Environmental Defense Fund greenwashing: Walmart edition

Today Grist released an article on the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) extensive ties to Walmart and the Walton family. $66 million ties to be exact. According to the article these high-dollar contributions from the Walton Family Foundation bought Walmart some serious green cred as EDF, a prominent environmental group with a names that suggests a strong commitment to the environment, promoted the company’s sustainability campaign in press releases and articles and backed the company’s claims about its renewable energy efforts. From Grist:

A recent Fast Company article touting Walmart’s impact on renewable power, for example, relied on just three sources: Walmart, a company contracting with Walmart, and EDF. Perhaps not surprisingly, the article is riddled with half-truths and one critical factual error. It says that Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined by 20 percent since 2005, when in fact they have risen by 14 percent, according to the company’s own disclosures.

EDF not only failed to disclose their financial ties to the Waltons but misled journalists and the public by continually claiming that they do not receive financial support from Walmart or other corporate entities. They are technically correct. The money comes from the Walton Family Foundation, which is directed by the Waltons, the children and grandchildren of Sam Walton (Founder of Walmart), who sit on Walmart’s board, hold the chairmanship of Walmart’s board, and own over half of Walmart’s stock. Spin on, EDF.

The ties that bind EDF, the Walton Family Foundation, and Walmart.

This is not EDF’s first bout of greenwashing. In June we profiled the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) in our report Big Green Fracking Machine and detailed EDF’s role on the board and its substantial ties to the oil and gas industry. CSSD is a Pittsburgh-based partnership between 11 fracking companies and non-profit groups that was praised as a confluence of industry and environmental groups around higher standards for hydraulic fracturing. PAI uncovered considerable ties between the environmental groups supporting CSSD and the natural gas industry, suggesting a complete industry capture of CSSD and revealing it as a thinly veiled greenwashing campaign.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development

EDF has a spot on CSSD’s board, which is unsurprising given that many of EDF’s board members and donors are aligned with the natural gas industry. From the report:

EDF has been a key environmental ally of the oil and gas industry in the heated debate around fracking. EDF qualifies its support for fracking, arguing that the environmental benefits associated with natural gas outweigh the consequences, as long as the process is regulated properly. But it has also been especially aggressive in aligning itself with the oil and gas industry and providing environmentalist cover for the controversial extraction process.

Key EDF board members and donors sit on the boards of natural gas ventures, advise them, or are invested in them, and so have a financial stake in ensuring that natural gas drilling goes forward unimpeded.

These industry connections in EDF’s leadership did not impede it from being active in the frackademia scene. EDF signed off as a reviewer of fracking studies out of the University of Texas and the University of Buffalo, both of which were reviewed by PAI and found to have serious undisclosed conflicts of interest. The issues with the reports were so egregious that both studies were retracted and the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute was shuttered.

Thanks to some excellent reporting from Grist we now know that EDF’s tireless efforts to commodify its environmental reputation extend beyond fracking. Now we’re left wondering if the Environmental Defense Fund is defending the environment or the corporations it works with.