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WaPo‘s story yesterday about the cozy ties between BP and the nation’s leading environmental groups has let loose a deluge of angry comments from members of the Arlington-based Nature Conservancy and other groups that have taken millions of dollars from the disgraced oil giant.
Here’s a good one from Cindy D., a Nature Conservancy member who last night accused the organization of censoring comments to its blog: “Why are my comments not being posted? Are the moderators afraid to leave up criticism of NC? I notice that my posts and those of others who are critical of NC have been removed. Even more reason to revoke my membership. Oh, and remember, you don’t moderate the world; there are plenty of other venues in which to expose your hypocrisy.”
You can read more of the e-wrangling between the group’s executives and its members here (provided these comments have not been similarly erased).
The British oil conglomerate has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade to transform its image from that of a dirty old oil company into “Beyond Petroleum” – a company so environmentally friendly it had transcended oil drilling (and spilling) for happy, sunny and clean technologies such as wind and solar. Never mind that the so-called “renewables” never received anywhere near as much investment as the company puts into exploring for and extracting oil and gas.
Most of the money went to the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide but, as the Post’s Joe Stephens points out, the oil giant has shelled out to prominent environmental groups – including several headquartered in the D.C. area. The Nature Conservancy has received nearly $10 million from the company. Crystal City-based Conservation International has received millions more and even gave BP chief executive John Browne a seat on its board from 2000 to 2006. (Browne relinquished his seat about the time a sex scandal ended his reign at BP.) And, the company has had dealings with the Sierra Club, Audubon, Environmental Defense Fund, among others.
While it may seem incongruous to their mission, the environmentalists haven’t tried to hide the corporate dough. They have, in fact, trumpeted their ties to corporations, arguing that these partnerships lead to better corporate environmental policies and less damage to the planet.
So it’s understandable that BP’s latest environmental debacle does not look good for its environmentalist friends – many of whom have been partnering with the company for a decade or more.
For BP, it’s been a decade replete with felony charges, criminal fines and consent decrees with various federal agencies. The Department of Justice ordered BP to pay $70 million in criminal fines and restitution to settle felony charges related to an pipeline leak on Alaska’s North Slope and an explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery that left 15 dead. And that ’s just a partial recap of BP’s various run-ins with the feds.
The unraveling of BP’s “green” marketing efforts would almost seem comical – perhaps poetic justice – if the accident wasn’t wreaking so much havoc in the Gulf of Mexico. By some estimates, it’s already gushed more petroleum than the Exxon Valdez. But much has changed in corporate-environmentalist relations in the 21 years since the Valdez hit a reef and spilled more than 10 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
The most telling quote in Stephens’ story is from Justin Ward, a Conservation International vice president: “Reputational risk is on our minds,” says Ward, eluding to the risk that people may lose all faith in environmental groups that get too close to corporate polluters.
Well, duh! But the interesting thing is the way Ward expressed the growing angst at the conservation group. The term “reputational risk” is a buzzword of companies like BP that have given lavishly to nonprofit organizations as part of their quest to be seen as (but not necessarily to become) “socially responsible” corporations.
It kinda makes you wonder if the environmentalists have been influencing the corporations or if it’s the other way around.