27 February 2009


Often in this job I find myself doing inconsistent things. It worries me, sometimes, that I’m not really sticking to my principles, that we are somehow compromising ourselves by attempting to work with companies or organizations I don’t hold with. For example, Coke. The Coca Cola company gives out a rather wide variety of grant funding to various institutions, and we have been known to apply for them. But- it’s Coca Cola. Coke is not an environmentally friendly product, let me tell you. Start with the fact that the main ingredients in Coke are derived from corn. Not to mention the number of questionable labor practices of the companies foreign arms…

But that you can research yourself. The point, really, is that very often we are susceptible to making major compromises to reach our ends- but is this the right way to go about it? Just because someone is offering grant funding, does that absolve the fact that they are otherwise one of the major polluters to the environment? A lot of major corporations, particularly the oil companies, try and improve their image by providing funding to alternative energy projects, planting trees, and all the rest of the highly marketable band-aid actions. And in the meantime, they march onward without changing their practices in the slightest.

This is another one of those what-do-you-really-value questions. Yes, tree plantings are generally a good idea, and they look especially good in a press release. But what’s planting twenty or so trees when the company that paid for them may be cutting down thousands more? We in the environmental advocacy business tend to get so caught up on funding that we fail to question where we get it from. Real community action, I suspect, is the kind that doesn’t require any money at all, except maybe to support the people doing it so they don’t have to work three other jobs in addition to community advocacy. No, funding, in the large part, honestly goes toward making things look good. Adverts, board dinners, and endless presentations and powerpoints and pages of plans. It’s the difference between doing a demonstration artificial wetland in a fancy wooden barrel as opposed to just using a bathtub- or whatever else may have been lying around.

I haven’t been convinced this is entirely necessary. And maybe this is why we overlook the failings of some of the funders we regularly beseech for more money: we know that we ourselves are failing to uphold the tenants at the heart of sustainability. What compromises are we really willing to make when it comes to the future of the world as we know it?


click clack gorilla said...

"highly marketable band-aid actions"
yet another well stated summary of our conundrum. i vote for bathtubs. here here.

Cat said...

I love all the George Goes Green blog posts I've read so far--you do a great job making your posts interesting to students from other schools (I'm not a Washington College student). You mentioned you've applied for Coca Cola funding, but that the company and "green" initiatives just don't really fit (I agree)...have you checked out The Jenzabar Foundation? If you're looking for funding, they have a student leadership award that gives financial support to campus groups. http://www.jenzabar.net/about_jbar/Foundation.html