Now that the perverse coupling of the Scotts Company and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is public knowledge, the NWF has branded itself as the cheap hooker of American environmental organizations.
The Scotts Company, the world’s largest marketer of consumer lawn and garden products and owner of the Miracle-Gro, Osmocote, Ortho and Songbird bird seed brands, announced the tryst in a press release last week:
“As the national presenting sponsor, Scott’s Miracle-Gro will enhance the National Wildlife Federation’s programs to create green spaces and attract wildlife to backyards and communities across the country.”
Two of the three key words in that excerpt are “green spaces.” In Scotts-speak, that means lawns. The Scotts Company – whose slogan is: “Dedicated to a beautiful world” – spends millions in advertising each year to exalt the Inevitable and Almighty Lawn.
A lawn is a manufactured bio-system, a nearly sterile monoculture that supports very few organisms. Turfgrass cultivation demands fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and gasoline-powered machines–all of which Scotts sells, to the tune of over $3 billion per year (their numbers). Most of Scotts’ Ortho brand of insecticides contain bifenthrin, a class C carcinogen now banned in the European Union due to extreme toxicity to fish. Other Ortho products are highly hazardous to birds, bees and pets, and runoff from those chemicals contributes to harmful algal blooms and increasingly threatens life in the world’s waterways and oceans. And it gets worse.
Monsanto, who to the environmental movement is like Voldemort to Hogwarts, collaborated with Dow Chemical to produce Agent Orange, one of the greater horrors of the Vietnam war, and is responsible to date for over 50 EPA Superfund sites in the United States. In 2010, Monsanto produced over 90 percent of the world’s genetically modified seeds (GMOs), and sued over 100 hapless farmers whose fields had been contaminated with Monsanto’s GMO crops–for (and this is astounding), seed patent infringement. Rather than face financial ruin in protracted legal battles, dozens of farmers opted to be crippled with exorbitant settlements.
Why on Earth would the National Wildlife Federation want to cozy up to all of that?
Well, there’s that third key word in the Scotts’ press release: “enhance.” In this case, enhance means “buy.” Scotts must be swinging a mighty big enhancement to entice one of the country’s premier environmental groups to have intercourse with a company whose products are about as environmentally friendly as BP oil wells.
The actual size of Scotts’ enhancement is still undisclosed but the money shot was apparently enough to overwhelm ethics and reason–that, or NWF president and CEO Larry Schweiger is a fool. Surely someone at the NWF knew this dangerous liasion would cause an uproar. And if they didn’t have that foresight, are theirs the right minds to run such an important national organization? The NWF took in over $95 million in 2010–that’s a lot of public faith.
The NWF’s strange bedfellow has a lot of people hastening to renounce that faith, by the look of their Facebook page.
In an online chat held today at NWF offices, Schweiger–a self-described, lifelong environmental activist–declared: “I will not apologize for working with Scotts. …They want to change. They want to be a better company,” Is Schweiger a hooker with a heart of gold? Doubtful. His obfuscations when questioned about the Scotts Company’s ethics and products sound more like Heidi Fleiss than Holly Goligthly.
Read Schweiger’s open letter about the partnership here.
Despite Schweiger’s assurances that he is a missionary of redemption working to change the Scotts Company from the inside, its far more likely he was seduced by the Scotts Company’s prodigious endowment. That may not be illegal yet but it sure is dirty.
The National Gardening Association estimates global sales of lawn and garden products for 2010 were close to $37 billion. Add another $35 billion for the floriculture industry. That’s an awful lot of chemicals, an awful damage to our environment. And because of Larry Schweiger, more than a few of those misguided gardeners who were finally beginning to question their use of toxic products will be reassured by the NWF logo on their bottle of poison and slide right back into mindless and destructive habits. Which is, of course, how Scotts, and now the National Wildlife Federation, make an obscene pile of money.
– UPDATE, 1/27/12: The Scotts Company pleaded guilty today to selling tainted bird seed and falsifying EPA records, before a U.S. District Court in Ohio. Damages are set at $4.5 million. Story at The Columbus Dispatch.
Learn about Scotts’ Save the Songbirds program.
Which bird seeds are best? Read the National Wildlife Federation’s recommendations.
– UPDATE 2, 1/29/12: “Succumbing to a barrage of criticism from the environmental community, the National Wildlife Federation announced to members this afternoon that is would end its sponsorship deal with the world’s largest purveyor of toxic lawn and garden products.” Paul Tukey at SafeLawns has done a great job of covering the Scotts/NWF fiasco.