Category Archives: Green Inc.

New documentary highlights growing risks to whistleblowers

Courtesy of the filmmakers

Earlier this week, my friend Tom Devine invited me to a special screening of the new documentary, “War on Whistleblowers,” at the Newsmuseum. Tom is the legal director at the Government Accountability Project, a group that has represented hundreds of people in over the last few decades who have exposed criminal behavior and other wrong-doing by their employers, often at great personal cost.

The 1-hour program doesn’t include cases of environmental malfeasants but Tom can be heard in voiceover at the start of the film talking about the persecution faced by historic figures like Copernicus and Galileo for pointing out truths that seem so obvious to us today–such things as the fact that world really isn’t flat. While those two Renaissance-era gentleman may have risked even more, the ire they evoked for speaking truth to power seem generally similar to the attacks weathered by Michael Mann and other scientists for sounding alarm bells about climate change.

The film also touches on another topic that comes up frequently on this blog: how corporations that partner with public entities tend to call the shots in those relationships, often at the detriment of the public good.

The film interviews Franz Gayl, a Pentagon science adviser for the Marine Corp who blew the lid off the Marine’s failure to provide troops in Iraq with life-saving armored vehicles. The backstory: the corporate lobbying power behind the Humvee was simply greater than that of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, though the MRAPs, as they are called, have proven much safer. The program also features Michael DeKort, a Lockheed Martin project manager who exposed design and other failures in a new fleet of ships for the U.S. Coast Guard; he fear he problems could lead to avoidable deaths at sea. Both men first tried to bring their concerns to the companies and government agencies involved before going public. DeKort ended up out of a job and Gayl nearly suffered the same fate until a public campaign drew national attention to his plight.

That scenario — in which corporate interests and profit margins trump other concerns, even loss of life — is one that plays out in the corporate sustainability realm, as well. Many of the world’s largest corporations have  struck up partnerships and sponsorship deals with environmental groups. The millions of dollars big companies channel to environmental organizations each year amount to a tiny fraction of their revenues (much less than they spend, say, on advertising), but it’s an increasingly large part of the annual operating budgets of many nonprofit groups. The cash not only buys the companies invaluable greenwash cover, it has misdirected some of the world’s largest and most respected environmental groups from their original mission, turning them into corporate mascots instead of the watchdogs of public good. If you want details, read my book or check out the articles on this site’s “about” page.

But getting back to the whistleblower documentary, the very cool thing is this: The producers will send you a copy for free so that people around the country can hold house parties and otherwise share with friends and neighbors. Click here for the details.


The Climate Two Step

More caution needed on climate change, scientists say.

If news were like music that sets the tempo of public opinion, the latest spate of climate change headlines is tapping out something like a two-step. One step closer to certainty, then the music reels toward denialism; Inspiring, if brief, performances by grassroots activists, flanked by the chorus line of corporate sponsorships and murky backroom dealings.

Last week the world’s leading scientific authority on global warming, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued a report linking extreme weather to climate change and urged governments around the world to step up their efforts for dealing with “climate extremes.” The same day U.S. Congress  killed plans for a national climate agency.

Months of protesting the Keystone pipeline led to a postponement that could provide bureaucratic deathblow to the project. But it turns out that defeating the pipeline will not keep the Canadian tar sands from flowing to refineries via other routes, including the millions of miles of existing U.S. pipelines that already transport — and sometimes spill — the particularly gooey and toxic fossil fuel.

The Sierra Club‘s longtime leader Carl Pope has finally stepped down amid what the Los Angeles Times said was “discontent that the group founded by 19th century wilderness evangelist John Muir has compromised its core principles.” Pope’s replacement, Michael Brune, declared “done” the $1.3 million sponsorship deal Pope had championed with the makers of Clorox  bleach. Brune vowed to never again risk sullying the venerable institution’s reputation by shilling for another corporate polluter. Having been one of those who criticized the Sierra Club’s Clorox deal, it’s good to see the new leadership heeding concerns about greenwashing. But virtually all of the the country’s other flagship environmental groups are beholden to corporate “sponsors” and “partners” today, as the recent greenwashing scandals involving  World Wildlife Fund and the National Park Foundation and their corporate sponsor, the Coke-a-Cola Co, atest.

Who gains when Enviros + Corps do Business?

While researching this post on how corporations and political parties “shape” public opinion, I stumbled upon this ringing endorsement of the communications strategy company Maslansky Luntz + Partners:

“It’s one thing to have a vendor, it’s another to have a partner. And from the executive staff to the whole team, they’re really committed to us and what we’re trying to do,” Laura Bowling, SVP, Strategic Marketing + Global Communications, Conservation International

Beyond the slightly smarmy logrolling, anybody else catch what’s so stunning about a veep at one of the world’s largest environmental groups heaping praise this particular marketing firm?

Climate change is driving many amphibians toward extinction. Click on photo to learn more.

That would be Maslansky LUNTZ, as in Republican strategist Frank Luntz, author of the infamous 2002 memo outlining how Republicans could obstruct the enactment of climate legislation without appearing unsympathetic to environmental issues. He counseled them to raise doubts about climate science. Looking back nearly a decade later, that advice has proven its effectiveness.

It has, however, forever linked Luntz + company to climate change denial, which in turn raises certain questions about whether a firm he founded could really be committed to Conservation International’s mission. By now, you may also be asking yourself why an environmental organization would hire the firm owned by a chief architect of climate change denial?

This may seem counterintuitive but environmentalists work with corporations (and their marketing firms) all the time these days. Corporations don’t just bankroll many of the largest environmental groups, Fortune 500 executives sit on their boards and run these organizations. And there’s loads of cross over between the business and nonprofit worlds. Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy is a former Goldman Sachs executive. He’s the latest in a long line of corporate bigwigs to helm that organization.

Bowling also had a 20-year corporate career before joining CI. Might that be why she either didn’t know she was – or didn’t mind – teaming up with marketers of climate change denial? According to her bio, she worked for both agencies and corporations including Procter & Gamble, Ogilvy & Mather, The Walt Disney Company, and Vivendi/Universal.

One thing does surprise me though: It’s been a couple of years since Bowling left CI and returned to the private sector. You’d think a crack communications firm like Maslansky Luntz + Partners would be on top of that stuff and keep their site updated.