The Sierra Club voted this week to suspend its entire 35,000-member Florida chapter for four years and removed the chapter’s leadership. The reason? The chapter openly criticized the Club’s decision to partner with Clorox for Clorox’s new “Green Works” line of “natural” cleaning products.
The dispute between the Florida chapter and the national organization started in December, when Sierra Club’s national board of directors overrode the Club’s Corporate Relations Committee to approve the deal with Clorox. So far, details about the exact nature of the agreement have not been revealed, except for the fact that Clorox will pay the Sierra Club for its sponsorship and the use of its logo on Green Works products, with the exact amount depending on product sales.
This is the first time in Sierra Club’s 116-year history that it has endorsed a product and even Club executive director Carl Pope, who’s been a driving force in the partnership, admitted that the decision by a well-known environmental group to endorse a company known for its bleach, plastics, and chemical products is “controversial.” Just one example of the conflict of interests inherent in such a partnership: In the same month that the Sierra Club decided to put its logo on Green Works products Clorox was fined $95,000 by the EPA for donating illegal, mislabeled, Chinese versions of its disinfecting bleach to a Los Angeles charity.
Clorox’s history of environmental malfeasance (they were called one of America’s most chemically dangerous companies by U.S. PIRG in a 2004 report), has made opponents of the deal quick to call the Club a sell-out bereft of green street-cred. “The Sierra Club has become little more than another corporate front group,” said Tim Hermach of Native Forest Council. “Carl Pope has sold out the Sierra Club’s mission of saving nature and now seems proud of his role as an obsequious and professional Uriah Heep.”
But to me what’s really galling is not so much that the Sierra Club agreed to take profits from the company that makes Armor All, Formula 409, and Liquid Plumr. It’s that the Club dealt out such a harsh punishment to its Florida chapter for even daring to voice opposition the deal. Such an action smacks of lock-step, corporate stoogery, not dedication to environmental protection.