Another Look at Environmental Advocacy NGOs

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are, as the name suggests, independent advocacy groups. Environmental Advocacy NGOs play important roles in advancing environmental concerns on a global scale. However, their roles and their effectiveness aren’t always well understood. So, Environmental Advocacy NGOs, an earlier post to this blog, is worth another look.  – C.H.


Environmental Advocacy NGOs

From: 2 February 2012

Industry and Environmental Advocacy NGOs

Earth with Moon - NASAThe “Triple Bottom Line” is the most common conceptual model for Sustainability in business. TBL promotes equal emphasis on Planet, Profits and People. An earlier post to this blog, proposed a macro view of the Triple Bottom Line. From the macro point of view, “Planet” is viewed as the entire natural world. “Profit” includes the entirety of global industry, where “industry” includes agriculture, manufacturing, mining and other commercial activities that produce goods. “People” comprises all of humanity – now over seven billion of us.

Human population, the projected growth of that population (add another two billion over the next forty-odd years) and the rising global level of per capita income (hence consumption) places enormous stress on the natural world. Industry feeds, clothes, houses and provides the cell phones that a steadily growing humanity demands. Since industry interfaces humanity to the natural world, industry is the primary agent of that stress.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) are usually not for profit membership groups organized toward specific ends. Environmentalists, especially environmentalists acting through NGOs, provide a human voice for the natural world. And an effective voice it can be! Speaking generally, environmentalists perceive the natural world to be under severe duress, and they perceive industry as the direct cause of that duress. Environmental advocacy NGOs take actions, usually directed against industry, that are intended to relieve or to remediate stresses on the natural world.

Environmental advocacy NGOs follow four primary courses of action:

Public confrontation – This is the course of non-violent actions designed to bring public attention to specific issues, producing pressure for change.  Greenpeace, with its well publicized confrontations at nuclear weapons tests, whaling expeditions and baby harp seal harvests epitomizes this approach. Patrick Moore’s Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout offers an account of Greenpeace’s past, along with something of a repudiation of that NGO’s more recent direction. Moore should know – he was a founder and former President of Greenpeace.

Litigation – Torts litigation – suing the rascals – provides a way to compel change, even with very large institutions. The Snail Darter Case provides one vivid example of the power of environmental litigation. In the late 1960’s, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began construction of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River. About $100 million dollars in federally funded construction costs later, the Environmental Defense Fund (an environmental advocacy NGO) and others sued the TVA under the then – new National Endangered Species Act, contending that completion of the Tellico Dam would likely result in the extinction of the Snail Darter, a very small fish. The Supreme Court of the United States held for the plaintiffs. The NGOs and the fish won. The taxpayers lost.

Legislation – This is the path of active involvement in the processes of government. Examples include lobbying legislatures, promoting candidates for office that support the NGO’s views and appointment or election of NGO members or supporters into the government itself. In Europe and elsewhere, Green Party candidates win seats in local and national legislatures. In the U.S., John Bryson, the current Secretary of Commerce, was a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Fund (an environmental advocacy NGO). He remains an ardent environmentalist, especially with regard to clean energy.

Cooperation – Sometimes, NGOs find that cooperating with various industries on specific programs leads to ends the NGO desires more easily than other paths. One example is the World Wildlife Foundation’s relationship with Coca Cola on global water availability issues. Another is the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps. EDF’s Climate Corps trains, then arranges internships for MBA students with many large companies, for the purpose of identifying ways to reduce power consumption within those firms. The host companies win through reduced energy costs. The MBA students win through paid summer internships and experience in both industry and with a not-for-profit organization. The EDF wins by making progress toward its greenhouse gas emissions reduction objectives.

Why Smaller Manufacturers care about this

Because there are many thousands of smaller manufacturers, the probability that a major environmental advocacy NGO will single any particular one out aren’t very high. However, high profile NGO actions can indirectly affect almost everybody. For example, one of the Bloomberg family trusts recently gave $50 million to the Sierra Club, in order to fund a Sierra Club campaign to end the use of coal as fuel in electric power plants.

Roughly half of the electric power in the U.S. is fueled by coal. Coal fired power plants are the cheapest way to produce electric power, big hydroelectric dams excepted. The price of electric power affects almost every industrial firm. Coal mining itself is a big industry that affects many firms through its value chain. Coal is the highest volume product that American railroads carry. If the railroads lose their biggest revenue source, what happens to the cost of carrying everybody else’s goods goes up. And coal is just one piece of the environmental puzzle. Actions to protect the environment are a good thing. But they are often not without costs, sometimes serious costs, to somebody.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated

…  Chuck Harrington  (

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about confronting the realities of  21st century manufacturing … CH

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Photo: NASA