Not So Green Peace

Merrick, 30th June 2006ce

Greenpeace has more members in the UK than all political parties combined. It is a trusted name. That trust has been built on the well publicised and uncompromising methods it has used in the past.

When people see someone risking not just their liberty but their very life in an audacious operation such as the occupation of the Brent Spar oil platform, it commands respect. It shows up the professional politicians and corporate leaders who never make a truly personal sacrifice for anything they believe in. Even those who disagree with the action have to concede that the activist is no selfish nest-feathering figure, that this is politics deployed with passion and altruism.

Greenpeace know this is an important part of their image, which is why their present membership recruitment leaflet shows a lone soaked figure, puny against the mass of the huge ship’s anchor chain they’re climbing.

But this is not how it always works. The 21st century Greenpeace does deals with those it used to confront. It lends its name and logo to the biggest CO2 emitting corporation in Europe, a company who run several nuclear installations. It agrees to oil companies’ requests to back off and leave them alone. More, it lies outright, saying those who are increasing their contribution to climate change are ‘strong allies’ with Greenpeace on the issue.


As I've written about previously on this site, the Icelandic government is damming all its glacial rivers, flooding vast areas of land to power installations such as aluminium smelters. It is by far the largest industrial attack on wild nature in all of Europe. The Icelandic government plans massive increase in its greenhouse gas emissions, yet Greepeace are refusing to say a word against it – and in fact lie to cover it up – because they want to promote Iceland as a nice clean eco-tourist destination in return for an end to Icelandic whaling.

This ‘wedge in the marketplace’ tactic depends on having eco-tourism as the carrot rather than criticism, direct action and the imperative need for sustainability as the stick, and they’re holding themselves to that plan no matter how much it contradicts their core values. It puts Greenpeace in a position that directly helps colossal environmental devastation.

The dam is hugely contentious in Iceland, to the extent that summer 2005 saw the first ever direct action campaign in Icelandic history. People have put themselves on the line with an inventive assortment of non-violent confrontational tactics, precisely the sort of thing Greenpeace is famed for doing. The fight is by no means over. Another international action camp at the dam site starts next month, and promises to be far larger than 2005’s.

Supporting those who resist ecological devastation used to be part of Greenpeace’s work, irrespective of the immediate chances of winning. But these days they’re more likely to be found doing deals with their opponents rather than confronting them.

The last few years have seen a huge increase in meetings between the offending companies and the NGOs who oppose them. Organisations with cuddly names like the Environment Council put the two sides under the same roof, and compromises are sought.

Whose benefit is this for? The partners of the Environment Council - which bills itself as 'an independent UK charity' - include oil and gas company Amerada Hess, Barclays, BP, BNFL, GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG, Lloyds-TSB and The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, but no NGOs or environmental groups.

There are always tidbits the corporations can offer, and the NGOs feel pressured to agree to something that’s there for the taking. In doing so, they cease to challenge the fundamental activities of the companies and declare a belief that there is in fact a worthwhile compromise to be had; effectively saying there is somehow a sustainable way for, say, BP and Shell to produce oil, or for RTZ to mine minerals.

Many direct action organisations face the dilemma of how to do audacious and often illegal actions whilst presenting an acceptable face. Conversely, Greenpeace is presenting a face of doing daring actions whilst actually avoiding confrontation. Much as New Labour have leap-frogged to the right of the Liberal Democrats, so Greenpeace cede their radical militancy and staying quiet on issues opposed by the traditionally more fluffy organisations like WWF.

Former Rainbow Warrior captain John Castel says of contemporary Greenpeace’s emasculated approach, ‘the life bureaucratic runs smoothly, deferentially, predictably, with no out-of-control, sweaty activists just off a boat threatening to upend your neat desk unless you re-think a deal that saves Greenpeace expensive litigation in exchange for a promise not to trespass on a certain oil field again. (Greenpeace has, among others, made deals with BP and Exxon to escape financial penalties. In both cases activists directly involved who felt the decisions were counter-productive and perhaps shameful, were not asked their opinion.)’

In mid 2005 the Director of Greenpeace UK’s Actions Unit resigned, having planned numerous actions in the classic Greenpeace mould only to have them repeatedly vetoed from above at the last minute.

