Greenpeace, one of the world's leading environmental organizations and a frequent adversary of corporate polluters, is itself a site of the ubiquitous revolving door. Not only have people like former economist Thilo Bode moved from industry to Greenpeace, but individuals like Paul Gilding, a former CEO of Greenpeace International, have found
career opportunities as industry consultants when they left.
Over the past quarter-century, Greenpeace has gone from one of the more radical environmental groups around to a gateway into the corporate world. More and more a stint at Greenpeace seems to be prerequisite on the resumé of top-flight public relations honchos.
Major PR firm Burson-Marsteller hired Peter Melchett (pictured) in 2002, a former executive director of Greenpeace UK (1989-2000) and member of the Greenpeace board at the time. Burson-Marsteller represented Monsanto and the European biotechnology industry in its fight against Greenpeace and other opponents of genetically engineered (GM) food.
According to a company press release, Lord Melchett will head a committee advising companies on how to deal with thorny issues such as GM food, toxic waste, oil drilling, nuclear power, child labor and sweatshops in the developing world. Burson-Marsteller executives told the Guardian newspaper of London that he may also dispense advice on how to B-M clients can counter environmental protests.
Melchett, whose father was chair of British Steel and great-grandfather helped found the chemical giant ICI, is a member of the UK House of Lords and had been a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office for the UK Labour government in the 1970s.
Following his time at Burson-Marsteller, Melchett became an environmental consultant whose clients include Burson-Marsteller and Wal-Mart.
Patrick Moore (pictured right) was a co-founder of Greenpeace and director of Greenpeace International from 1971 to 1986 and head of Greenpeace Canada from 1977-1986. Moore, now has his own consultancy, Greenspirit, and is on the board of, and spokesman for, the industry-funded Forest Alliance of British Columbia (set up by Burson Marsteller) from which he champions clear-cutting as an environmentally appropriate method of forestry. His clients have included mining giant BHP, Canada, the National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI), the Canadian Mining Association, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, Westcoast Energy and BC Gas, and the BC Hazardous Waste Management Corporation.
Moore has also been employed to promote nuclear energy by the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which is a front group for the Nuclear Energy Institute set up with the help of PR giant Hill and Knowlton and millions of dollars from the nuclear industry.
Several high-profile Greenpeace Australia staffers have also gone on to become industry consultants. Michael Bland, for example, left Greenpeace in 1989 to work for a Sydney-based green marketing firm called Environmental Marketing Services. Bland then started his own consultancy, Environment Matters, before returning to work for Greenpeace in 1993.
Lynette Thorstensen, a former CEO of Greenpeace Australia, went on to be Managing Director, Communications, for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Geneva and then became a communications consultant "working with highest levels of Corporate leadership world wide".
The revolving door goes both ways. One chairperson of Greenpeace Australia, Bob Wilson, was managing director of the Sydney Water Board in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the board was covering up gross contamination of the ocean by toxic waste from its sewage discharges. High levels of organochlorines in fish were kept secret at Water Board request.
Blair Palese left Greenpeace to work as head of public relations for the Body Shop International, a "socially responsible" cosmetics company. She then worked for Greenpeace four days a week. On the fifth day she worked for Paul Gilding's Ecos Corporation in the area of communications. Palese was comfortable with the fact that Ecos clients were often Greenpeace targets and denied that she had any conflict of interest. In 2013 she was appointed to the Greenpeace Australia Board of Directors.
Paul Gilding was head of Greenpeace Australia and then Greenpeace International, before he started his own consultancy, Ecos, in 1995. Past and present clients of Ecos include companies and industries that have been targeted for their environmental misdeeds by environmental groups including Greenpeace.
Gilding's career with Greenpeace began in the late 1980s after he left the Royal Australian Air Force. He was hired by Greenpeace Australia in 1989 and within six months was appointed its executive director. It was under Gilding that Greenpeace first became involved in Sydney's "green" Olympics.
In 1993 Gilding became executive director of Greenpeace International but was pushed out of that position 18 months later due to internal disputes, including disagreements over his belief in "solutions-oriented" corporate collaborations. However, he remained a member of the Greenpeace Australia General Assembly, a select group of 37 people who elect the Greenpeace Australia board of directors.
After he left Greenpeace Gilding started his own consultancy in 1995. According to its literature “Ecos Corporation provides strategic support and advice to corporate clients and partners seeking commercial advantage through a focus on sustainability... Our clients are primarily large corporations in the finance, energy, chemical and resource sectors.”
Clients of Ecos have included:
According to the Australian Financial Review, Ecos turned over about $A1million in the financial year 1997-98. Gilding told the paper “We are there to service the interests of our clients... We are there because we seek to improve the profitability of the people we are working for, so we’re very clear as to who we’re aligned with. We’re saying we can increase your profitability by focusing on sustainability”.
Ecos defines sustainability as “society’s expectation that business adds economic, social and environmental value from its operations”, according to Mark Lyster when he was one of Ecos’s Directors. This is very different definition of sustainability from the usual ones about the needs of future generations and maintaining environmental quality. Lyster, a development economist “with extensive operational banking experience”, left Ecos to join the multinational financial and management consulting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers.
