Living for a cause

14 August 2012

This November marks three years since I was appointed Executive Director of Greenpeace International. Coming to Greenpeace represented an opportunity for me to actually be part of an organisation that has taken, and continues to take a leadership role in warning about the dangers of environmental destruction and climate change.

Blogpost by Kumi Naidoo – August 7, 2012

Greenpeace is a movement that has consistently campaigned through non-violent direct actions; and, at a time when civil disobedience appears to be the only way we can actually push our governments, Greenpeace’s way of working offers us the most promise.

We remain an evolving organisation, however, and as I reflect on almost three years in office, I would like to share with you some insights into what I think Greenpeace means today.

I’d like you to consider a different side of Greenpeace – the side that I’ve come to know. To do this, today I’m also launching a series of occasional web videos as part of new series called ‘Living for a Cause.’

In it, I present an ‘insider’ view of Greenpeace, aimed at people who know of us, but perhaps haven’t thought about becoming involved with us. I’m also reaching out to people who may have dismissed us in the past.

I’m inspired daily by the passion and ambition of Greenpeace activists – our most public face – but also by the many ‘behind-the-scenes’ individuals who help make our organisation operate smoothly.

After starting my new role with Greenpeace I was surprised to see that many of my pre-conceptions about this organisation did not hold true – and it’s this surprise that I wanted to share more widely.

Whether it’s the image of the ‘hippy activist’ with a heavy beard, or the ‘left-wing anarchy’ for which we are often typecast, on almost every front my perceptions of Greenpeace have been challenged.

We live in a world today that’s seen first hand the failure of the multilateral process at events like Rio+20, the strengthening grip of corporate interests in the political arena and the shrinking democratic space around civil society movements.

All of which calls for a different kind of activism. As an organic, international organisation, Greenpeace is well-placed to meet those challenges. In fact, in the past three years, we’ve changed much about the way we campaign, and how we organise ourselves.

Shifting resources

One of the most significant shifts is on a policy level, where we acknowledge the growing importance of the Global South.

We are increasingly focusing resources on countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the so-called ‘BRICS,’ and in my time these are where some of our most proud campaign highlights have come from.

In China, where it is not easy for an organisation like ours to operate, our global “Detox” campaign has been successful in securing commitments from global corporations including Nike, Adidas and H&M, plus the largest Chinese Sportswear brand Li-Ning.

These international brands are now taking responsibility for their supply chains and working with suppliers to eliminate the use and release of all hazardous chemicals from their production processes and products by 2020.

This will have a profound impact on the rivers, lakes and waterways in large manufacturing countries like China.

Crisis response

In Fukushima last year, we again demonstrated our capacity to respond quickly in a time of crisis.

In the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and resulting nuclear disaster, our nuclear team’s network of trained radiation specialists investigated, documented and exposed the extent of radioactive contamination beyond the so-called exclusion zone.

They provided independent information to a frightened public, forcing the relevant authorities to improve protection measures.

Increasingly, we are also focusing on corporate responsibility and in Indonesia, we have campaigned against multinational companies that have been linked to deforestation.

Thanks to pressure from our supporters, companies such as Nestle and Mattel have changed their sourcing policies to help protect Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands.

Peaceful confrontation

Although we’ve changed in many aspects, Greenpeace is still an organisation that speaks truth to power.

Although we prefer dialogue, we’re not afraid to peacefully confront destructive industries and create urgency for action.

Last year, when I boarded Cairn Energy’s Leiv Eiriksson oil rig off the coast of Greenland – and was later arrested –  I took with me a petition signed by 50,000 supporters from around the world.

By contrast this year, as part of the Save the Arctic campaign, we have collected more than 1 million signatures from people who support our call for a ban on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

This is a clear signal that more and more people are losing faith in their government’s abilities to lead, and why organisations like Greenpeace remain important today.

If you’re not a supporter already, I urge you to reconsider.

Although we appreciate financial support, we also increasingly seek ‘social’ support through the many online campaign activities we run.

Your commitment will ultimately bring rewards and there is nothing more rewarding than a life spent living for a cause.