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Green, Inc.: An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad Hardcover – September 16, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this scathing indictment of the surprising profligacy and complacency of some of the world's top environmental organizations, journalist MacDonald, a former media manager at Conservation International, exposes the clubby, well-upholstered world of conservationists. The posh headquarters and six-figure compensation of top environmental leaders (from the Wildlife Conservation Society's $825,170 to the Sierra Club's $229,000) gall the author, but she's most outraged by organizations routinely accepting donations from oil, lumber and mining industries and corporate behemoths such as Wal-Mart without holding them accountable for ongoing pollution practices. MacDonald singles out BP's Beyond Petroleum campaign as a particularly egregious example of greenwashing (the label for corporations marketing themselves as green while paying lip service to environmental concerns) and lambastes Ikea for failing to ensure that the goods it imports are manufactured from sustainably harvested timber. Her lament at the loss of activist edge among top-tier environmental groups is heartfelt—MacDonald exhorts them to stop being such lapdogs and start acting like the watchdogs they were conceived to be—and her umbrage and ample evidence are impossible to ignore. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


No matter if the science of global warming is all phony… climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.” --Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment

An angry exposé claims that leading environmental organizations are now headed by overpaid chief executives who solicit contributions from companies that tout their greenness while continuing their predatory ways.
     Freelance journalist MacDonald begins by pointing out that, unlike other activists such as labor organizers or feminists, early conservationists were not radicals but respectable gentlemen like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. Matters changed in the 1960s, when outrage over pesticides, toxic waste and nuclear power led to an influx of young militants. They changed even more in the '80s, when a proliferation of self-made billionaires, many of them former '60s militants, opened their wallets. From hand-to-mouth organizations existing on membership fees and the occasional bequest, groups such as Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club grew to own skyscrapers, private jets and overseas offices while employing tens of thousands of workers who oversee billions of dollars in spending. Fighting the still-losing battle to save the environment energizes the rank and file, but their leaders have adopted the lifestyle and priorities of private industry: increase revenue, expand markets, outstrip competitors. These leaders are taking advantage of the fact that it is no longer acceptable to sneer at conservationists. Mining and power companies, Wal-Mart, Exxon and Shell now proclaim their concern for the environment, backing this up with a little bit of action and a lot of generous contributions. These come with strings attached, MacDonald emphasizes. She offers depressing examples of polluters who contributed, announced that they were mending their ways, then enjoyed support from their beneficiaries as they proceeded with destructive projects fiercely opposed by local conservationists.
     Readers who take for granted that environmental organizations are made up of long-haired tree huggers and wilderness buffs will receive a jolt to learn how Green Inc.'s newfound prosperity has led it astray. --Kirkus Review


Green Inc. is a must read. Christine McDonald reveals the seedy underbelly of the greenwashing movement where brand-name environmental groups provide a PR bonanza for some of the worst polluters in corporate America, and get paid to do it.  Americans will never look at many environmental groups the same way after reading Green Inc.  Green Inc. should stir a revolt among the dues-paying membership of the environmental movement against those who believe working with oil companies to improve their image is the way to save the earth. --Jamie Court, President, Consumer Watchdog, and author of Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom and What You Can Do About It


"[A] scathing indictment of the surprising profligacy and complacency of some of the world's top environmental organizations...impossible to ignore." --Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1599214369
  • ISBN-13: 978-1599214368
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,089,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christine MacDonald is a journalist whose work appears in variety of publications including the Washington City Paper, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund and Adbusters. She started her career as a freelance foreign correspondent in Mexico, where she reported for the Dallas Morning News. Her daily journalism has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. She has also worked for Conservation International's Global Communications Division, an experience which provided inspiration and source material for her first book.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on December 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book usefully (at first) raises many important issues that might make passionate environmentalists uncomfortable and inspire them to look at their activism in a new light. Conservation organizations have become dependent on large donations from corporate polluters who then mislead the public about their "green" contributions. MacDonald also sheds light on some other unintended consequences like the gamesmanship of carbon credits and the displacement of indigenous peoples from third-world preservation zones sponsored by first-world NGOs.

