(March 29, 2003) — Supporting charity isn't supposed to start a fistfight. But when the charity supporters are Greenpeace and the Vinyl Institute, you almost expect a rumble, even over a topic as tame as Habitat for Humanity.
OK, it's not literally a fistfight. But representatives of both groups have traded strong words about their support for Habitat.
Here's the background: Arlington, Va.-based VI has had a nine-year relationship with Habitat. Over the years, the trade group has helped build 27 Habitat homes and donated more than $1.3 million worth of materials to the effort.
Last year Greenpeace got involved too, signing up to make one Habitat home in New Orleans.
Good for them, right? Can you picture two long-time opponents working together to build no-profit, affordable housing?
Life isn't a Frank Capra movie, buddy.
Greenpeace is touting its Habitat home as being PVC-free, and is trying to drum up publicity for the project. A news release prominently featured on Greenpeace USA's Web site calls PVC producers “some of the most toxic-producing industries on the planet,” and singles out vinyl as “the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics.”
The first paragraph of the release seems to sum up why Greenpeace is involved with Habitat: “As long as we use vinyl to build houses, chemical companies will continue to produce PVC. It is time for a change.”
Using Habitat work to slam PVC doesn't seem fair to VI, considering the time, cash and effort that it, its member companies and their employees have put into Habitat over the years.
Frankly, it doesn't seem fair to us, either.
You might think that VI, like Greenpeace, is involved with Habitat solely for the public relations value. Obviously that plays a role. Does it make sense for VI to support Habitat, considering all the construction applications for PVC? Of course it does. And the construction angle is the same reason that Lowes Co., Realtors, mortgage bankers and other companies and trade groups in the building and real estate sectors support Habitat.
But no one supports a charity for nine years, not just with cash but by sending volunteers to help build homes, just to get a few lines or a photo in a local newspaper or trade magazine, or a two-minute-long story on the local television news.
If VI were involved with Habitat just for the publicity, you'd have to question the wisdom of that decision.
While that may be clear to us, it's still hard to imagine VI coming out on top in this battle.
Ignoring Greenpeace's rhetoric is dangerous. But complaining doesn't help much, because Greenpeace likes the attention. Even a column like this one, which slams Greenpeace and questions its motives, helps to spread the word about its anti-PVC agenda.
So, once again, VI is stuck trying to respond to Greenpeace.
In the meantime, though, let's hope that Greenpeace puts some more effort into supporting Habitat, and less into bashing vinyl. Because anyone can help build one home and then walk away from the project, happy with the brief burst of attention.
After Greenpeace builds a couple dozen homes, it may have some room to talk.