Why I No Longer Support The Sierra Club.

May 7, 2008

I used to be a big supporter of The Sierra Club – we gave them money every year, we received their magazines, we signed their petitions. But that all stopped not too long ago when I heard that they were endorsing Clorox’s new line of “non-toxic” cleaners…supposedly in exchange for an undisclosed amount of money. Clorox has a long history of making incredibly toxic chemicals, damaging the environment, and continuing to test their products on animals while the rest of the world moves away from the practice. This is what The Sierra Club has come to stand for and endorse? Seems I am not the only one fed up with this blatant hypocrisy by a supposedly “green” organization. From PR Watch:

In an unprecedented move by one of the Big Green environmental groups, the “Sierra Club’s national board voted March 25 to remove the leaders of the Club’s 35,000-member Florida chapter, and to suspend the Chapter for four years.” What did the chapter do? According to Peter Montague, it was “highly critical of the national board’s decision in mid-December 2007 to allow The Clorox Company to use the Sierra’s Club’s name and logo to market a new line of non-chlorinated cleaning products called ‘Green Works.’ In return, Clorox Company will pay Sierra Club an undisclosed fee, based partly on product sales.” When grass-roots members pointed out that Clorox was fined $95,000 for violating U.S. pesticide laws just as the deal with the Club was being brokered, staffer Johanna O’Kelley dismissed Clorox’s culpability, saying their violation was “a technicality.”

There are plenty of real natural cleaners made by independent, smaller companies that A. actually care about the environment and B. do not test on animals. How about Seventh Generation, Method, Ecover, Ed Begley, etc? Oh how nice it would have been if they could have endorsed one of these companies…but that probably wouldn’t have gotten them such a big influx of cash for their coffers.

This is from a blog post I came across that I found very telling – “What we are watching is perhaps the final chapter of the conversion of the Sierra Club ”‘ on a national level ”‘ from an activists driven organization to a corporate driven organization where the interest of the Sierra Club as a corporation invariably trumps the interest of the Sierra Club as an activists’ organization.

The Sierra Club obviously no longer cares about the environment – it’s all about greenwashing the consumer in exchange for corporate money, so I can no longer support any of their efforts. I know one person doesn’t make that big a difference to their bottom line, but I would love to somehow find out how many people stopped being members once this news came out. I stopped using Burt’s Bees products when Clorox bought them, so it is only right I stop supporting The Sierra Club now. How can anyone trust anything they endorse from here on out?

John Muir is rolling in his grave as I write this.

Filed in: Green • Tags: ,

About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
Like this post? If so, please consider subscribing to my full feed RSS. Or, if you would prefer, you can subscribe by Email:

Enter your email address in the box below. Address will only be used to deliver a daily email and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Comments (21)

  1. Ayala says:

    I just found your blog and am looking forward to exploring and reading more. I have been struggling with my membership in the Sierra Club ever since this announcement was made. You describe my conflict exactly… This was a real dissapointment to me…

  2. Steven H. says:

    I totally agree, we stopped supporting them too. There are lots of other orgs to support that don’t do that kind of crap. Thanks for the post.

  3. Ashley Sue says:

    Oh my gosh, you are the first I hear saying what I feel! THANK YOU! I agree, Sierra sold their souls, and it bites.

  4. heather in PDX says:

    another “me too” — My membership lapsed in 2007, and I had postponed renewing for financial reasons. It’s no longer on my list to re-up when the finances settle.

    fyi, I’ve been happy with Dr. Bronner/ Sun Dog lip balm since I had to say good bye to Burt. http://www.drbronnersundog.com

  5. david says:

    Glad to hear I am not alone!

  6. Tim Hurst says:

    I am fascinated by all your remarks about losing interest in Sierra Club – you all are not alone!

    The Sierra Club has basically become the case study of how NOT to do it. How not to run an advocacy campaign; how not to communicate with membership; how not to organize and mobilize effectively, etc. The organization has become too top-heavy and hierarchical in structure. And they have become increasingly out of touch with their “members” – who don’t really feel much like members any more except for the mug, tote-bag, and 37-page glossy mags you end up with now and again.

    It is sad really, but hopefully it is something other orgs. will learn from.

  7. david says:

    That is what I am hoping Tim!

  8. Frank says:

    I never had any interest in them after they sent me a packet chock-full of un-asked-for “Goodies”, (window clings, keyboard stickers, magnets, keychain, postcards, etc… OK Maybe not ALL that, but still, a lot of stuff) and then a few weeks later, sent me ANOTHER!

    Probably half a pound of paper, in all, in a request to SAVE A FOREST! I just shook my head and wondered how much unsolicited paper they sent to people all over the country, in their attempt to save trees!

    I know fundraising is important, but a minimal, postcard-sized mailer could have gotten out the same message. Environmentalists, for the most part, are sensitive about this kind of thing.

  9. david says:

    That too Frank – how can you be an environmental organization and send me magazines, bags, newsletters, stickers, etc? Its nuts!

  10. Allie says:

    Wow. That’s really disappointing.

  11. CindyW says:

    Wow. Thanks for the post. I have not kept up with the whole Sierra Club endorsement thing. We have been supporters of the organization and read their opinion when it comes to voting matters too.

    I’d like to read more about their corporation “sponsorship”/connection. This is quite disappointing.