The ingratiation has succeeded and the divide between the corporate PR and some NGO’s statements becomes so small as to be invisible. As the world’s ecological crisis worsens many of the organisations we’ve trusted to fight the destruction are effectively reinforcing the power of the destructive corporations.

As our need for change becomes ever more urgent and so the solutions needed are ever more drastic, some of the larger NGOs find themselves actually asking for less and less change.


Two centuries ago anti-slavery campaigners could have sought compromise with the slave traders and owners. There could have been improved conditions for slaves offered, and any anti-slaver would have felt bad turning it down out of some pig-headed adherence to moral absolutes. How easy for the well-fed white idealists to refuse the compromises offered of longer chains and less whipping. It would have been unreasonable and unrealistic to expect such a huge industry on which so much of the economy relied to be eradicated. Even if that were a long term goal, surely some short term gains in the conditions of slaves would be welcome.

But no, we can see it would be counterproductive. The core activities of the slave trade were unacceptable. To lend support to some slavers or some of what they did implies they have a good moral disposition in general. To see them as someone with whom we do deals means we accept their position and power. It lends their existence an acceptability that it does not deserve, it would actually reinforce them and makes it less likely that they’d be abolished.

The activists who started the suffragettes, the anti-apartheid campaign and innumerable anti-colonial independence movements began struggles decades long that many of them never lived to see the end of. How thankful we should be they never entered into deal-making with their opponents that accepted their power and merely looked for ways of mitigating the worst effects of its continuation. The people committing unconscionable acts should not be allowed to do so unopposed, and a public who would agree with us should be made aware.

Doing deals to curb certain areas of a company’s activity has the effect of not challenging the rest of their activity, it affirms the legitimacy of what is not being challenged. With an oil company, with an aluminium smelter, with an airline or a nuclear installation there is no compromise to be had, no core activity to be endorsed.

Yet many NGOs are taking an increasingly business-friendly approach. WWF brokered a scheme whereby rich big game hunters can go and shoot protected wildlife in Zambia's Kafue Flats, and the funds raised go towards wildlife conservation. ‘Working with business is as important to us as munching bamboo is for a panda,’ said a representative from the UK WWF in 2001, which at the time received about £1million a year from corporate sources.


Greenpeace refuse all corporate donations, but still do deals with those they should fight. They teamed up with electricity supplier npower to make the ‘Juice’ scheme. Basically, npower guarantee to buy at least as much electricity from renewable sources as is used by its customers signed up to Juice.

Under the UK government’s Renewables Obligation, electricity suppliers have to get a set amount of their energy from renewable sources. The amount rises every year, and, put simply, if they don’t hit the target they get fined, with the money going to those who did meet the target.

In other words, they have strong financial incentives to move to renewables; it’s not being done out of any principle but, as with any corporation, out of concern for maximising profits. The Juice scheme is a way to make it look like a moral stand and so get even more customers.

There are several small companies – Green Energy UK and Good Energy, for example – who genuinely have been set up to do exactly the same thing on point of principle, who exist to do nothing else. Friends Of The Earth have found rating one tariff over another so complex that they’ve stopped doing it. However, only Good Energy, Green Energy UK and Eco Energy met Friends of The Earth’s criteria for recommendation.

One green electricity firm, Ecotricity, puts vast amounts of its profits into building new wind farms, far more per customer than any other green tariff. Because of this position, it is recommended by the Soil Association and WWF as well as articles in The Ecologist and The Guardian. Co-Op Insurance has not only signed up with them but also contacted companies it invests in to recommend them.

Yet Greenpeace chose to ignore them all and go with npower, who it seems nobody but Greenpeace recommend. Out of the twelve green electricity tariffs compared in an Ethical Consumer report, bottom of the table were npower's Juice and Powergen’s Green Plan.

Npower is a subsidiary of German utilities corporation RWE, whose interests in fossil and nuclear powered stations far exceed their commitment to renewables, a position that’s not about to change any time soon. RWE is the biggest CO2 emitter in European power production, owning four of the top ten in the ‘Dirty Thirty’ list of worst plants.

Rather like Cadbury’s buying Green and Black’s, npower’s Juice is not a commitment to change the company to something environmentally responsible, it's merely them buying up a niche market.

