Environmental Defense is a public interest group founded in 1967 and concerned primarily with the protection of the environment and the concomitant improvement of public health. Originally called Environmental Defense Fund, the name was shortened to end confusion related to the use of the word fund. In the beginning a group of Long Island scientists organized to oppose local spraying of the pesticide DDT, and Environmental Defense is still staffed by scientists as well as lawyers and economists. Over time the group has expanded its interests to include air quality , energy, solid waste , water resources , agriculture, wildlife , habitats, and international environmental issues. Environmental Defense presently has a membership of approximately 300,000, an annual budget of $39.1 million, and a staff of 200 working out of eight regional offices.
Environmental Defense seeks to protect the environment by initiating legal action in environment-related matters and also by conducting public service and educational campaigns. It publishes a newsletter detailing the organization's activities, as well as occasional books, reports, and monographs. Environmental Defense also conducts and encourages research relevant to environmental issues and promotes administrative, legislative, and corporate actions and policies in defense of the environment.
Environmental Defense's strategies and orientation have changed somewhat over the years from the early days when the group's motto was "Sue the bastards!" At about the time that Frederic D. Krupp became its executive director in 1984, Environmental Defense began to view environmental problems more in view of economic needs. As Krupp put it, the practical effectiveness of the environmental movement in the future would depend on its realization that behind environmental problems "there are nearly always legitimate social needs–and that long-term solutions lie in finding alternative ways to meet those underlying needs."
With this in mind, Krupp proposed a "third stage of environmentalism" which combined direct opposition to environmentally harmful practices with proposals for realistic, economically-viable alternatives. This strategy was first applied successfully to large-scale power production in California, where utilities were planning a massive expansion of generating capacity. Environmental Defense demonstrated that this expansion was largely unnecessary (thereby saving the utilities and their customers a considerable amount of money while also protecting the environment) by showing that the use of existing and well-established technology could greatly reduce the need for new capacity without affecting the utility's customers. Environmental Defense also showed that it was economically effective to buy power generated from renewable energy resources, including wind energy .
The Environmental Defense worked with the Mc-Donalds Corporation in 1991 on a task force to reduce the fast food giant's estimated two million lb-per-day (907,184 kg) effusion of waste. One of the most widely publicized results of these efforts was that McDonald's was convinced to stop packaging its hamburgers in polystyrene containers. Combined with other strategies, McDonald's estimates that the task force's recommendations will eventually reduce its waste flow by 75%. More recently in 2000, the Environmental Defense joined with eight companies to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the environment. In 2001, the Action Network (which has 750,000 members) and For My World projects were set up to inform the public on environmental and health issues. Scorecard.org rates area pollutants based on the most recent findings by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Environmental Defense continues to search for ways to harness economic forces in ways that destroy incentives to degrade the environment. This approach has made Environmental Defense one of the most respected and heeded environmental groups among United States corporations. Environmental Defense virtually ghost-wrote the Bush Sr. Administration's Acid Rain Bill, which makes considerable use of market-oriented strategies such as the issuing of tradable emissions permits. These permits allow for a set amount of pollution per firm based on ceilings set for entire industries. Companies can buy, sell, and trade these permits, thus providing them with a profit motive to reduce harmful emissions.
[Lawrence J. Biskowski ]