Environmentalism's former 'wunderkind' has gone to work with WalMart, and wot are we to make of this?
To be fair, Werbach has provided clear signals of his shift in thinking ever since he rocked the green world with his provocative speech three years ago, which asked the question "Is environmentalism dead?"
In that seminal speech, Werbach (who then headed the Sierra Club) asked a number of searing questions:
- Has environmentalism forgotten human beings?
- Does this supposedly progressive movement know how to be progressive with its own ideas?
- Do environmental groups have a plan to activate the values shared with the majority of Americans?
- Is the ability to talk about what went wrong what's missing from the environmental establishment?
- Is there a new way of connecting sustainability to the aspirations of everyday people?
Still, the most provocative thing about that speech was Werbach's flat-out declaration that “I am done calling myself an environmentalist.”
Now, it seems even his successor has been listening and learning.
Says the Sierra Club's current executive director, Carl Pope, "we do not find lecturing people about personal consumption choices to be effective.”
In today's NY Times, Pope says “we try to be strategic about doing the things where each unit of effort has the most impact.”
Pope notes that his group has "stopped short of castigating people for driving S.U.V.’s or building overly large homes. We’ll encourage companies to make more efficient S.U.V.’s, and we’ll encourage consumers to buy them”.
Pope isn't the only green leader coming around to Werbach's confounding convictions.
Says Hunter Lovins, cofounder of the Rocky Mountain Institute and coauthor of the pioneering book Natural Capitalism:
"Werbach’s Wal-Mart strategy is absolutely world-changing brilliant. By the time he’s done, he’ll have spoken to 1% of the U.S. workforce.”
Says Werbach, "if executive directors of environmental groups can't go to a red state and explain environmentalism to the average American...then they need to move on.”
All of which is worth considering in the weeks ahead as Hawaii reaches for a unifying vision of sustainability for these islands.