Greenpeace targets and collaborates with corporations to combat global warming

Posted: April 21, 2009 in society
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 RealAudio MP3

Except of speech by Gerd Leipold, international director of Greenpeace, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

Greenpeace is best known as a direct action environmental organization that sends rubber rafts full of activists to confront whaling ships [isiria: sadly, not anymore – has the lives of whales become irrelevant to Greenpeace philosophy?], tries to shut down nuclear facilities, and hangs huge banners from skyscrapers denouncing dirty coal and other environmental abuses. But the organization has recently also undertaken campaigns to change corporate behavior, and even collaborated with some companies to achieve mutually desirable goals.

In a talk at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies on April 6, the International executive director of Greenpeace, Gerd Leipold, spoke about those campaigns, sometimes targeting, and unexpectedly collaborating with corporate giants like Apple, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.

Leipold began volunteering with Greenpeace in Germany in 1980. With a background in physics and a Ph.D. in oceanography, Leipold has helped to better ground the organization in science, and is one of the leaders who believes corporations can play a positive role. But he knows that progress can be reversed, as when oil giant British Petroleum turned green, but then, with its exploitation of tar sands oil, recently became dirtier than ever. The following is an excerpt of Leipold’s talk at Yale University.

This is actually quite a historic moment, because maybe it’s the last spring where we can say the world has a chance to move forward and make the decisions which we need in Copenhagen. Many of you know that if we do not achieve an effective agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Conference this December, there’s almost no chance that we can prevent the world breaking the two degree limit beyond which the science tells us our children will face a world in which life will be nastier, shorter and more brutish – and I think our children don’t deserve that. We cannot afford that we do another Kyoto on the climate. Of course the recession is painful, but I think it will end at some point, but our polluted climate may be about to pass beyond the point of no return. Computing power and use of electronics is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas pollution. Analysts project the information and communications technologies sector will grow its carbon emissions to six percent annually, twice the three percent growth seen in the aviation sector. So we’ve been running a campaign to remove toxins from the production of goods like televisions and computers, and to reduce their power consumption.

In 2008, we achieved a major success when Apple conducted a U-turn and went green. You might find this surprising, as the Mac had long been the computer brand of choice for hippies and slightly alternative people, but the reality was that Apple was a holdout against greening its production methods and design. We knew by studying the dynamics of the industry, that Apple, along with Sony, were the innovators. The rest were essentially volume box makers who adopted innovations from them. So we picked Apple for a good reason, because it was a strategic target. In the old days, we would have climbed their offices, occupied their factories, perhaps picketed their shops – which we also did – followed Steve Jobs about and accused Apple of being rotten [laughter].

Instead, we tried something different; we tried to get the consumers on our side. And we knew that trying to get them to boycott Apple was about as useless and hopeless as you can imagine. So we ran a campaign based on love – the consumers’ love of their Mac. The owners themselves exerted the pressure through a website where the name said it all – “I love my Apple – I wish it came in green.” A wonderful example of a campaign where you just have to have the right title and the right audience, and the campaign runs by itself. And now, Apple has changed substantially; it’s not perfect, but it’s substantially green.

We think we need to get engaged with corporations because it helps us to engage the whole sector and it helps bring solutions to scale. These conversations have attractions for corporations as well, because who talks, seldom bites. And once a personal relationship is built, of course it’s good and useful, the depth of criticism can easily be tempered.

After our [unintelligible] campaign in 1995, in which we stopped Shell dumping a gigantic piece of oil industry debris into the Atlantic, a whole new industry sprang into being – corporate social responsibility – and we believe we had a substantial influence in helping this new industry develop. Shell, then the fifth largest multinational in the world, began to change and invest heavily in renewables. Its leaders said they saw its future as an energy company, not an oil company. We celebrated, and governments and competitors took notice. International law was changed to close the sea dumping loophole for the oil industry, and also BP changed and famously declared itself “Beyond Petroleum.” That was then. As I said the other day to an executive of BP, they obviously have done another rebranding and now BP stands for Bigger Petroleum again. I think they’re making a big mistake, but if they want to be a dinosaur, we should treat them as such.

In the end, I would like to call upon you to show some intolerance – not aggression or bigotry, but intolerance. Intolerance of excuses for delay, or arguments for putting off action in Copenhagen. Intolerance of those who say, “Not yet,” or “Not me,” or “This is for others to take a lead in,” or “only after the Chinese.” Intolerance of those practices and technologies which, through actions large and small, weigh down the dark veil that is falling over our children’s future. In America in particular, you are going to hear a lot about the likely imperfections of a climate deal, but in this case, the perfect is not just likely to be the enemy of the good, but of the future and of our children.

If you were thinking of doing something sometime about climate change – at home or at work or in your family – then however old or young you are, do it this year, bring it forward, do it now. Make it count for Copenhagen, because this time, the boat is really leaving. Thank you very much.

Contact Greenpeace at (202) 462-1177 or visit their website at This segment was recorded and produced by Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus.


Melinda Tuhus is producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 45 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending April 17, 2009. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

Between the Lines Q&A featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 17, 2009

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