Tuesday, May 25, 2010

environmental group compromised?


Video - Nature Conservancy PSA.

WaPo | In the days after the immensity of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico became clear, some Nature Conservancy supporters took to the organization's Web site to vent their anger.

"The first thing I did was sell my shares in BP, not wanting anything to do with a company that is so careless," wrote one. Another added: "I would like to force all the BP executives, the secretaries and the shareholders out to the shore to mop up oil and wash the birds." Reagan De Leon of Hawaii called for a boycott of "everything BP has their hands in."

What De Leon didn't know was that the Nature Conservancy lists BP as one of its business partners. The Conservancy also has given BP a seat on its International Leadership Council and has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations over the years.

"Oh, wow," De Leon said when told of the depth of the relationship between the nonprofit group she loves and the company she hates. "That's kind of disturbing."

The Conservancy, already scrambling to shield oyster beds from the spill, now faces a different problem: a potential backlash as its supporters learn that the giant oil company and the world's largest environmental organization long ago forged a relationship that has lent BP an Earth-friendly image and helped the Conservancy pursue causes it holds dear.

The crude emanating from BP's well threatens to befoul a number of alliances between energy conglomerates and environmental nonprofits. At least one group, Conservation International, acknowledges that it is reassessing its ties to the oil company, with an eye toward protecting its reputation.

"This is going to be a real test for charities such as the Nature Conservancy," said Dean Zerbe, a lawyer who investigated the Conservancy's relations with its donors when he worked for the Senate Finance Committee. "This not only stains BP, but, if they don't respond properly, it also stains those who have been benefiting from their money and their support."

Some purists believe environmental groups should keep a healthy distance from certain kinds of corporations, particularly those whose core mission poses risks to the environment. They argue that the BP spill shows the downside to what they view as deals with the devil.

On the other side are self-described pragmatists who, like the Conservancy, see partnering with global corporations as the best way to create large-scale change.