Big Environmental NGOs: The End of Incrementalism in 2012?

Big Environmental NGOs: The End of Incrementalism in 2012?

by Toby Webb, cross-posted from the Smarter Business blog

US environmental NGOs, along with other, more globally minded ‘green’ and conservation-minded NGOs, have been poorly led in recent years.

They’ve blown a series of chances to help businesses change using a nuanced approach. Their approach been too cut and dried, too ‘with you not against you’ in ideology. It was never as simple as that.

That’s fairly clear to most people I know. I’m condensing quite a few other opinions here.

Now a new generation of green group leaders is emerging.

This new set of leaders may have learned from Greenpeace’s brilliant ‘stick and carrot’ approach that has proven so effective with business.

That’s if this New York Times article is correct:

“Roger Ballentine, a climate adviser to the Clinton White House who now advises businesses on green strategies, suggests that the movement has grown impatient with coaxing incremental change by engaging with policy makers and corporations.

The old way was the Sierra Club putting its seal on “green” Clorox products; the new way is suggested by a Greenpeace Internet campaign that wrung a promise from Facebook last week to use less coal for its data centers.

“The failure to address climate is catastrophic, and young people are justifiably outraged,” Mr. Ballentine said, pointing to the next generation in the movement. “What we have now is an antagonized grass roots calling for a radicalized approach.”

This could mean that in 2012 the big, well-funded US green NGOs may begin to copy Greenpeace’s tactics.

However, the NY Times suggests that:

“A three-prong approach is emerging: fight global warming by focusing on immediate, local concerns; reinvigorate the grass roots through social media and street protests; and renew an emphasis on influencing elections.”

This approach does not specifically mention business, but my guess is that business will be covered by the ‘immediate concerns’ element.

For the sake of the environment, I hope these NGOs can raise their game and engage business as Greenpeace has been.

It’s embarrassing how far out on their own GP has been when it comes to business and sustainability encouragement/campaigning for the last few years.

I’ve seen so many examples in the last half-decade of how they have helped companies move beyond the status quo with clever campaigning and encouragement.

So why does having the other green groups act like Greenpeace matter?

I believe it’s fairly simple:

Once all large companies, outside the ‘backs to the wall’ utilities and oil/coal companies, have raised their game on climate change and the environment as far as possible, and reaped the benefits, government will have even less excuse to underperform on the environment.

That really matters.

The only way we’ll get our politicians to stand up and be counted is when better business lobbying defeats the dinosaur companies (oil, coal, some others) who lobby against progressive frameworks.

There are of course other barriers to environmental stabilisation, many in number and in importance.

But the principal role of business in the period 2012-2020 and likely beyond, is going to be to showcase better practice that works, whilst standing up against the damaging lobbying that goes on in major global power centers.

Toby Webb is the founder/chairman of Ethical Corporation. This piece was originally published at his Smarter Business blog.

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