Scotts Latest Miracle: Was the National Wildlife Federation Duped?

ScottsMiracle-Gro is in the lawn and garden business. The National Wildlife Federation is in the environmental protection business. Scotts makes profits for its shareholders while NWF is just a non-profit organization, but both need money to operate. One earns money by selling products. The other gets funding by selling ideas and ideals. Both are businesses. Both employ scads of people who want to keep their jobs. And the management of both businesses do what they have to do, to protect their own interests and keep their organizations afloat.

Scotts’ income has declined recently. The company needs to sell more product to more customers.

Public interest in the environment has also declined recently (the 2012 State of the Union Address didn’t once mention the word), and NWF’s budget is in danger of being cut by Congress. NWF needs income.

Thriving in my neighborhood now, would this red-tailed hawk find any food in a landscape doused in Miracle-Gro?

Scotts saw a whole slew of potential new customers in NWF’s membership, and a chance to wash its image green. NWF saw a nice pile of money being offered by Scotts, and a way to justify accepting it. Perfecto! Here’s the result, as explained by NWF on January 18, 2012: “The National Wildlife Federation and ScottsMiracle-Gro are announcing a new partnership to advance NWF’s nationwide Be Out There initiative to connect children with nature. As the national presenting sponsor, ScottsMiracle-Gro will enhance NWF’s programs to create green spaces and attract wildlife to backyards and communities across the country.”

The complex contradictions and incongruities of this odd partnership – between an organization that claims to promote a healthy world and a company that manufactures toxic stuff to spread all over our yards – have been extensively discussed in the last few days. If you’d like to know more about it, I highly recommend these posts by Vincent Vizachero and Paul Tukey.

Here is Scotts’ take on it, as explained by Jim Lyski, executive vice president at ScottsMiracle-Gro, in classic corporate jargon: “NWF offers a unique perspective that we believe can help shape our sustainability initiatives, and proactively engage thought leaders on constructively developing solutions to environmental and societal challenges. This partnership for us is about building a business that leaves our world better off than we found it.” (Gag. Thought leaders. Where’s the bucket.)

It sure looks to me like NWF got duped by a Scotts sales pitch. The idea that NWF policy-makers believe they can now “influence” Scotts sustainable product line, well, that’s either incredibly naive or just plain sad.

Imagine of a bunch of dolphins, caught in a huge tuna net, congratulating each other on this new development, proclaiming to each other in happy ultrasonic whistles, “hey, this is a great opportunity for us to influence Chicken of the Sea’s fishing practices.” Except dolphins would never be that dumb. NWF comes out of this Scotts deal looking slightly pathetic. Do they really believe this line, or do they just hope that we’ll believe they believe it?

The thing is, in the real world, this is just business as usual. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is us. We thought NWF was honorable, principled, above this dirty stuff. And we are saddened to discover the truth that this organization that we’d put our faith, our hopes and sometimes our funds in, this ideal we’d followed and believed in, well, in fact it is only, after all, to our amazement, just a business. (And maybe not a terribly smart one, at that.)

Actually, do we have any right to be surprised? It’s all right there in NWF’s strategic plan, slightly hidden, but nonetheless clearly spelled out (in classic non-profit group jargon):

“To achieve our dream, NWF will nurture strong and enduring relationships by:

  • creating regional and national networks of influence and affluence,
  • connecting and supporting a diversity of blah blah blah
  • building a powerful network for etc. etc. etc.
  • expanding and deepening our yada yada yada,
  • engaging the next generation of whoopdedoo, and
  • diversifying and expanding funding for NWF and our partners.” (emphasis mine)

So they diversified (if that’s what you want to call it) and got some funding, just like they said they would.

One of the most interesting things about this deal, perhaps revealing a bit of NWF conscience, is that it is not listed at all, not one single peep, in their own “NWF in the News” page. Here you can read about the very hottest events in January. Squirrel Appreciation Day? Yes, this is news. Cracking down on python sales? Yes, news. We are now dancing with the devil? No, nope, not news.

On the NWF website, you can only find info about this great new arrangement if you already know about it and specifically go looking for it. But really, who would ever think to search at NWF for “Miracle-Gro?” Nobody. It’s unthinkable. Well, anyway, it used to be unthinkable.

Is this native bee one of the pests that Scotts wants to rid our environment of?

ScottsMiracle-Gro, according to its own Mission Statement, will “leverage local insights and its global authority to provide consumers the best solutions to enjoy healthy lawns and gardens, as well as a pest-free environment.  We will be a responsible corporate citizen and provide our associates with unique growth opportunities and a dynamic workplace.  In return, we will be rewarded with continued profitable growth that enhances our market position and shareholder value.” (emphasis mine)

That’s the bottom line. Simple as can be. And guess what. NWF has one too.


