ACF helps greenwash corporate polluters

Issue 

BY JIM GREEN Picture

Corporate polluters have enrolled powerful allies in their efforts to prevent restrictions on the emissions of greenhouse gases — politicians, bureaucrats, public relations firms, corporate front groups, conservative “think tanks”, and the capitalist media. Now they are going after mainstream environment groups.

The cooperation between one of Australia's most influential environmental lobby groups, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), and BP Amoco, BHP and other corporate polluters is a case in point.

In October, the ACF's strategies director Mike Krockenberger said that “companies like BP are on the cusp of providing ... leadership”, and stated that the ACF urged corporations to “join Greg Bourne from BP in his call for leadership”.

BP Amoco was one of the corporate polluters invited to the launch of the ACF's Blueprint for a Sustainable Australia on October 19, 2000, at the governor-general's residence.

One months earlier, in June, Bourne, BP Amoco's regional president for Australia and New Zealand, led a concerted lobbying effort to gain for his company federal government exemptions from a then-mooted greenhouse gas reduction regime. Bourne is also the chair of the Business Council of Australia's sustainable development task force.

The BP heavyweight copped criticism, even from fellow senior executives, because his private lobbying for emission exemptions is in contradiction to his public backing for greenhouse gas reductions. But the ACF were still happy to have his endorsement of their plan.

Bourne has also defended BP Amoco's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. He told the March 2001 edition of the Mineral Policy Institute's Mining Monitor magazine: “The decision to open it up firstly is a decision of the government of the United States ... Could we work well in the wildlife refuge? Absolutely sure we could but in the end it is a government decision.”

To assist the decision-making process, BP Amoco has provided funding to dozens of the most reactionary, anti-environment US politicians.

The UK Independent obtained details on financial contributions from the US federal election commission and compared these data with voting records compiled by the League of Conservation Voters. The comparisons, the Independent noted on September 3, “show that [BP Amoco's] contributions conflict sharply with its squeaky-green image”.

Over the preceding four years, the Independent reported, BP Amoco contributed to the election campaigns of 22 of the 36 US senators and 37 of the 55 representatives who achieved a zero per cent rating from the League of Conservation Voters in 1999 for voting against all the environmental legislation that it monitored. By contrast, the company supported only two of the 38 representatives and two of the 11 senators who scored a 100% rating.

Among the recipients of BP Amoco's largesse are a number of senators and representatives who are pressing for legislation to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.

“Perhaps most strikingly”, the Independent wrote, “the company has helped to finance the campaigns of 34 of the 65 senators who successfully introduced a motion in 1997 to reject any international agreement to combat global warming”.

The ACF's strategies director Mike Krockenberger opined in the February 7 Sydney Morning Herald that Republican presidents in the US, including Richard Nixon, “have been great environmentalists”. In the same article, Krockenberger asserted that BP Amoco is planning a transition from fossil fuels.

In fact, BP Amoco's spending on fossil fuels outweighs its spending on renewable energy by a factor of several hundred — a contradiction explained away by BP Amoco with the quaint argument that “plentiful supply [of fossil fuels] is essential ... if we are to make a successful transition towards a cleaner environment.”

BHP's managing director, Paul Anderson, also helped launch the ACF's Blueprint for a Sustainable Australia last October — just days after the release of a report in which BHP opposed the adoption of greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Internal dissent

ACF's collaboration with corporate greenhouse gangsters has caused internal dissent within the organisation. Minutes of an ACF national council meeting held late last year were leaked to the Australian and reported in its April 7-8 edition. According to the minutes, the meeting involved “a long and robust discussion on corporate engagement, particularly in relation to BHP”.

One bone of contention at the council meeting was ACF's proposed involvement in BHP's so-called “forum on corporate responsibility”. Environment groups in Papua New Guinea had argued specifically against their Australian counterparts joining the BHP forum because of BHP's role in the Ok Tedi mine, in the western part of PNG.

The ACF council meeting carried a resolution calling for an “evaluation report” on the proposal to join BHP's forum to consider “benefits to ACF as an organisation from this engagement including likely impacts on members, supporters and our status in the community” as well as the “risks to campaign goals of ACF and allies in Australia and overseas”.

