WWF/Lafarge Conservation Partnership by Alexander Chatterjee

Flirting with the Enemy: The WWF/LA FARGE Conservation Partnership


In our culture, when we hear about environmental NGO, we still picture their members sporting long hair and dressed in hippie style attire.

Multinational Corporation (MNC) are always pictures as sharp dressed people, their personal moto being "Work hard, party harder" and going for the profit, whatever the circumstances.

Those stereotypes are, nowadays, far from reality; as seen in the case, WWF is considered as highly professional and well organised by Lafarge, who historically is known as once of the French pioneer of Corporate sustainability: there is more than meet the eye in this case.

Since the early 60s, the purpose of WWF is to protect the future of nature on a worldwide scope, trying to fund eco-sustanaible projects and alert the general public about ecological problem (i.e.: The greenhouse effect, species that are nearly instinct).
It is an organisation that really mostly on sponsorship, trying to be neutral whatever the funds are coming from (as we can see in Lafarge's case, they still openly criticise the company even if they get €1.1M / year from them).

After gathering some information, Lafarge as well can not be pictured as only a "profit hungry" company.
Created in 1833, despite being part of a "brown" industry, Lafarge has been investing in their own staff, creating avant-garde social policies as early as 1889, rehabilitating quarries since 1930 and collaborating with the french environmental ministry since 1971(see: http://www.lafarge.com/frise/03272013-group-lafarge_timeline-uk.html).

What range of options do environmental organisations have for getting companies like Lafarge to improve their environmental policies and practices? Which of these fit with WWF's culture?

So let's see what "tools" could a environmental organisation use in order to influence a corporation to improve their policies and practices.
I have isolated 3 main ways of doing so:
  • Passive peaceful demonstration and communication
  • Here the image of people walking down the streets of a town, brandishing protest signs come to mind. It is indeed a good way of showing that a part of the population disagree with what is being done by a corporation or a government policy.We forget that paper and online communication (web and social media) are also very important; showing the actual results of some corporate policies or some companies industrial errors that become a PR disaster; in some cases, the company will lose current clients as well as future clients, having a negative impact on their Financial statement.
    This was the case for the French fuel company TOTAL, responsible for oil spilling in the early 2000s as well as BP in the early 2010s. Both companies had to publicly excuse themselves and allocate funds in order to "try to save" as much wildlife as well as the ecosystem that has been damaged by those spills.

  • Active protests and actions
  • When communication as well as passive peaceful protest doesn't help in order to change a corporations environmental stand point, what is there left to do ? Some environmental NGO consider that nature is not the possession of anyone and polluting or destroying it can be considered as an illegal act from the corporate world.
    Here two choices are possible:
  • still be peaceful and block production or logistic sites (i.e.: tree sits, when you people are "camping" on top of trees, not letting it being cut down); it is against the law, but can draw even more attention and bad press toward a company, which most corporation do not want.

  • actively incapacitate production facilities: even if it constitutes a criminal act, decimating species can be also be considered as so. Sea Shepherd, created in the early 80s, are well known to ram their ship into non stainable or "scientific"-killing vessels.
  • Such actions, amid controversial, do not provoke negative publicity toward the environmental agency

  • Eco terrorism
  • When everything else fails, some groups (as the Earth Liberation Front or even some branches of PETA) go beyond the penal law and place themselves in the a terrorist territory.
    This step is so controversial that usually those groups have really bad press and it doesn't help to show the biggest, sustainable problem

    WWF is following the first path: communicating and acting as an advisor in a peaceful and diplomatic way; their aim is not to shut down corporations, they want to change them so they are profitable and "greener" on the long term. Once again, this organisation is looking for a sustainable way of using our earth's resource.

    With regard to the co-operation agreement between WWF and Lafarge, what are the benefits and risks for each party ?

    This co-operation could bring a lot of goods to both parties but also bring some extra risks.
    On the positive side:
    It can bring a first hand experience to WWF trough it's Business & Industry Unit. If they are able successfully change and optimise way Lafarge procedures through WWF environmental targets, other companies would be interested to come forward to see WWF and start a sustainable transformation.
    At the same time, it places WWF in a tricky situation: how much can they criticise openly a partner ? at what frequency (in the case, it seems that things are quite fast) ?
    In large MNC, it is hard to adapt a decision or a process in a matter of weeks; some decisions takes years to be applied on a overall company. So even if Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud can understand that, they have their own reputation at stake not to be too lenient with Lafarge policies.

    On Lafarge side, I have feeling that what started as a Greenwashing campaign (planting one tree per employee) made them embark on a journey with a very professional wildlife NGO. The best possible outcome would be that Lafarge is truly a green company, trying to set an example for the rest of it's industry by showing that you can be profitable and green in the current "brown" industry.
    At worse, they would also lose in reputation if they are not able to keep the roadmap that was edited by WWF.

    Both parties have their reputation at stake that their current co-operation work for a better Financial and moral future stake.

    Some questions

    Even if Lafarge is going to be able to consume less CO2 and change some of their environmental policy, it is interesting to point that WWF is not placing water pollution as a one of it's higher targets.
    Unfortunately, due to some "technical" incident, Lafarge has contaminated several times and around the world, some ecosystems, killing water species and not really helping out afterwards (see https://www.aggregateresearch.com/news/criminal-investigation-into-lafarge-duwamish-river-pollution-ends-with-fine/ and https://ejatlas.org/conflict/lafarge-cement-trbovlje-slovenia).
    So despite all the communication and efforts, corporation are still able to do bad at the end ? Even when they are "helped" with a renown NGO ?