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Good guys, bad guys, hard cash, and the environment.

GOOD GUYS, BAD GUYS, HARD CASH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

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.

That said, it is our intention to harness every type of effective educational medium to help people understand trees and forests, learn how to improve them, and spur appropriate citizen action. One of the major avenues, in our judgment, is through commercial marketing campaigns. As everyone knows, advertising makes up a substantial portion of any newspaper, magazine, or commercial electronic medium. Marketing material appears on every package. We believe there is great opportunity to sell conservation ideas at the same time as companies sell products or services.

A few years back, soil conservationists were dismayed by the fact that all the pictures in farm-machinery advertisements showed uphill-downhill clean tillage - the worst possible soil management from a conservation standpoint. "Why," they asked the manufacturers, "couldn't the pretty tractor be pictured in a field of contour, conservation tillage?" The answers was, "It could." Soon new pictures began to appear in those advertisements. That change, though it detracted not at all from the marketing message, sent a strong subliminal conservation message: The company had become a partner in conservation.

We are doing similar things with the Global ReLeaf campaign. Major marketers such as McDonald's are joining Global ReLeaf to teach lessons about trees and forests to kids while also getting the conservation message across to their elders. At the same time, McDonald's is working to reduce both paper and polystyrene waste materials, increase recycling, and eliminate the use of ozone-harming chloroflourocarbons in their packaging products. Is this company immune from criticism from environmentalists? Most assuredly not - it gets blasted almost daily - and AFA has been blasted for working with McDonald's. But is the firm working to improve its environmental performance? We think so, clearly. Can its sponsorship of Global ReLeaf campaigns through local stores help us educate Americans? By the millions. Maybe Russians, too, someday.

None of us - individuals, organizations, companies, or governments - is without blemish. Much of our ethical and moral foundation, particularly in the religious traditions of the western world, stresses the fact that we can all improve ourselves, and that striving to do so is important. We at AFA believe that when it comes to the task of improving the world's environment, it is silly to ask who is righteous enough to join in the effort. It's better to ask who is ready to join. The work's too important. It needs everyone.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Forests
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Author:Sampson, Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:editorial
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:871
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