For the past few days, the National Wildlife Federation – who describe themselves as working “to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future” – has been weathering a firestorm of criticism for their decision to partner with Scotts Miracle-Gro – who describe themselves as “the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products.” This might seem like a natural fit, until you realize that a significant portion of those branded consumer lawn and garden products are toxic environmental pollutants.
The partnership is undoubtedly a good one for Scotts: it allows them to greenwash their business is a way that no other single deal could have done. Scotts’ consumer sales in the U.S. were down 7% in 2011 compared to 2010, due in part to poor weather and higher commodity costs, but also due in part to shifts in consumer demand. As a result, they plan on increasing their marketing expenditure in 2012 by up to $40 million and we can assume that at least some of that increase will be associated with their new partnership with the National Wildlife Federation. The NWF logo on bags of Scotts birdseed and organic fertilizer will undoubtedly help Scotts sell more product in this new environment of sustainability.
But how about the NWF and – more importantly – wildlife? Is the Scotts Miracle-Gro partnership a fundamentally bad idea, or a good one? The NWF argues that they “saw a great opportunity in reaching past our usual audience to Scotts’ 30 million customers”, whereas some NWF supporters are accusing the non-profit of selling out to the proverbial devil.
The Scotts brand that is, more than any other, a lightning rod for criticism is RoundUp. RoundUp is a broad-spectrum herbicide owned by Monsanto (Scotts is the exclusive U.S. marketer) which is a double-whammy for Scotts: not only is RoundUp a dastardly poison on its own merits, but it also ties Scotts to Monsanto which is a global purveyor of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The folks at the NWF clearly anticipated some backlash from members against their partnership with Scott but underestimated the severity of the backlash that flows from this guilt-by-association with Monsanto. Associating the NWF brand with RoundUp is likely to be a toxic career move for National Wildlife Federation executives.
But I think there is a more fundamental problem with the partnership, which is that Scotts Miracle-Gro’s revenues depend almost entirely on selling consumers products to kill wildlife and destroy wildlife habitat.
Some products, such as insecticides and herbicides, require no complex calculation: their sole function is to kill wildlife.
Other products, like lawn fertilizers, depend on selling Americans on the concept of great lawns. While it might appear that converting those fertilizers from petroleum-based synthetic chemicals to organic ones is a step in the right direction (and, technically, I suppose it is) the truth is lawns are anathema to wildlife. Lawns are a wasteland when it comes to wildlife, even organically maintained lawns. And, in the biggest irony of this story, no one knows that better than NWF supporters who have converted their own lawns to Certified Wildlife Habitats.
Even Scotts’ much-touted lines of designer bird seed are not so much a component of wildlife habitat as a substitute for it. If Americans stopped supporting their vast under-utilized lawns and planted native habitat gardens instead, we wouldn’t need vitamin-supplemented bird seed for our songbirds. In the bird food market, Scotts Miracle-Gro is playing the role of an arsonist, who burns down my house and then kindly offers to rent me a tent. NWF members can see through the charade, apparently, but the NWF itself cannot.
Executives at the National Wildlife Federation also seem to think they can “work from within” Scotts to make their products more environmentally sound. I doubt it, and not only because the NWF has been down this road before (when the NWF partnered with BP/Amoco). Scotts already knows that it makes a lot more revenue from 1,000 square feet of lawn than it can ever make off of 1,000 square feet of Certified Wildlife Habitat. And Scotts should get no credit for reducing phosphorous in their fertilizers, or for reducing the amount of peat in their potting mix, when those reductions are government mandates that Scotts fought to begin with.
Finally, I’ll come back to RoundUp. Anyone who thinks that Scotts is preparing to make a significant shift towards a wildlife-friendly business model should read their 2011 annual report. The section on “Risk Factors” is especially helpful for framing the things that Scotts sees as dangers to their profits (e.g. “Compliance with environmental and other public health regulations”). And the details of their marketing agreement with Monsanto is here:
If Monsanto were to terminate the Marketing Agreement for consumer Roundup® products, we would lose a substantial source of future earnings and overhead expense absorption.
If we were to commit a serious default under the Marketing Agreement with Monsanto for consumer Roundup® products, Monsanto may have the right to terminate the Marketing Agreement. If Monsanto were to terminate the Marketing Agreement for cause, we would not be entitled to any termination fee. Monsanto may also be able to terminate the Marketing Agreement within a given region, including North America, without paying us a termination fee if unit volume sales to consumers in that region decline: (i) over a cumulative three fiscal-year period; or (ii) by more than 5% for each of two consecutive years. If the Marketing Agreement was terminated for any reason, we would also lose all, or a substantial portion, of the significant source of earnings and overhead expense absorption the Marketing Agreement provides.
Read more about NWF partnership with Scotts:
- National Wildlife Federation Teams Up With Scotts Miracle Gro?
- Should the Sign Come Down?
- NWF and Miracle Gro: Perfect Together?
- NWF and Scotts Miracle Gro? NO!!!
- WWRRD? What Would Ranger Rick Do?
- Upset With NWF? Go Local!!
- National Wildlife Federation and Scotts: We’ve Seen This Story Before
- Scotts and NWF Toxic Partnership
- Severing Ties with NWF
- NWF in Garden Bed With Scotts
- Seriously, NWF?
- Miracle Gro Deal With Wildlife Federation Outrages Environmental Community
- Scotts Miracle Gro and NWF Partner to Get Kids Outside
- Scotts Miracle Gro and NWF have partnered up
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