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.
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.
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.
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