For many in industry, it might be a stretch to believe that public apathy is behind the downsizing of Greenpeace. The Vinyl Institute, for example, has been particularly busy of late defending against Greenpeace's efforts to ban PVC.
Yet, since the start of this decade, the environmental group's U.S. membership has been in free fall, dropping from 1.2 million to 420,000. Donations to Greenpeace similarly developed legs, slipping from $60 million in 1991 to about $25 million in 1995.
As a result, Greenpeace will close all 10 of its regional offices in the United States, a move that gives the organization's critics one more reason to smile.
While dissent is seldom invited and frequently not welcomed at all, Greenpeace's strategy of ignoring the polite rules of debate when staging protests particularly enrages the targets of its protests. That is one reason why the environmental group has been very effective in calling public attention to issues it wants addressed.
A Greenpeace weakness has been its ever-expanding arena of activities. The group's success helped bring that about, but the cost has been high in terms of the erosion of public interest. Ironically, Greenpeace was forced to adopt more issues as business and governments, in response to the popular sentiment Greenpeace inspired, moved to address more mainstream environmental concerns.
It is a telling measure of Greenpeace's influence and success that today politicians of both major parties in the United States have adopted environmental personas that in 1975 would have caused them to be labeled derisively as ``tree-huggers'' by political opponents.
Despite its retrenchment, Greenpeace is by no means history. The British government recently responded to pressure from the group by deciding not to install a PVC-coated polyester dome at London's Millennium Exhibition. And Canadian authorities were pressured by the organization to release a report that measured high levels of dioxin contamination after a July 9 fire at a plastics recycling facility in Hamilton, Ontario.
By narrowing its focus to a select number of issues, Greenpeace is returning, in business-school jargon, to its ``core competency.'' For the plastics industry — and its PVC sector, in particular — that may yet be one less reason to smile.