The Greenpeace Movement


This organization, Greenpeace Foundation, is the oldest existing “greenpeace” organization in the USA. It is the sole remaining organization of the 1970’s-era U.S. Greenpeace organizations, and does its best to follow the original guiding philosophies of the Greenpeace movement borne in Vancouver. It has created many of the most-famous international “greenpeace” campaigns, and has worked vigorously for nearly four decades in its continuing fight for whales, dolphins, and ocean wildlife.

Greenpeace Foundation is not the only “greenpeace” organization in the USA; there is another organization – Greenpeace USA – which we co-founded in 1979 but with which we are not now affiliated. How this came to be, and what it might mean to you, is discussed below.

In this section, we’ll try to clarify what we see as differences between the “Greenpeace Movement” and the various Greenpeace corporations. They are not necessarily the same things, and understanding the history of the movement will help make clear the disposition of the surviving organizations today.

Bear in mind while reading this that most of the people involved have been well-motivated and with good ideals, even those we have disagreed with.




The greenpeace movement grew out of the “peace” and “environmental” movements in the early ’70’s. Back then, it looked quite likely that the planet was going to be subjected to a nuclear war, and the Canadian “Don’t Make a Wave” committee formed to protest US atmospheric nuclear testing at Amchitka in the Aleutian Islands, and later the French atmospheric testing at Mururoa in French Polynesia. (as you read this, there are innumerable radioisotopes in your own body from those very tests, so it’s just as well mankind has stopped blowing up islands for now). The phrase “green peace” was used as a slogan to describe the ideals of those activists, who envisioned a healthy (green) and peaceful (peace) planet as a Good Thing. By about 1973, the phrase had been shortened to a word, Greenpeace, and an organization called “Greenpeace Foundation” was established in Vancouver, Canada. It was this ragtag group of idealists and visionaries who first did an at-sea protest of whaling in 1975, and conducted the high-profile campaign against the clubbing of baby harp seals off Newfoundland beginning in 1976.

The central philosophy of that original “Greenpeace” organization was nonviolent direct action on behalf of planet earth. It borrowed from the Quaker philosophy of “bearing witness” to wrongdoing; and made the world a witness to the issues it highlighted through action. It was an inspiring concept, and it created a movement.

To some, the movement recalled a native American Cree legend about the “warriors of the rainbow” who would appear to save the earth when it was in danger of being destroyed.

The images of individuals placing themselves in harm’s way for other species and for the environment were very motivating. So much so, that groups spontaneously began forming around the world to rally to the “greenpeace” ideals. All of them, of course, called themselves Greenpeace. This began in the USA with the forming of several organizations (including this one), followed by more each year. These groups tended to take on national and international projects, to have a regional flavor, to be poorly funded, and to be grassroots oriented. They focused on different issues with no overall coordination, but did a lot of good work; indeed, a lot of the movement’s all-time best work, against enormous odds.

This was the initial spread of the Greenpeace movement, which was a set of ideals and methods adopted by many good people. These early “greenpeacers” did their best to try to be these “Warriors of the Rainbow”. (A book by this name, penned by early GP luminary Bob Hunter, chronicles this early phase and is highly recommended reading.)

However, the business world isn’t really set up for movements. It’s set up for corporations and organizations, and governed by state and national laws. Beginning in ’78 or so, this became apparent as a potential problem, for what worked well in a movement was difficult to capture in corporations; and to the extent it WAS captured, the corporations didn’t necessarily agree with one another on the fine points of saving the world, such as what should be saved first, how and by whom.

To prevent unlimited further proliferation of new corporations, the existing USA “Greenpeace” organizations agreed to trademark the name in 1978; this was done in Portland, Oregon. By this time, meetings of the Greenpeace corporations were bringing enthusiasm and diversity to the movement, and these entities increasingly worked in cooperation toward common goals.

However, several crucial events affected the history of the movement at this point. Campaigner Tom Falvey linked up the San Francisco Greenpeace organization with an organization called “Parker/Dodd”, a direct-mail fundraising firm which offered a deal they couldn’t refuse: the firm would front the development of a national direct-mail campaign and deliver them the profits. Soon the San Francisco corporation began raking in millions of dollars as the sole recipient of national fundraising. Much good work was done, but the SF organization acquired an imperial attitude and – via checkbook – established themselves as the “main” Greenpeace corporation in the USA: “Greenpeace America” while the rest of the “Greenpeace” corporations in the world remained relatively unfunded.

This did not sit particularly well with the unfunded organizations – since, after all, their unpaid work was largely what was being featured in the national direct-mail fundraising appeals. And it sat least well with Greenpeace Foundation in Vancouver, which had established the SF organization in the first place and which was carrying campaign debts from its earlier work.

