As reported here, the Sierra Club has been pressuring brands to quit their membership in the Plastics Industry Association. And, while their efforts to date have borne little fruit, I'm struggling to figure out why an organization whose stated mission “to protect the planet” would rather attack than join forces with an organization that not only shares its goals but is working on meaningful solutions to address the problem. Could it be that groups like the Sierra Club and As You Sow have gotten so wrapped up in the fight — and their own fundraising — that they've lost track of what they are fighting for: the environment? Unfortunately, this is all too common.
I know because I've studied this. You see, for the past 10 years, I've been teaching ethics for graduate students getting a master's degree in corporate communications and public relations. I often use the Teddy Roosevelt quote “to educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society” when explaining why ethics is a required course of the program. Social media and technology have dramatically changed our ability to influence the public. I teach students — many of them gifted communicators — the ethical responsibility that comes with that gift.
As an association, Plastics has publicly welcomed the campaigns to raise awareness about marine litter and have been working to educate and incentivize our membership to take action and be part of the solution. Representing the entire supply chain, we are uniquely qualified in areas such as design for recycling and the development of end-markets for recycled content. Since the association opened its membership to brand owners, our understanding of the problem has evolved, as well as our desire and ability to engage in real solutions. More brand owners, not fewer, will help that.
For the first time, finance communities, government and civil society — including environmental and economic development NGOs — have come together to solve this complex and global problem, and we are proud to be a part of this collective effort. And yet, the Sierra Club is purposely misrepresenting key facts to ramp up the fight. If the Sierra Club is truly interested in the environment, they should approach this thoughtfully and join in with the rest of us who are serious about fixing the problem.
Patty Long is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies. She is the mother of four daughters and is expecting her first grandchild next month. She is passionate about sustainability and the environment. She is also the interim president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association.