue that fuel efficiency means smaller unsafer cars. A claim that is hotly denied by non-industry groups such as the Center for Auto Safety.
Another strategy used by corporate front groups is to recognise environmental problems caused by corporations but to promote superficial solutions that prevent and preempt the sorts of changes that are really necessary to solve the problem. Sometimes they shift the blame from corporations to the individual citizen. For example:
- the Keep America Beautiful Campaign focuses on anti-litter campaigns but ignores the potential of recycling legislation and changes to packaging.
Reference: Bob Burton, ‘Mothers Opposing Pollution (MOP)-all washed up’, Chain Reaction, No. 76 (1996), pp. 28-31.Mothers Opposing Pollution (MOP) was an Australian front group whose prime purpose seems to have been to champion cardboard milk cartons against plastic milk bottles. Its sole spokeswoman was reported in The Courier Mail to have a public relations company of her own and to be co-director of another company with a consultant to the Association of Liquid Paperboard Carton Manufacturers.
Some front groups seek to portray enviornmental problems as being the fault of the individual consumer or citizen so as to shift the blame from industry and business. For example, the Keep America Beautiful Campaign seeks to attribute litter and waste disposal problems to individual's acting irresponsibly and admits no corporate responsibility for the problem. It ignores the role of manufacturing companies, fast food outlets and retailers in excess or inappropriate packaging and lack of recycling of packaging.