Soon, there was a lawsuit between “Greenpeace Vancouver” and “Greenpeace SF” (this sort of nickname was used for efficiency to refer to corporations headquartered in different cities). Greenpeace Vancouver thought that – as the founding organization – it should lead the movement, and therefore run the development of corporations around the world. They had a good moral and legal argument. Greenpeace SF, on the other hand, had money, and argued that no single entity should run the movement (as SF had, in effect, been trying to do itself).

This was not taking place in a vacuum, and the other Greenpeace entities – which included a European corporation as well as US corporations by this time – tended to agree that the running of the movement should be democratic (that is, not run by Vancouver), and that the SF corporation should not keep all the U.S. national fundraising income.

At a meeting of all then-existing “Greenpeace” entities held in 1979, a set of principles was agreed to, describing a growing, coordinated grassroots movement for the environment. It was proposed that existing US corporations enter the lawsuit as intervenors on behalf of SF, on the condition that it give over the national direct-mail program for shared management. Greenpeace Foundation (this corporation, then called “Greenpeace Foundation – Save the Whales”) was the first to legally pledge its support for this vision. Out of this meeting the lawsuit was resolved, and a new entity was formed to deal with matters like fundraising that had to be centralized for efficiency: Greenpeace USA. The board of this organization would be composed of representatives of the regional grassroots corporations: headquartered in Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Ann Arbor, and Boston.

Only months thereafter, a parallel level of organization occurred internationally to create “Greenpeace Council”; with each nation sporting a Greenpeace organization having one vote on the “council”.

This seemed like a reasonable setup. (What did we know?) And the “Greenpeace” phenomenon caught on like wildfire, capturing imaginations around the world. An enormous number of good people gave their time, and truly heroic work was done.

Again, however, the demands of a movement were not perfectly suited by human institutions and bureaucracies. Increasingly, it became apparent that what was being developed was a “multinational corporation” and not a movement per se.

As “Greenpeace” spread across Europe, one thing became apparent about the “international council” setup: there were lots of little countries in Europe, and only the USA and Canada involved in N. America. Thus, the voting majority (one vote per country) quickly made the uber-Greenpeace a eurocentric organization. This had a number of effects on the development of this large entity. For one thing, the US and Canadian organizations had traditionally focused largely on wildlife conservation, but Europeans had killed off most of their interesting wildlife centuries earlier and were more interested in disarmament. Of course, the North American organizations were actively committed to averting nuclear war as well, but there was a difference. The prevailing European disarmament activism of the time was anti-USA. The uber-Greenpeace thus became “anti-American” in that sense, and this attitude extended even to cynicism from “Greenpeace Council” about the Greenpeace organizations in the USA. Anti-USA protests soon caused “Greenpeace” to be added to the U.S. Navy’s list of subversive organizations. (As a historical note, this was ironic to us, since this corporation was at the time mostly staffed by Navy wives).

But how to pay for all this protesting and European empire-growing? Throughout the early 80’s, by far the largest source of income for “Greenpeace” on the planet was still the Parker/Dodd direct mailing campaign in the USA, which was churning out huge volumes of “unsolicited” mail to US mailboxes. US citizens were generous, but they mostly wanted to give to wildlife-saving efforts like the whale, seal, and dolphin campaigns.

So the USA direct-mail campaign continued to focus primarily on these wildlife issues, while the money raised from it was increasingly sent offshore to do different things. Initially, the general spirit of camaraderie and shared philosophy made this seem reasonable, but after a few years it became clear that there was a growing disparity between what the money was ostensibly raised for, and how it was being spent. This caused a growing schism among the “Greenpeace” organizations within the USA, and some very frank criticism of the practice from some of these organizations. (This one, as you might expect).

Greenpeace International – the new name for the multinational controlling organization – wanted no interference with its funding practices, and – as noted – was predisposed to be anti-USA in some ways anyhow. It began pushing the concept of shutting down the original USA corporations except for one which would send it money, and this agenda came to dominate the inter-organizational politics.

It should be noted that these European Greenpeacers were for the most part very good people who sincerely wanted to save the world from the USA. They found resonance with people within some USA Greenpeace corporations who felt the same way. Increasingly, the USA organizations were (roughly) polarized into two factions: the “grassroots, wildlife-centric, truth-in-fundraising” groups (Hawaii, Denver, Alaska, and San Francisco) and the “centralist, disarmament” groups (Seattle, Boston, and GPUSA, the Washington-DC based entity which had been created in 1980 to resolve the lawsuit).

The resolution of this schism was affected financially: GPUSA and GPINTL controlled all significant income from the centralized USA fundraising, and doled it out in accordance with their philosophies. Increasingly grants were preferentially made to the disarmament-focused U.S. groups favored by GPINTL while the “wildlife” campaigns – and their supporting corporations – were starved of money. (The U.S. money was still being raised primarily for wildlife issues, it just wasn’t – for the most part – going to the issues it had been raised for).