With that being said, MacDonald claims to be an environmental insider and investigative journalist. But she only succeeds in finger-pointing and scape-goating, and offers absolutely no viable solutions to the problems raised (loudly) throughout the book. One is reminded of a pampered college freshman who learns for the first time that there are problems in the world, and then believes she's making a real difference by simply raving about how poorly-defined villains should be stopped. This type of thinking carries no understanding of the longstanding systematic trends of politics and economics that are at the root of current problems and which would need serious long-term reforms before huge global challenges are resolved.

Like MacDonald, many nature lovers would like to see conservation organizations end their relationships with polluting industries and stop allowing those corporate oligarchs to misuse the spirit of conservation for their own marketing purposes. But unlike MacDonald, many are also aware that we live in a globalized economy with an unfair distribution of wealth and political power, and passionate citizens have to resort to fighting fire with fire.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Phil Mitchell on January 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If it's true, this book is a damning critique of the big green groups. The problem is, it does not appear to be carefully researched or balanced in its approach. It's hard to know what's fact, distortion, or fiction. That's a shame, because global conservation is terribly important and these groups are at the center of it.

Here's one glaring example of MacDonald's disregard for accuracy. In Chapter 10, she writes about a paper that was published in Science in 2007, "Globalization of Conservation: a View from the South." When I read MacDonald's description, I thought, "That's not how I remember that article." So I went back and re-read the original.

The paper is in fact a thoughtful critique of global conservation, the gist of which is that more support needs to go to the small NGOs, rooted in local communities, that are often doing the most effective work.

Here is how MacDonald begins her summary of this paper: "The authors characterized conservation agendas such as CI's Biodiversity Hot Spots and WWF's Global 200 Ecoregions as mere 'branding' strategies, casting doubt on claims that the work is 'science-driven.'"

If that were true, that would be a pretty strong condemnation. Here's what the authors actually wrote:

"These INGOs [large, international NGOs] have developed a range of tools, e.g., Biodiversity Hot Spots (1), Global 200 Ecoregions (2), and others (3) to set priorities and to compete with each other. They often use a corporate "branding" strategy to help raise funds and to define and communicate their niches in a crowded and competitive market. ... Although these brands are derived from conservation science, they are vulnerable to scientific criticism (7).
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By P. A. Payne on September 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is a very level-headed, thoughtful review of the world's top environmental organizations. I found it a quick read even though it is chock full of detailed statistics and tables with hard facts. I enjoyed the author's easy tone, and did not find it angry at all (as one description states), but rather very straight forward and matter of fact. I was also pleased to find that her sources are direct from reports and court records, not merely based on anecdotal information as "from an insider" might imply. "Brown Eyed NJ Girl's" comments give me the impression that she might have her own axe to grind; they do not reflect the book's actual content. I am astonished by the hard facts the author has offered us; at the discrepancies between the public image and the actual operating procedures of these environmental groups. One question really sticks with me: How is it that these environmental groups have grown and strengthened so much over the past 20 years, but that our environmental concerns have worsened? Rather than a scathing indictment I see this as a fairly reasonable question the author has posed. I have often wondered how these huge non-profits operate, and where my donations and good will are really going. Green Inc. gives you the facts and allows you to create your own well informed opinion.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Paula L. Craig on August 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I had heard about some of the controversies surrounding The Nature Conservancy and other big environmental groups, but did not know the details. Christine MacDonald gets down to the brass tacks. I think she is convincing on the need for a review of salaries for top environmentalists. She's also good on reminding environmental groups to be very, very careful when it comes to accepting donations from big polluters. I will definitely be reconsidering some of the groups I donate to.

That said, it seems to me that the real question is whether environmental groups can accomplish more by working with business or not. Is there any point to trying to reform from within? MacDonald apparently thinks that any compromise with polluters is doing a deal with the devil. I'm not so sure. If environmentalists choose not to engage at all with business, will that only marginalize the environmental movement?

On the other hand, MacDonald points out the environmental movement so far has failed, in that deforestation, pollution, climate change, and species extinction have not been halted or reversed. OK, I agree that the environmental movement somehow has to do better. But MacDonald has no suggestions on how to accomplish this, beyond a few vague platitudes.

I do wish the environmental movement would be more honest about what it is going to take to make the economy sustainable. This will not be easy. The fact is that sustainability is going to require an end to most, if not all, mining. Economic growth will be a thing of the past. Ditto globalization. Having more than one child, or a personal automobile, will be the sort of luxury only wealthy people can afford. We're all going to have to learn to do more with less.
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