In Carole Brown’s recent interview with NWF’s David Mizejewski, she quotes him as claiming: “The reason that people are upset is that there has been prejudgement about Scotts.” I wonder. I think we’re probably mostly right about Scotts. But is it possible the real reason we’re so upset is that we’ve been living with a mis-judgment about the National Wildlife Federation?

Maybe we all need to wake up to hard facts. Maybe this is a valuable turning point in our understanding of how the environmental movement – yes, even our own dear, virtuous movement – actually works. Did NWF violate its own standards and mission? It sure looks that way. We know all organizations need money, but did NWF cross a line and discredit the whole organization? Could our displeasure over this decision now make a difference? Possibly.

NWF is getting an earful, at the moment. But I suspect nothing will change until our disapproval shows up in NWF’s bank account. We really should act fast, right now, before the spring “lawn-care” season gets rolling, and Miracle-Gro products get sprayed and dumped and seeded in the yards of thousands of under-informed citizens who put their trust in the National Wildlife Federation.

Or, as others have proposed, here’s an idea: let’s call for the resignation of the NWF Board of Directors and CEO.


© 2012, Sue Reed. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Wonderful Sue…you have hit the nail on the head and further exposed this joke with their own words…they will never get my money either of them…let’s see how that works for them as thousands more move away from both companies…Scotts was in trouble and needed unsuspecting people to buy their line with NWFs approval…let’s hope the cry is heard and people wake up…they may be arrogant now but we have seen many arrogant people topple…
    Donna@ Gardens Eye View recently posted..Reflecting-My 100th Post

  2. says

    Sue – marvelous job of presenting the facts. Scotts is a for profit business. NWF is a non profit. Although we abhore what Scotts sells, it was NWF that sold out and violated its principles. I’m a relatively new convert to native plant landscaping. I was thrilled to have Monarch caterpillars in my first native plant bed last year. I was so glad to get certified as a Monarch Way Station. Next on the agenda was to certify the yard as a wildlife habitat. Not now. No NWF for me.
    Hal Mann recently posted..Goodbye Norway Maple

    • says

      Yep, that’s it. I hope you’ll tell them. And while you’re at it…. tell Scotts what their products mean to you. I really believe in the power of one voice at a time!

  3. says

    It remains to be seen whether the infusion of cash from Scotts will be equaled by the inevitable decline in contributions. If it does that alone will likely lead to changes at the top. Either way, the board and CEO should resign or be fired and we should be calling for their proverbial heads. They have compromised and and discredited the integrity of the organization and alienated most of their former supporters who are aware of this repugnant alliance.

    If David Mizejewski and/or others at the top at NWF honestly believe “there has been a prejudgement about Scotts,” they are even more clueless than their deer-in-the-headlights representatives appeared to be in their disastrous live chat yesterday. Their hollow PR efforts have been exercises in futility that have not rung true. This is a dirty deal and no amount of greenwashing can fix that.

    It’s hard to believe they failed to learn from their misguided alliance with BP. The timing of this most recent choice to partner with Scotts in the interim between Scotts’ announcement of their development of GMO turf grass and its release into the environment seems incredibly stupid if only from a PR standpoint, especially considering the increasing awareness of the environmental and health hazards of GMOs, the dangers of so-called “conventional” pest-management practices, the declining consumer sales of toxic chemicals, the rapidly-growing organic movement, and the current social and political climate.
    Linda recently posted..Two Peas in a Pod

  4. says

    Excellent post, Sue. What is insulting is the continued use of the “pre-judgement of Scotts” and “knee-jerk reaction” terminology….for those of us who rigorously follow studies that prove time and time again that Roundup and GM crops are not safe, are not sustainable, and not part of any environmental “solution”, and have been writing and speaking about those issues to anybody who will listen, it’s incredibly insulting to have these boardroom CEOs tell me I just need to “learn more about it” to change my mind. The more I hear from the NWF, the more angry I become. They just don’t “get it”.
    Ellen Sousa recently posted..NWF and ScottsMiracle-Gro? No!

    • says

      Totally, totally I agree. You point out the heart of their mistake: they think we’re stupid. In fact, they’re the ones who got duped. Who’s stupid now?

  5. Sue Anderson says

    Sue – you asked: “Do we have any right to be surprised?”. Well, I believe I do. The NWF strategic plan quotes you included are not specific about the principles to be used to select funding partners or expand funding. What I have to fall back upon, then, are NWF’s published descriptions on their website and in brochures. As I see it, this partnering with a company that sells products the *hurt* the natural environment is not consistent with the mission nor the image of NWF. Therefore I **am** surprised, even being the cynic that I am, since I expected NWF strategic decisions to be consistent with their “image” as well as their mission statements.
    As a certified Habitat Steward, and a person who has that NWF Wildlife Habitat sign in my front yard, my surprise and dismay will have to be translated into personal actions in the near future. I may have some explaining to do when I am volunteering at an event. I may not pass out brochures which have a Scotts logo on them. I will be making tough choices.
    As you clearly stated, NWF had better get in front of this, pronto, with clear defensible statements about the details of this ‘partnership’, or we troops in the field will stop our advocacy. NWF will lose our time, our service, as well as our funds.