To keep meeting the escalating demands of the Renewables Obligation, npower is going to have to get a lot more renewables onstream. To this end, they have set up the Juice Fund; £10 per customer per year is set aside, up to a maximum of £500,000. This money goes to develop new renewable sources of electricity, thus helping npower avoid being penalised. The Juice scheme makes green PR out of something npower were going to do anyway, and Greenpeace lend their good name to the company and its predominantly destructive activities.

RWE also own Thames Water, named by the Environment Agency as the UK’s most polluting company in 2004. Their recent publicity about making huge profits whilst losing a third of their water from bad pipe systems – nearly a billion litres a day, equivalent to a Windermere a year, whilst drought orders are dispensed – is told as a fatcat story. But it’s also significantly ecological, as they move to combat the drought by taking vast quantities of extra water from rivers, damaging the ecosystems.

Partnerships between NGOs and corporations require some common ground. An organisation motivated purely by concentrating wealth in the hands of a few already rich individuals cannot have any common ground with an organisation set up to defend the social good and threatened ecosystems, particularly when those very interests are under attack from that same corporation.


Talking to several Greenpeace insiders about all this, I’ve been met with the same response. The npower thing’s not anomalous, it’s just how Greenpeace works; it’s not a radical direct action organisation, it is a reformist group that just seeks to influence the marketplace without confronting the suicidal path of perpetual economic growth or challenging the validity of industries. It’s how it’s been for years. Didn’t I already know that?

They see an area they want to affect and seek to be a wedge in the market. They pick one company to offer a carrot to so that they can point to the divide and criticise the competitors. If this means cosying up to companies as bad as RWE then they’re happy with it. Greenpeace are currently in talks with two of the Big Four UK supermarkets to do precisely the same thing.

When specifically questioned, Greenpeace UK’s Director Stephen Tindale said the npower tie-in doesn’t endorse the company’s other activities. But if you get an npower leaflet with a Greenpeace logo on the implication is clear. Npower’s CEO David Threlfall certainly thinks so, speaking of the ‘serious brand value’ gained from working with Greenpeace, worth far more than an advertising campaign or changing away from using nukes and coal.

Furthermore, in courting business and doing deals, Greenpeace set themselves up for serious problems in future. When RWE’s various nuclear and fossil-burning facilities and water systems fall foul of what environmentally-minded people want, would you trust Greenpeace to readily criticise their partners?

Striking bargains with ecocidal corporations and governments not only gives an unwarranted sense of trust in them as worthy and acceptable businesses, it places great trust in them to hold to their end of the agreement. We can gauge how justified this trust is by referring back to that Greenpeace recruitment leaflet mentioned earlier. Under the heading 'Recent Greenpeace successes' it says, 'After campaigning by Greenpeace and other organisations the government chose renewable energy over nuclear power'.

The government's word on environmental matters isn't worth much because the environment is, at best, a secondary consideration. Their primary commitment is to economic growth, which is a synonym for 'accelerated consumption of resources'. It doesn't take a particularly sharp mind to understand why you cannot have perpetual accelerated consumption of finite resources, yet this impossibility is the central tenet of modern capitalism.

With any large corporation, pursuit of profit is the prime motivation at the expense of all other considerations. As long as government and big business adhere to these ideas they cannot have any credible environmental policy. Perpetual economic growth is another of those activities with which environmental compromise is impossible. As Tony Blair said, 'the truth is, no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem'.

John Castel on contemporary Greenpeace again; ‘It lacks the moral courage and the thought-through policies to go further than, say, criticising fossil fuel use for climate change - to question the materialistic, consumerist lifestyle that drives energy overuse, the increasingly inequitable world economic tyranny that creates poverty and drives environmental degradation, the bitterness that destroys Peace, the overwhelming human population that catastrophically unbalances every natural ecosystem and the disconnection with Mother Earth that leads to gross spiritual poverty and helplessness…

‘By allowing itself to degenerate into a common or garden corporate machine Greenpeace has traded honour, courage and the creative edge for the temporal safety of conformity in the here and now. In other words, it has bartered its soul.’


Where did the rot set in? When did Greenpeace decide not to challenge fundamental ecological assaults? How did Greenpeace leaders come to be in bed with the very organisations they once so militantly confronted and fought?

Greenpeace’s different national offices enjoy a degree of autonomy, but there is overall policy co-ordination from Greenpeace International.

