Pseudo-green NGO offers to greenwash arms dealer

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Is Conservation International any more than a green Public Relations agency?

by Chris Lang
REDD-Monitor, May 12, 1011

Alcoa. ArcelorMittal. Barrick Gold. BG Group. BHP Billiton. BP Foundation. Bunge. Cargill. Chevron. Coca-Cola. De Beers Group. Giti Tire. Goldman Sachs. Kimberly-Clark. Kraft Foods. McDonald’s. Medco Group. Monsanto. MPX Colombia. Newmont Mining Corporation. Northrop Grumman Corporation. Rio Tinto. Shell. Toyota Motor Corporation. United Airlines. Walmart. Wilmar International.

If you think this looks like a list of some of biggest companies in the world, responsible for appalling levels of pollution, you’d be right. But this list is not taken from a radical green campaign hitlist, but from Conservation International’s Corporate Partners.

Conservation International is proud to work with these companies, helping them (for a fee, of course) to greenwash their images:

We believe that corporations are a major ally in our conservation efforts. It’s like adding a big hitter to your championship team. We’ve always taken pride in our relationships with our creative corporate partners. Many have been making a difference for decardes; others are just getting started.

Recently, journalists from the London-based magazine Don’t Panic decided to find out whether Conservation International was “any more than a green PR company.” They went undercover to see just how far Conservation International would go to help polluting industry. Given the list of corporate polluters that Conservation International is already working with, the first challenge was to find a company sufficiently heinous to make the point that Conservation International really will work with just about anyone.

Don’t Panic decided to pretend to be the biggest multinational arms company in the world: Lockheed Martin. Don’t Panic notes that, “Lockheed sells US$30 billion a year of stuff to kill people with, including missiles, fighter jets, some alleged depleted uranium bombs.” Surely this would be a step too far, even for Conservation International?

Er, no. Two of Don’t Panic’s journalists dressed as “arms industry scumbags and went to meet a senior figure from Conservation International’s corporate relations department.” They asked whether Conservation International might be able to make its business practices more “environmentally friendly” by carrying out environmental impact surveys of the company, or looking into recycling schemes in its offices, for example. Conservation International wasn’t interested.

Instead, Conservation International suggested a “carbon offset strategy” and that “Lockheed Martin” could “offset” its polluting and deadly operations by buying a forest in Madagascar, Asia or Africa. The Don’t Panic team decided that supporting a bird of prey would have more “resonance” with the public than “large scale projects such as forestry [sic] protection.”

Don’t Panic produced a 12 minute video about Conservation International – the organisation that will greenwash any company, for the right price:

Conservation International invited Lockheed Martin to become part of its Business Sustainability Council, for only US$37,500 a year. The Conservation International representative explains the benefits:

“There’s lots of big companies, so networking happens. You’ll get to meet these people. Get involved in BSC first, so your showing leadership by getting involved in that particular forum.”

The Conservation International representative also offered access to the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT). At this stage it becomes difficult to tell spoof from reality. For only US$25,000, “Lockheed Martin” would be allowed to associate its name with the tool (on its website, for example), but this will not imply any “regulation” of the company’s activities. Conservation International’s representative adds that “Lockheed Martin” could also join the IBAT “Corporate Consultative Group” allowing the company “to potentially craft what other data that may be incorporated in the future.” Several companies have done this, including Bank of America, BP, Cargill, Chevron and JPMorganChase.

Don’t Panic’s presenter, Heydon Prowse asks:

“Why would a green charity be encouraging large polluters to make more profits, offsetting their environmental impacts without even pressuring that company to reduce that damaging impact in the first instance?

At the end of the video, Prowse answers his own question:

“We were starting to see how the cosy relationship between Conservation International and big business worked. CI’s dependence on corporate funding made them unwilling to exert any pressure on polluters to change their ways.”

Justin Ward is Vice President of Business Practices in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB). On Conservation International’s website, he says that, “It is motivating to work every day with counterparts in the business sector who, contrary to some stereotypes of corporate attitudes, share our passion for CI’s mission.” Here is Conservation International’s mission:

Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity.

Conservation International declined to comment to Don’t Panic or to the Ecologist when contacted about this story. REDD-Monitor looks forward to Conservation International’s explanation of how greenwashing an arms corporation fits with its mission statement (one of Conservation International’s Corporate partners is Northrop Grumman Corporation – the world’s fourth largest arms manufacturer in 2008). Or how greenwashing oil companies, mining companies, banks, airlines, paper companies or steel companies fits with its mission statement.

Or perhaps Conservation International will come clean and admit that it is, in fact, nothing more than a green PR company.