    • says

      Actually, you’re right. I should not have written “do we have any right to be…” using those exact words. This post was composed in about 4 hours, and it was subjected to only minimal editing (usually my posts take several days to be “done”). Maybe I should made that point a little less stridently. Anyway, I take your point… from what you read and hear about NWF, their partnership with Scotts is all wrong. And I agree. I was just trying to put it all into a larger context.

      • Sue Anderson says

        Your answer is clean and with integrity as always, Sue. I hope you know that I was only agreeing with you *strongly*. Your articles are so very thorough, thoughtful, and well reasoned that I want your messsage to be as clear and strong as possible. Your one statement about surprise was actually my ‘entry’ into adding to the conversation, and I thank you for that.

  6. says

    So well written! As I’ve stewed over this development since its announcement I’ve realized that inspiring change to increase the need for more stewardship over this earth has to always start with the individual. No matter how much I would like there to be a wonderful virtuous organization I can champion, ultimately all organizations get so large they lose their way. And does the local wildlife care if NWF exists or not? No. It cares if my backyard wildlife habitat exists. It always boils back down to me, the little individual and my own efforts. All of us who care need to remember that key fact and just keep doing our part one backyard at a time.
    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage recently posted..Winter pears, winter gardens and Alcinous

    • says

      Yes, I’m a big fan of the “one landscape at a time” approach. And yes, it does seem that NWF has lost its way (at least for the moment). I would only add that stewardship and caring for wildlife also require knowledge about what’s important and what works, and NWF used to be a trusted source for that knowledge. Now, people should probably look elsewhere.

  7. Martha Lunz says

    This is absurd. One of the greatest benefitsts of native plant landscaping is using no fertilizers or other lawn care products that poison our land, water, & air, causing harm to all living
    things (includimg humans). The NFW has sold out.

  8. says

    I don’t think we need to ask for the CEO and board to step down. If we all refuse to renew they will be replaced, automatically. Why did I get rid of my grass, put in natives and display their sign if they are going to to this to us. Very, very disappointed.

  9. says

    I hear the thread beginning here of moving forward and on. NWF may or may not change their ways. But WE have the power to use this debacle as a teachable moment to show why PERSONAL responsibility for what we have in our yards, parks and golf courses is so very important. As citizens, we can accomplish to increasingly out of touch nonprofits and corporations cannot. Get our children, grandchildren, students, and ourselves out of doors and active with our park boards, golf course committees and school grounds. The incredible network of garden and naturalist writers who have sounded the alarm in this ridiculous partnership have work cut out for them, and I have no doubt from what I have seen the past week that they can effect changes in attitudes and awareness. If it could work in Egypt, is certainly can work in this country on this issue!

    • says

      Yes, Anne, despite our disappointment in NWF, this actually is an exciting opportunity for us to reach more people with our message about caring for, and participating in, the natural world. In a way, I suspect that many environmental organizations have made similar sorts of compromises as NWF did, just because money is money and business is business. We may not hear about them as we’ve heard about this one, but they’re happening all the time. The best thing for us to do, as you say, is keep doing the right thing ourselves, and show others how to be good to the planet.

  10. Wendy says

    Actually – I am guessing that you all have pre-judged Scotts Miracle Gro & don’t realize that tey have a line of organic fertilizers as well as bird food. Just because a company offers something you don’t agree with or happen to use does not make them bad. Why not join up to support feeding wildlife in our backyards since people are taking over the natural habitat of many animals around the world – not only in the US. Why not support organic fertilizers so that people are more encourged to grow their own food to be healthy & active outside in their own backyards? Sadly, pretty much everyone’s comments are blatently one sided. Just sayin’

  11. Rhea Banker says

    I had no idea – call me ridiculously naive that any of this was going on. Thanks so much for all of this information. How frustrating, and sad, that the average weekend gardener (like myself) would have no awareness without alternative means of communication like this.

    • says

      And now, as it turns out, NWF withdrew its agreement with Scotts, ostensibly because Scotts was found guilty of selling preservative-treated bird seed that actually killed birds. But we all believe that public outcry and criticism were at least part of the reason for the change. More on Scotts and their propaganda about lawns, in my next post, on Feb 15!

  12. says

    As a long-time supporter of NWF and its programs, I find this news very discouraging. The goal of Scotts and the mission of NWF are in no way compatible. In many areas of sustainability, grassroots regional efforts may be a more effective use of our time and resources. As a former NWF Habitat Steward, I’m now participating in Wild Ones.


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