This was dramatically apparent at Greenpeace Foundation (this corporation) which had been named as the international headquarters of the “Dolphin” campaign for the movement. While national (and international) income for “saving dolphins” went up dramatically, little made its way to the programs. Increasingly, this corporation funded the international dolphin campaign, driftnet campaign, and other such campaigns – almost completely on its own, of necessity. Gallingly, the financial statements of GPUSA showed huge amounts being spent for dolphins and other wildlife. This was primarily accomplished by classifying the many millions of pieces of fundraising mail as largely “educational”; that is, the fundraising was -by definition – sort of an end in itself. This seemed – to many of the original campaigners – to have become a major theme of the organization, which subsequently opened fundraising offices and developed a national door-to-door “canvas” operation.

In 1984, by vesting the DC office and secretarial workers with “votes”, GPINTL recast the governing board of GPUSA to exclude representation by its founding corporations. GPUSA then embarked upon a campaign, blessed by GPINTL, of shutting down all corporations except itself and its fundraising arms. As there is really no legal way for one corporation to forcibly shut down another, this became a matter of pressure, threat, and calling loans due.

To make a long story shorter, GPUSA succeeded in taking over and/or closing down all the original USA “Greenpeace” corporations except this one. In general, it’s fair to say that GPUSA wishes this corporation didn’t exist. Greenpeace Foundation does exist, though, and its history, principles, ethics, and stands on issues are in many cases different from those of GPUSA/GPINTL.

This is why there are two Greenpeace entities existing in the USA, and why we make a point of recommending that potential supporters of Greenpeace know the facts.

Commentary from President Sue White on how some positions have been in conflict.

Greenpeace Foundation works cooperatively with hundreds of other organizations and groups around the world; and among these has been the group Greenpeace International (GPINTL).

To the extent GPINTL can use its enormous budget and global clout to address issues like deforestation and global warming, we fully support their actions. For instance, its work for whales and sea turtles in Mexico has been very good. Where its usefulness has seemed to break down is in issues which would require it to advocate for US national laws and environmental standards. In a world where U.S. law is often the only real protection for wildlife, this is a big deal. The strength of an organization with offices in 50+ nations is also its weakness: it has a lot of constituents to please, and most of them are in nations with lower product standards than the USA and – frankly – anti-USA bias.

At the point you get an entity which opposes unilateral U.S. environmental-protection laws masquerading as a champion of U.S. law within the U.S, and bashing U.S. law and standards outside of the US, you have a problem…. such as GPUSA/GPINTL’s sellout of the dolphin-safe laws.

Thus, in 1997-98 we saw the unbelievable: GPUSA successfully running interference for the gutting of U.S. dolphin-protection laws by Central American dolphin-killing fisheries, opposing most US conservation organizations, and handing oversight to a toothless international treaty organization (IATTC). While such a position would seem counter-intuitive to those who remember those passionate early Greenpeace wildlife-saving campaigns, it is not at all inconsistent with what GPUSA stood for at that time. For the most part, it didn’t DO those original, inspiring wildlife campaigns; it mostly embraced the photographic images as a fundraising device. In opposing U.S. dolphin-safe standards – which had cut the international dolphin kill enormously – it has simply continued its agenda of marginalizing the USA.

(Note: the position of GPUSA on this issue changed with various executive directions as they have come and gone, probably since they took some heat for it. However, GPINTL continues to actively support the weakening of U.S. dolphin-protection standards with regards to the fraudulent IATTC ‘dolphin safe’ standard. We applaud GPUSA for the extent to which it finally reversed course, but the larger “GP empire” it’s associated with is still – at last check – at odds with the dolphins’ interests.)

When it comes to protecting the environment, this issue raises the whole specter of “globalization”, the world trade organization, and regional trade treaties versus environmental standards. World “free trade” is now being pushed as the only answer for the world economy. This negates, as its first action, all trade barriers such as national environmental concerns. Thus, previously, while you might have wealthy nations buying all sorts of products from around the world and wreaking damage, you also had relatively well-developed regulatory systems within these nations which could be used to address and mitigate this damage once it was pointed out. This supplied the leverage with which MANY environmental goals have been won to date: whaling, driftnets, trade in endangered species, rainforest conservation, etc – name it.

As of 2015, GPINTL is coming out against some free trade agreements, so we’ll stay tuned.

“Free trade” advocates are compromising the very ability to legally bring this sort of leverage to bear, under the guise of “international trade fairness”. Unfortunately, there is no other sort of leverage to replace it.

This sets Greenpeace Foundation at odds with some – not all – policies of GPINTL. The dolphin issue is onefirst case in point, but there seems to be a fundamental difference in approach to such issues.

– S. White

The USA’s oldest and original Greenpeace, proudly unaffiliated with Greenpeace USA