Bob Burton, editor of Mining Monitor, asked BHP for details on the role of the “forum on corporate responsibility”, confidentiality provisions and whether or not its operations would be transparent with copies of briefings and minutes posted on the BHP web site. BHP declined to answer Burton's questions.

Another resolution carried by the ACF council meeting demanded more detailed guidelines for corporate engagement, including “ways to increase transparency of decision-making/expectations regarding corporate relationships within ACF”.

Another example of corporate co-option of environment groups is the cooperation between the notorious oil giant Shell and the New Zealand chapter of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-NZ).

An article by Bob Burton in the November 2000 Mining Monitor states that Shell has provided free fuel for WWF-NZ, has paid for an advertising campaign which promotes both WWF-NZ and Shell, and has negotiated a NZ$500,000 “educational” program for schools with the environment organisation.

After the launch of the advertising campaign, leaked WWF-NZ documents revealed that chairperson Paul Bowe had canvassed the possibility of Shell being made a trustee of the organisation.

“I think it is very valuable to have ... a couple of sponsors [on the board] to ensure that the business ethic of their business and our business ... is followed correctly”, Bowe said.

Other leaked documents discussed the controversy over the execution of the “Ogoni 9", including environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, in Nigeria in 1995. Shell wrote to WWF-NZ thanking it for its understanding approach on the issue, “We very much appreciate your balanced and considered view on this issue ... As you can imagine your approach is very welcome to us at the moment.”

The World Wide Fund for Nature's curious brand of environmental “activism” is also at play in Australia.

Academic Tim Doyle discussed WWF's “appeal-to-corporate-elites” strategy in his 2000 book Green Power.

In 1998, WWF provided a glowing endorsement of Western Mining Corporation's (WMC) Environmental Monitoring Report. Partly on the strength of the WWF endorsement, WMC later received an industry award for environmental protection.

Doyle wrote to the WWF asking how its endorsement could be reconciled with the enormous environmental impact of WMC's copper and uranium mine at Olympic Dam in South Australia. WWF's response was that it was only assessing the quality of corporate reporting, not corporate practices.

“This is simply greenwashing”, Doyle wrote in Green Power. “WWF representatives, and several other key environmentalists, who trade on the integrity of their name for money and power, continue to be impressed with Western Mining's efforts to look after the stick-nest rat that is found in the vicinity of Olympic Dam, while the largest expansion of the uranium industry in this country's history continues unabated at Roxby Downs.”

WMC invests in fossil fuels, and company spokespeople are adamant greenhouse sceptics. WMC also invests in uranium, and as the South Australian Nuclear Information Centre noted in its August 1999 newsletter, senior employees from WMC Copper Uranium profess deep concern about climate change and insist that only the expansion of nuclear power can save the day.

'A somewhat different view'

Why do right-wing environment groups sell out to corporate polluters? A combination of political naivete and economic self-interest is likely at work.

David Butcher, CEO of WWF-Australia, told the April 7-8 Australian, “We take a somewhat different view to many other groups. Our view is that if we are correct, and business and industry are one of the most serious threatening processes as far as the environment is concerned, then we need to work fairly closely with them to ensure that their activities change. We even work with mining companies that people would say are some of the worst in the world.”

According to the April 7-8 Australian, WWF's global income was US$360 million last year. Corporate contributions to WWF-Australia include $1.2 million from Rio Tinto for a frog conservation program, $75,000 from Alcoa last year to protect woodlands, and $60,000 last year from TransGrid for a vegetation management project. Other corporate sponsors of WWF-Australia include Holeproof, American Express, Accor, Escape Holidays and Southern Cross.

Peter Garrett, president of the ACF, told the April 7-8 Australian, “We cannot close our ears to the fact that one of the major forces on the environment is corporations and we cannot think that the only way to deal with them is to go after them with a vengeance. Sometimes that is the way, but there are nuances in campaigning, particularly when you want to feed policy ideas into the mainstream of political and economic discourse, which is really what we are about.”

Corporate contributions to the ACF, according to the April 7-8 Australian, include a sum believed to be in excess of $200,000 from Southcorp for an anti-salinity program (the terms of the agreement are confidential), and funding from the National Australia Bank, Berri, Kyocera, and Microsoft.

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