  12. Jesse says:

    While I agree the waste is absurd, let’s remember that the Sierra Club has probably done the most in pushing green legislation in the last few years the any other organization. Something to remember before you pick them apart. Look at the big picture and net effect.

    Thanks.

  13. David says:

    Did you check out the other post I linked to about them supporting Clorox in exchange for money?

    There are plenty of orgs that deserve my money, and unfortunately Sierra Club is not one of them anymore.

  14. dee says:

    While agreeing that promotion of the smaller brands’ green products would be a v good move, to play devil’s advocate for a minute – encouraging major corps to distribute green products is also useful. If 20M people buy a green Clorox product because of name recognition and ‘ok, all things being equal why not pick up the green option’, this is not bad for the environment. If Clorox makes more bucks from its green product it will produce it and promote it more. (This is leaving aside all questions of what’s really in the product, etc.) Mother Theresa used to be criticized for taking money from known criminals and she said “I’ll take money from anybody and use it to do God’s work.” There’s some irony in taking a major corp’s bucks and using them for good. So I wouldn’t necessarily fault Sierra for taking the money. I would fault them if they lent their name to a specious product.

    • david says:

      But why can’t they support companies that do the right thing, instead of companies just trying to cash in? There are plenty of products that are 100% natural, and Clorox products are not. It’s a shame they took money from a company making toxic products and not having an issue with it.

  15. Brenna says:

    The Sierra Club has long been moving away from its grassroots activism and toward a mainstream organization with strong corporate ties. I am all for raising awareness through raising large amounts of money, even through mainstream corporations. But, when principles are compromised for money? That is not acceptable and begs the question, what next?

    John Muir, Ansel Adams, and David Brower are all rolling in their graves over this…

    • david says:

      As I am sure most readers know, I have a huge problem with trading principles for money. Having written about Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, and Sustainable Brands all selling out for cash, it’s getting harder to find TRUE organizations that don’t trade their ideals in for the big bucks.

  16. snowisfun says:

    While Sierra Club has done things to benefit the ecology, they’re wrong on some topics. Sierra Club is wrong on nuclear power. This poster is an environmentalist who supports nuclear power. Sierra Club talks rubbish in their opposition to nuclear power.

    Given that Sierra Club has become about profits whether it’s Clorox & it’s sponsorship by B.P. the organization has become about getting rich & this isn’t what a non-profit organization should be about.

  17. snowisfun says:

    Adding to what was written by me. This poster is a member of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy. Sierra Club has done things which benefit endangered species, as have the Audubdon Society (this poster was a former member of the Natl. Audubon Society) among others.

    But on nuclear energy, Sierra Club is wrong. It must be said that other environmental groups previously hostile to nuclear power now support it such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) & some have become neutral to it. Stephen Tindale, former executive Director of Greenpeace U.K. was hostile to nuclear power & spoke against it for years but in 2009, he changed his view & now supports nuclear power, forming the group Climate Answers.

    The Sierra Club could @least be neutral on nuclear powerplants. The science on nuclear power is always advancing & @ the very least, neutrally look @ advances in nuclear energy. Newer nuclear powerplants use less Uranium & the Uranium lasts longer with less waste. They already have the knowledge as France does to reprocess the spent fuel rods thus reducing nuclear waste. Yes, we must be humble about nuclear energy, but nuclear power & environmentalism can be consistent.

    Getting back to Sierra Club, Sierra Club has given too much credit to renewable energy, esp. windmills. Now I support renewables be it geothermal, hydro, solar & windmill but renewable energies require more land & generate less energy. With windmills, they’ve been overhyped by the Sierra Club, with minor discussions of the land needed for windmills, the less energy generated by them & the birds & bats incl. endangered birds who have been killed by windmills. Solar panels are intermittent & solar panels also have hazardous wastes.

    Sierra Club has also gotten involved in topics which is debatable as it relates to environmentalism. Sierra Club is officially pro-choice on abortion, when they should be neutral. I’m pro-choice on abortion, but it’s my view that environmental groups must have neutrality when it comes to topics such as abortion & Sierra Club has gotten involved with the immigration issue. Why can’t the Sierra Club be neutral on these topics?

    Even the global warming debate has been discussed way too much-there isn’t a consensus by climatologists on whether it’s man made or a natural event. But why can’t Sierra Club & other environmental groups keep it simple & just say that cleaning pollution & having better air & water are good things regardless of whether or not man made global warming is happening ? Anyhow those are my thoughts & again, it’s consistent to be a supporter of nuclear power & an environmentalist.

  18. Richard says:

    Damn I just bought a bottle of green works because I thought it was good for the environment. Clorox stoops to deceiving people who buy based on their conscience. Real nice.

  19. Grilly says:

    I know this post was written several years ago but I think this article is very telling.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/science/earth/after-disclosure-of-sierra-clubs-gifts-from-gas-driller-a-roiling-debate.html?_r=0

    As I understand the current situation: the Sierra Club, starting a few years ago when Mike Brune became the new exec director, has dropped several partnerships with environment-harming companies like Clorox. This has, in turn, lost the organization a lot of money. Hard to support saving wildlife without money–many nonprofits are facing similar conundrums, I believe, as stated in the article. It’s particularly interesting that someone like Audubon used “dirty” money to save shorelines and sea birds–sounds like funding can be complicated!