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With the real Millennial Earth Day nearing, corporate "green washing" and control of one of the environmental community's most important symbols again casts its shadow on the Earthday 2001 celebration in Chicago. [to appear in the Feb '01 Heartland Journal--permission to copy with credit given by HJ and Dave Kraft of NEIS]
With the real Millennial Earth Day on the horizon, the issue of corporate "green washing" and assimilation of one of the environmental community's most important symbols has taken on great significance once again for Chicago's proposed event.

In a dispute over the extent of corporate control over Chicago's main Earth Day event, one of the event's lead environmental organizers has resigned from this year's planning committee.

Dave Kraft, director of Evanston's Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) announced resignation as a Board member, and withdrawal of NEIS from the Organizing Steward committee at the recent Chicago Earth Month (CEM) coalition meeting.

At the core of the dispute was a decision to invite ComEd -- Illinois largest electric utility, and formerly the nation's largest nuclear utility -- to be a member of the Organizing Steward committee, the only private corporation to be so included. ComEd reportedly has offered Chicago Earth Month a contribution of $20,000 to support the event, an offer still being negotiated. Further, the CEM Project Director invited ComEd to handle all the public relations for the event, without consulting the full committee for input or approval, or seeking alternatives.

"After many hours of lengthy debate on this topic in 2000, it should have been abundantly clear to both the Chicago Academy of Sciences (CEM's fiscal agent) and the Project Director that the Chicago environmental community does not feel ComEd has yet demonstrated a long-term commitment to the principles of Earth Day -- particularly to those of this year's Clean Energy NOW! theme -- to warrant such special treatment and privilege," Kraft maintains.

"To invite ComEd in as an organizing planner, and then also give them control of handling the PR is an insult to the environmental community," Kraft said. "I cannot condone this usurpation of roles, and will not accept this corruption of purpose and capitulation to unworthy corporate interests that this action represents," Kraft wrote in his resignation letter.

Kraft maintains that as long as the primary focus remains on "an event" -- which costs upwards of $200,000, money that the Illinois environmental community traditionally does not have -- Earth Day will continue to be for sale to the highest bidders.

"NEIS did not organize and work on Earth Day the past two years simply to conduct an "event," but to build an effective environmental coalition based on traditional Earth Day goals and purpose," Kraft wrote in his resignation. "We do not see that this is possible under the currently existing circumstances. An event will occur; an environmental coalition is not possible."

While CEM permits no formal corporate "sponsorship" of the event (it won't have a "Budweiser Earth Day" ever), a special category of large donors called "corporate stewards" has been created. Some proposed benefits for this group include prominent display of corporate logos on all CEM advertisements, publications and website; inclusion of top management as speakers or participants in the proposed panels on environmental topics; weblinks; and mention in radio PSAs for the event. In some respects it's a difference without a distinction. And because it was recognized and agreed that this is a necessary evil required for conducting so large an event, WHO receives such status becomes all the more important to environmental groups.

This disruption comes at an unfortunate juncture for the project. The City of Chicago and its various departments have become avid supporters of the event and its philosophical approaches to environmental issues and themes, an evolution that goes all the way back to Earth Day 1990 -- which drew over 100,000 people to Lincoln Park, Chicago, and marked the first and best of the large Chicago Earth Day celebration events.

"To abandon this new-found cooperation between the environmental community and the City of Chicago is truly unfortunate," Kraft says. "For 11 years enviros worked hard to build positive bridges with the City; and this rapport has finally been achieved. It's painful to leave that."

"But as I said in my resignation letter, NEIS believes that ComEd is a participant whose historic environmental record has previously been viewed as unacceptable by Coalition members.

It is reported that the Chicago Greens are considering an alternative "People's Earth Day," which will not have a corporate emphasis.

In all likelihood, Chicago Earth Month will have its event on April 21st.. But the real purpose behind the Coalition -- to build an effective environmental coalition united in action around Earth Day -- may have to await another day.

In the meantime, any "green hats" with an extra $200,000 should contact NEIS quickly.



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