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Practicing what they preach.

By the end of the decade, the word "green" may have a whole new meaning when applied to the environmental world. This green refers to money and economic growth, and environmentalists are out to prove that it is not as incompatible with its agenda as the business press, rightwing think tanks and anti-green movements would make you think.

The clearest example of this is the Bronx Community Paper Company, a $200 million de-inking mill that, if ifs built, win be owned by a nonprofit housing group and two paper manufacturers. The entire operation was spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), whose senior scientist, Alien Hershkowitz, calls the project the next phase of environmentalism," in which groups like NRDC would promote, rather than fight, economic development. For the mainstream greens, it is their version of Nixon going to China.

Will other green groups follow? A number of events suggest that they might. While none have dived in as deeply as NRDC, most environmental organizations have made some inroads into economic issues over the past few years. And when President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development releases its recommendations for a greener economy this fall, environmentalists are expected to get involved in these issues even more.

"I see a trend," says Neil Seldman, president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington-based organization devoted to environmentally-sound community development. "I see several factors leading to this trend, the most important of which is the realization that everything is connected, that the environmental movement must address the economic growth issue."

The trend is making itself known in several ways. Some organizations are promoting jobs and the economy by publishing reports and analyses linking these issues. In 1993, for example, the Sierra Club began its Understanding Green Markets Project, designed to provide information to the group's activists, members, volunteers and staff about how economic issues affect the environment. Two reports have been released, with more on the way.

Even groups known primarily for conservation have shown an interest in economics. The Wilderness Society plans to start a revolving loan fund that can finance green businesses; already some pilot projects are underway. The National Wildlife Federation is also working on a project, based around the themes of sustainability and energy efficiency, to be released by the end of 1995, and also plans to speak out about the tax code and how it affects the environment.

Other groups are playing a more active role in industry. The Environmental Defense Fund has formed the Paper Task Force, a project involving six major purchasers of paper, including McDonalds, Time Warner and Duke University. The three-year project, due to be completed this fall, expects to offer reforms for the paper industry in term of forestry operations, manufacturing, pulping and bleaching. Yes, even Greenpeace has gotten into the act. In 1992, Greenpeace's German office helped fund the manufacture of "Greenfreeze," an environmentally-friendly refrigerator that doesn't release ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. The product was a success in Europe, and now the group is trying to promote it in the United States. Greenpeace recently published Energy for Employment, showing how savings generated by a five percent reduction in military spending could be invested into renewable energy, leading to two million new jobs.

Ambitious plans are also coming from Clean Water Action, a Washington-based group born out of Ralph Nader's public interest movement 25 years ago. As its name suggests, the group was originally devoted to improving the nations water quality. Now, Clean Water Action (along with The Clean Water Fund) is playing a leading role in several development projects, including wind power in Minnesota and recycgrelated businesses in Rhode Island. There are on-the-ground campaigns taking place in New Jersey, Massachusetts and California as well.

So what's drum all this activity.? In one sense, environmentalists are beg to practice what they preach. Earth Day 1990 forced many green groups to reexamine their in-house policies. Now groups are purchasing recycled paper and other green products and are investing in socially responsible businesses. NRDC and the National Audubon Society took this principle a step further, designing their New York City offices to make energy conservation, recycling and other sustainable practices. The interest in economic development, many say, is an outgrowth of the movement's desire to be more proactive and visionary in its environmental agenda.

Perhaps more of it has to do with the unsavory "anti-jobs" label environmentalism has been tarred with, highlighted by the spotted owl flap of 1992, which has been a powerful rallying cry for the antigreens. That experience made many environmental groups determined to prove that the "jobs vs. the environment" debate was a myth. Sure enough, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore rode into the White House in 1993, environmental groups stressed to the new administration how pollution cleanup and investments in renewable energy could create millions of jobs. The Sierra Club, Public Citizen (Ralph Nader's public interest group), and the World Wildlife Fund each issued a report to the Clinton administration emphasizing those themes.

Another important factor is the growth of recycling. After devoting considerable time and money into developing recycling programs throughout the country, some environmental groups believe they have a responsibility to take the mission further. In Rhode Island, the state legislature passed environmental legislation in 1992 that banned incineration and mandated a mammoth 70 percent recycling rate. With laws like that, groups like Clean Water Action came to the conclusion that pushing for legislation is not enough. "I personally would have felt remiss if we had stopped there," says Cyndi Roper, state director of Rhode Island Clean Water Action. "We had an obligation to move ahead in identifying solutions and making recycling work."

Clean Water Actions fundraising arm came up with $35,000 to hire a consultant to do a market development study, and is now working with government agencies, businesses, community groups, activists and labor on how to carry out the plan to develop recycling programs that will lead to job and business creation.

Much of this work is positive, but don't expect everything to proceed without a few bumps. Indeed, NRDC's project has not been without controversy. A smattering of grassroots groups and activists were critical of NRDC's handling of the de-inking mill, charging that their concerns about the communal impacts of sludge and emissions were ignored. Other critics, including some environmentalists, were opposed to the placement of the mill, which they say was in an area better designed for an intermodal rail yard.

Last March, a lawsuit against the state of New York for leasing the land to the mill's developer. was successful in temporarily thwarting the plan, but the verdict was overturned on appeal in August.

Contact: Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011/(212)727-2700.
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Title Annotation:environmental groups in business
Author:Bradley, James
Date:Nov 1, 1995
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