Magazine article American Forests

Good Guys, Bad Guys, Hard Cash, and the Environment

Magazine article American Forests

Good Guys, Bad Guys, Hard Cash, and the Environment

Article excerpt


The world is turning its attention to environmental issues at an astonishing pace, but the issues are not all concerned with soil, water, and air. Increasingly, we face controversy over the partnerships we are willing to form in the course of our efforts. Nowhere is this truer than with advocacy organizations such as this Association. Some groups have gone so far as to refuse to have anything to do with programs supported by "tainted corporate money."

Like virtually every other conservation group, we have turned to both government and industry grants as a way of stretching our membership dues and carrying out the programs that we feel are important. Every time we do, the question is raised: "Is this the ethical thing to do? Is this company an appropriate partner for the Association?"

As the success of AFA's Global ReLeaf program continues to attract more corporate support, these questions come at an even faster pace. As a result, the Board of Directors conducted a study of how similar organizations decide whether or not to accept a grant, particularly from a major corporation. The answers varied, but in general they reflect the fact that few groups have a rigid formal policy, and nearly all have agonized over the same questions.

The policy position being followed by AFA is one in which there are few absolutes. We set criteria, then work to see that each potential corporate partner meets those criteria. We hope that good judgment, shared by a diverse group of well-intentioned people, can replace hard rules.

At the outset, we recognized that few companies have an unblemished environmental reputation. We have no intention of setting ourselves up as judge and jury to develop some kind of "moral litmus test" for environmental purity. Naturally, we want to avoid sponsors or partners whose reputation or perceived image would damage AFA. At the same time, we believe it is our role to forge partnerships and programs that are good for people and good for the environment. Therefore we are looking for corporate partners that are already environmentally sensitive, or are making substantial strides to improve their environmental commitment. In other words, if we can forge a program that helps a company do good things - maybe better than they have ever done before - we'll count it a gain.

Every partnership - or program - that we undertake must focus on AFA's mission and goals. Those are not for sale or hire. Thus, if a potential partner wants us to blunt our message or change our legislative advocacy as the price of cooperation, we'll say, "no, thanks." We'll also be very careful that we retain control of our name, and our image, so that our acceptance of a corporate sponsor or government grant does not imply endorsement of a particular product, service, brand name, or political stance. …

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