In 1996 the Australian Financial Review reported how Gilding had got together with Michael Roux (responsible for the privatisation program in the state of Victoria) to form a green investment fund “which they see raising anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion.” According to the AFR, Gilding and Roux recognised that a green investment fund was not a new idea. But in the past “these have usually been ethical or emotional funds”, whereas theirs was to be driven by profit. “It could even invest in chemical companies, or at least the greenest ones.” Their idea was that this new fund would be “marketed off the back of Sydney’s green 2000 Olympics”. This venture has since fallen through.
The idea of increasing shareholder value by increasing environmental performance, or at least the perception of it has been promoted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), an international corporate lobbying organisation set up in 1990 in the lead up to the Earth Summit. According to Joyce Nelson, author of Sultans of Sleeze: “With the able assistance of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, a very elite group of business people (including Burson-Marsteller itself) was seemingly able to plan the agenda for the Earth Summit with little interference from NGO’s or government leaders”. Its members include the CEOs of Dow, DuPont, Shell, Mitsubishi, Browning-Ferris Industries and many more.
The Council’s 1992 book Changing Course quotes Ben Woodhouse, director of Global Environmental Issues at Dow Chemical and member of the Council’s liaison group, as pointing out that “the degree to which a company is viewed as being a positive or negative participant in solving sustainability issues will determine, to a very great degree, their long term business viability”. Woodhouse has now joined up with Gilding as CEO of Ecos having retired after 31 years with Dow Chemical.
Woodhouse received special thanks in the acknowledgments of the Council’s 1997 report “Environmental Performance and Shareholder Value”, written by Jerald Blumberg from DuPont, Georges Blum of the Swiss Bank Corporation, and Age Korsvald of Storebrand, all corporations featured in the report as case studies. This report promoted the idea that investors were more likely to invest in companies they believed had a better environmental record and this has been confirmed by various studies.
Following the Business Council’s lead, Ecos, “in association with a leading fund manager in Sydney”, has undertaken a survey of the top 150 companies on the Australian Stock Exchange in order to develop a portfolio of 50 ‘green’ companies. The companies chosen by Ecos and its associates as “environmental leaders” included mining companies with poor reputations amongst environmentalists, such as Western Mining Corporation and Placer Dome (both Ecos clients) and Rio Tinto. When questioned about the choice of companies for this survey, Gilding said that they were not chosen because they were ‘green’ but because they were companies that had undertaken some environmental initiative that was like to have financial benefits. However this qualification of the term “environmental leaders” is not mentioned in Ecos literature.
The share price performance of this supposedly ‘green’ portfolio in the years 1992-98 was tested by the fund manager against the Australian All Ordinaries Index and found to outperform ordinary shares by 4 percent. All this is supposed to confirm the Ecos philosophy that “sustainability” can be a key business “driver” (a term also used by the Business Council), as it pushes share prices up. Ecos claims to assist its clients to: “develop and implement business strategies which deliver competitive edge and superior financial performance through the interpretation of key environmental and social business drivers; identify specific new business opportunities and strategies to capture them; increase efficiency and reduce risks and costs through advanced environmental, social and economic performance.”
But how real are the improvements in environmental and social performance? To what extent is shareholder value being added through communications rather than substance? One only has to examine the skills of Ecos personnel to see that they are public relations oriented rather than performance oriented.
Ecos was not staffed by environmental scientists and engineers who can offer environmental solutions but by financial, public relations and communications specialists. In 1999, apart from Gilding there was:
Gilding argued that Ecos staff were strategy consultants rather than technical consultants; they advised on business strategy rather than environmental performance. They can’t design an environmental management programme but they can help companies to see the risks and opportunities created by external developments to do with the environment such as market changes and international negotiations. They “advise companies what they need to do differently to secure their long term commercial future in the context of sustainability changes.”
One role that Ecos played was to help companies produce environmental reports. Gilding stressed that this is within an overall programme of change. Ecos helped Placer Dome, the Canadian gold mining company, to “produce the world’s first mining company sustainability report outlining their economic, social and environmental performance.” It also worked with them to implement “new approaches to stakeholder engagement at operations in Australia, the Philippines and Papua new Guinea”.
Before joining Ecos, Woodhouse (then running his own US-based consultancy, Sustainable Solutions) helped WMC produce its 1997 Environmental Report. In November 1998 the Managing Director of WMC, Hugh Morgan, was appointed to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development for WMC’s demonstrated commitment to sustainable development. WMC’s award winning 1997 Annual Report and Environmental Report (which also won an Australian award for Best Environment Report) were given as evidence of this commitment to sustainable development. But it was these reports that the Mineral Policies Institute referred to in their publication “Glossy Reports, Grim Reality” which documented environmental damage caused by WMC operations and campaigns by WMC to oppose environmental legislation in Australia, the Philippines and North America and to oppose legally binding greenhouse reduction targets in the lead up to the Kyoto conference.
Ecos was hired by the Queensland Timber Board after years of fighting against environmentalists had undermined the Board’s public credibility. Gilding had no problem with taking up their cause. He was quoted by Between the Leaves, a Queensland government publication, as saying that “Ultimately forest products are inherently sustainable... Therefore the future of the industry lies in embracing environmental issues as a marketing tool.”