Environmental groups organize their members to take action and exert pressure on elected officials to strengthen and improve environmental policies. By becoming a member, you can help influence governmental decisions at the local, regional, and federal level, and you'll be kept abreast of policy proposals and what you can do to move those proposals from good ideas to effective environmental policies.
How to join an environmental groupChoose the shade of green that suits you: Worldwide, there are more than 56,000 nonprofit organizations in 165 countries. There are more than 15,000 organizations dedicated to environmental advocacy in the US alone, providing a virtual cornucopia of organizational missions, group strategies, and issue focus areas. Decide what type of group you'd like to be involved in.
Are you a Greenpeace-style activist, willing to stand between a logger and a tree to save the forests and get the attention of politicians? Organizations employing this style of activism focus on direct action, organizing their members for marches, strikes, tree sits, and rallies, among other events. Or are you more of a letter-writer than a tree-sitter? There are a plethora of "quieter" groups that collect postcards and petitions from members in support of environmental issues, and maintain a professional staff of lobbyists and lawyers who encourage legislators and business leaders to adopt more environmentally friendly policies and positions. Groups like the Environmental Working Group and Environment America are generally seen as this type of advocacy group.
Different groups also tend to focus on different issue areas; There are conservation-oriented groups like the World Wildlife Fund that focus on wildlife protection and wilderness preservation; "modern" environmental organizations, like the Environmental Defense Fund, focus on a range of issues from air and water pollution to climate change to energy issues to sprawl; environmental justice groups, like the Center for Health, Environment and Justice focus on the effects that environmental policies have on low-income and other marginalized communities. Find a group that works on the issues that most motivate you.
Sign up: Once you find the group (or groups) you'd like to join, contact them directly, either through their web site, phone number, or mailing address to sign up. To become a member, most organizations require that you make a financial contribution to support their work and keep them operating. Usually, there is a range of contribution levels and organizations ask that you give what you can. Some contributions may even be tax deductible. Ask the member coordinator you work with to find out. Some organizations offer free e-mail action alerts and updates, even if you are not a contributing member. Refer to the organization's website for more info.
Find it! Environmental advocacy groupsThe following is a list of databases and resources to help you find environmental advocacy groups that may serve your area. Many of the groups highlighted are national groups, serving all of the US and focused primarily on federal environmental policy. Joining local environmental groups, however, can also be an effective way to influence policy. (Some even argue it may be more effective. See Controversies below.) To find environmental groups in your local area, read the newspaper, ask around, and look for fliers announcing meetings, cleanups, volunteer opportunities, and other events. locally owned restaurants, and other local businesses often host information boards or provide fliers for their guests.
Joining an environmental advocacy group helps you go green because
- You can more effectively advocate pro-environment policies when your voice joins a chorus calling for change.
- If you contribute financially, you'll be funding environmental groups that rely largely on individual contributions, so that they can keep operating, maintain a staff of lobbyists, and continue to influence environmental policy.
Sierra Club members across the US protect 58 million acres of national forestsThe Sierra Club boasts more than 1.3 million members, with 63 chapters throughout the US and four chapters in Canada. In 2001, organizing by the Sierra Club and US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) generated a majority of the record-breaking 1 million comments sent to President Clinton in support of the Roadless Rule, which was designed to protect 58 million acres of pristine wild forests in 39 states. These comments, as well as 600 public meetings attended by members of the two groups and by the environmental community at large, led to the passage of the Rule. In 2006, when the Bush administration moved to block the Roadless Rule, the Sierra Club took action again, joining a lawsuit to force the administration to implement the rule and helping to generate another 1.8 million comments opposing the change. In September 2006 the Roadless Rule was successfully reinstated by the Courts, an act that arguably would not have happened without the Sierra Clubs' member involvement and support.
State coalition wins clean cars standards for New MexicoWhen 23 environmental advocacy organizations, including Environment New Mexico, joined together in 2007 to call for statewide Clean Car standards that would reduce air pollution and global warming emissions, the state board considering the standards listened. After two days of hearings wherein these groups offered technical testimony in support of the standards, the Albuquerque-Bernalillo Air Quality Control Board (AQCB) and Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) adopted the measures. The Cleaner Cars program will reduce volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide emissions by 5 percent and 11 percent respectively, and set a fleet-wide average global warming emission standard for major automakers requiring new cars to emit 34 percent less global warming gases by 2016.
Small but powerful: Local network protects riverThe Midwest Treaty Network, founded in Wisconsin in 1989 as an alliance of Indian and non-Indian groups, created the Wolf Watershed Educational Project (WWEP) in 1995, when Exxon proposed dumping its liquid waste into the Wolf and Wisconsin Rivers. The Project quickly grew into a 30-group alliance, whose initial strategy meetings led to a spring 1996 speaking tour up the rivers. The tour reached 22 communities and 1,100 people, and culminated with a rally of 1,000 in front of Exxon headquarters in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. As this grassroots effort increased, so did support for a bill under consideration by the state Legislature that would place a moratorium on the dumping. In response, Exxon launched a media blitz, spending $1 million on TV ads and another $1 million on lobbying. Despite its efforts, the Legislature passed the moratorium in 1998.
Power in numbers at the pollsMembership in an environmental organization can also help you support and elect environmentally aware leaders. The Sierra Club, for instance, endorses and works for thousands of candidates across the US, from city council members to county leaders to congressional candidates to presidential hopefuls. Minnesota Mayor R.T. Rybak said of his successful bid for office in 2002: "Receiving the Sierra Club endorsement was the turning point in my campaign."
ControversiesSeventy percent of the $3.5 billion raised by environmental groups each year in the US goes to the 25 largest environmental groups, leaving the estimated 15,000 smaller environmental nonprofits in the country strapped for cash. In a short film titled Empowering the Grassroots, Mark Dowie calls on big green funders and foundations to more effectively seed small organizations to keep the true history of the grassroots movement alive, and avoid the "concentration of power" that the large environmental groups enjoy.
- Blog Spot - The Well-Trained Activist A blog to train successful public interest advocates and organizers for wilderness protection, sustainability and other issues.
- Ideal Bite - Trying to decide what to do with your tax rebate? List of Ideal Bite editors' top picks for environmental groups.
- PoliticsOL.com - Advocacy Directory: Environment A short list with links to a dozen environmental groups in the US.
- Lighter Footstep - Join an Environmental Group
- Adelogue - Top 5 motives to join a Non Profit Organzation
- Grist - The Fruit of Your Coins: In film short, Mark Dowie plugs plan to boost funding for grassroots activism
- Grist - Group Think: On joining your first environmental organization
- Grist - Ask Umbra: Group Think: On joining your first environmental group
- The Quotations Page - Quotation Details
- Sierra Club - Sierra Club 101: Who is the Sierra Club?
- Sierra Club - Sierra Club 101: Become a leader worth following
- Sierra Club - Sierra Club 101: Chapters and Groups
- Sierra Club - Judge Reinstates Original Roadless Rule Marking Huge Victory for Americans, Wild Forests
- Environment America - Global Warming Solutions News: Victory for New Mexico's Environment: New Mexico 13th State to Adopt Clean Cars Program
- Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment - Wisconsin Grassroots Alliance Close to Victory
- Sierra Club - Sierra Club 101: Elect environmental champions