representative global entity but could eventually move it in unintended directions.29
tion of corporate positioning on issues of environment and development’. His book The Corporate Planet elaborates:
. . . or Greenwash?
For all its success, and partly because of it, WBCSD has also been the target of some scathing criticism, most nota- bly from two NGOs, Greenpeace and Corporate Watch.
Through its various publications and campaigns, Greenpeace has popularized the term ‘greenwash’, which it defines as ‘cynical, superficial, public relations market- ing’ aimed at projecting a falsely benign environmental corporate image. In fact, it coined the term to describe and expose one of WBCSD’s parents, BCSD, and its corporate members. According to Green or Greenwash? A Greenpeace Detection Kit, a corporation that fails on any of the CARE criteria—core business, advertising record, research and development funding, and environmental lobbying—is ‘probably in the greenwash business’.30 Like Greenpeace, Corporate Watch, which defines ‘greenwashing’ as ‘the phenomenon of socially and environmentally destructive corporations attempting to preserve and expand their markets by posing as friends of the environment’, consid- ers WBCSD to be a ‘front’ group whose purpose is to greenwash the image of its ‘dirty’ members.31 In marking the fifth anniversary of UNCED in 1997, it focused un- wanted attention on WBCSD by giving it the so-called Greenwash Award ‘for its continuing . . . efforts to por- tray itself as the savior of the world’s environment and the force that will eliminate poverty’.32
Environmental fury directed at large corporations is not a particularly new or novel phenomenon. However, the greenwashing charge now being levelled against WBCSD and its cohorts is not just directed at the environmental harm being caused by certain businesses but suggests a conscious cover-up conspiracy to distract public attention and subvert the environmental agenda. To those who have long considered corporate greed as a leading cause of the environmental problematique, the ultimate insult is that big business is now being allowed to ‘co-opt’ and even ‘de- fine’ the meaning of sustainable development.33 What Maria Elena Hurtado of Consumer International describes as ‘a new policy by corporations to engage potential crit- ics’34 is greeted with grave concern by activists. In noting that ‘the WBCSD has been tremendously successful in promoting global market liberalization and self-regulation by business instead of government intervention as the recipe forsustainabledevelopment’,35 they are outraged that ‘the world’s governments have allowed corporate greenwash to thwart progress in environmental protection.’36 Behind what he calls a ‘masterful co-optation of ecology’, the au- thor Joshua Karliner (1997) sees a ‘highly evolved rendi-
The Earth Summit marked the coming of age of corporate environ- mentalism—the melding of ecological and economic globalization into a coherent ideology that has paved the way for the transnationals to reconcile, in theory and rhetoric, their ubiquitous hunger for profits and growth with the stark realities of poverty and environmental destruction. In the aftermath of Rio, global corporate environmental- ism has helped institutionalize ecological concerns as agenda items in the executive suites and boardrooms of some of the world’s largest businesses. It has helped build a public image of transnational corporations as the world’s responsible global ‘citizens’. It has also, to a certain degree, begun to set the terms of the debate along lines favorable to the transnationals . . . Indeed, by focusing a relatively small portion of their vast resources on environmental issues, the global corporations have, in many respects, reframed much of the environmental discussion. 37
To its critics, WBCSD is guilty of wilful duplicity. Accord- ing to Greenpeace:
The public message of WBCSD and other groups has been that business now understands and supports the goals of sustainable development and environmental protection, and business will be the leaders achieving both. At the same time, they have been working to avoid regulations of their activities, and working against agreements in the very regimes that UNCED spawned, such as the Climate Convention. 38
Corporate Watch chimes in with a similar verdict:
The overall tone of recent WBCSD pronouncements is one of reassurance; to governments and NGOs, reassurance that business understands and is voluntarily taking action; and to their members, reassurance that things are changing but not too fast; that some action is needed but not too much. This carefully crafted tone of heartening ambiguity masks the reality that WBCSD members, along with many other large corporations, have pushed hard over the last five years for increased corporate power on the global stage . . . There is simply no evidence that increased corporate rights has led or will lead toward sustainable development or environmental protection, yet this assumption underlies the WBCSD philosophy. 39
To its credit, the WBCSD has engaged its critics in a dia- logue, albeit at a limited level. It has essentially argued that the case laid out by its detractors is oversimplistic, conspira- torial, exaggerated, and based on an unrealistic understand- ing of how business works.40 In addressing the critics, the WBCSD Director for External Co-operation, Ted Button, makes the following arguments:
It is inevitable that our proposals on sustainable development will irritate and sometimes annoy pressure groups. Maybe business is not going far enough and fast enough for some participants in the debate, but the Council is genuinely dedicated to making a difference. Also, on some issues we are taking the lead in finding solutions to the sustainable development challenges . . . This is rather more difficult than our detractors believe, not least because the international business community is as varied in its make-up, ideals, approaches and needs as the various environmental and social groups who urge us to move further and faster. 41
YEARBOOK OF INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT 1999/2000