Jonathan Wootliff came to his position as Communications Director at Greenpeace International not from any background in environmentalism but from PR firm Hill & Knowlton.

They’re famed for such work as advising the Chinese government in the wake of the Tianenmen Square massacre and setting up lobby groups for the tobacco companies. Their biggest ever contract was with the Kuwaiti royal family to persuade the American public to support the first Gulf War. In breach of the Foreign Agents Registration Act they set up a front group, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, and coached the woman who told the false story about Kuwaiti babies being thrown out of incubators, which helped to launch the war.

They’re just as insidious with environmental matters. In 1994 it responded to concern about the depletion of the ozone layer by forming Partners for Sun Protection Awareness, a front group for Schering Plough that encouraged sunblock use and never mentioned the causes of ozone depletion. They got the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defence Council to support the ‘Partners’ without them ever knowing about Schering Plough.

Jonathan Wootliff left Greenpeace in 2000 to become a Managing Director of Edelman Public Relations, doing work for the likes of Boeing, Nissan, Roche, Microsoft, Apple and Kimberly-Clark. He’s since moved on to become Senior Consultant to greenwashers Reputation Partners. His recent personal clients have included BP, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive and the Indonesian paper and pulp producer APRIL.

He was not an anomaly in choosing this path, merely a pioneer. Paul Gilding, once Executive Director of Greenpeace International, now advises companies like Ford and DuPont. Patrick Moore (not the astronomer & UKIP guy, by the way) was a founder of Greenpeace and served as President of Greenpeace Canada and Director of Greenpeace International. These days, he runs Greenspirit, a consultancy to many environmental criminals including biotechnology, plastics and mining firms. Moore is paid by British Columbia Forest Alliance, a pro-logging group set up by prime greenwashers Burson Marsteller.

Not only do these ex-environmentalists continue to trade on their Greenpeace credentials, lending a veneer of social conscience to their antisocial clients, but their new masters get the benefit of knowing how activists work and so how to circumvent them. Greenpeace International’s Political Director Paul Hohnen left in 2001 to set up a consultancy offering corporations, as he put it, ‘detailed knowledge of the key actors and institutions involved’.

If this is what the people do once they leave, it not only gives us a good clue to the mindset of Greenpeace management culture when they were there, but of where it is now. The current managers were the choices of people who left to work for anti-environmental corporate PR.

In 2002 Lord Melchett, Director of Greenpeace UK, left his position in order to take up a consultancy with the aforementioned Burson Marsteller, the market leader in greenwash PR. They specialise in working for the worst of the world’s worst corporations in times of crisis, such as Shell in the wake of the Ken Saro-Wiwa killing, Exxon after the Exxon Valdez (the worst oil spill in history), Union Carbide after the Bhopal disaster, Monsanto at the time of their pushing GM crops, as well as the Argentinian fascist junta, Nestlé, McDonald’s, BP, Unilever and British Nuclear Fuels.

When Lord Melchett quit, his successor – current Director Stephen Tindale, who thinks dealing with RWE is so great – was recruited from New Labour’s team of ‘Special Advisors’, their chief ranks of double-dealing and spin.


Greenpeace’s management culture not only accepts the validity of capitalist business, it understands it, emulates it, and – as the managers using the revolving door between them and the PR companies shows – sometimes even aspires to be it. They are coming to identify with the professional politicians and those running the destructive corporations more than they identify with their own activists or subscribers.

Greenpeace’s size and centralised power structure gives it tremendous muscle that smaller grassroots groups cannot match. However, it also means that a change in a few key senior positions can put the whole organisation on a different tack. This business-friendly management culture appears to be becoming the guiding force for the organisation’s actions and strategy.

What 21st century Greenpeace is doing to its good name earned on genuinely great work, and to the trust of its members, has become the clearest example of the reasons why we shouldn’t use the unwieldy corporate behemoth scale of working; why trusting others to do your political work for you is a last resort; why we shouldn’t get dragged into compromise with the ecocidal forces that run the world.

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UPDATE: Greenpeace severed the link with RWE Npower in late 2006, citing two policies as irreconcilable with Greenpeace's ideals; suing the EU for an increase in RWE's already overgenerous carbon emissions allowances, and pushing for the commissioning of a new generation of nuclear power stations.