Greenpeace International

Ottho Heldringstraat 5
1066 AZ Amsterdam
Telephone: (+31) 20-514-81-50
Fax: (+31) 20-514-81-51
Web site:

Nonprofit Organization
1972 as Greenpeace Foundation
Sales: EUR 163.44 million ($205.1 million) (2003)
NAIC: 813310 Social Advocacy Organizations; 813311 Human Rights Organizations; 813312 Environment, Conservation and Wildlife Organizations; 813319 Other Social Advocacy Organizations

Greenpeace International is one of the world's best-known environmental action organizations. Backed by an international membership of nearly three million, the group operates 27 national and regional offices throughout the world. The group's overall operations are guided by its central office in Amsterdam, alternatively known as Stichting Greenpeace Council, while national and regional branches act according to local agendas. Greenpeace has achieved notoriety for its use of highly creative, non-violent means of calling attention to global environmental concerns. The organization's Rainbow Warrior is arguably one of the world's most widely recognized ocean-going vessels. Among the most memorable events in the group's existence was the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior by the French government. In 2005, it was revealed that orders for the attack came from then president François Mitterand himself. In addition to its media-grabbing confrontational events, Greenpeace also operates a strong lobbying wing, as well as its own research unit, providing the group with a second, more diplomatic approach. Greenpeace is an independent organization and refuses donations and grants from governments and corporations. Instead, the pressure group relies on financial funding from its international membership, as well as from grants and other private funds. In 2003, Greenpeace's income topped EUR 163 million ($205 million). Greenpeace International is led by chairman Anne Summers and international executive director Gerd Leipold.

Battling the Bomb in the 1970s

The U.S. military's testing of a 1.2 megaton nuclear bomb beneath Amchitka, part of the Aleutian Islands chain in Alaska, in 1969, inspired a series of protests by early environmental activists. After the United States announced in 1970 its intention to conduct a new test, this time of a 5-megaton bomb, under Amchitka, a group of Vancouver-based activists, including Canadians and expatriate Americans, came together to launch the ad hoc Don't Make A Wave Committee, initially as an offshoot of the Sierra Club. The name came from a slogan used during the protests the year earlier that had its source in warnings that underground nuclear testing might potentially unleash a tidal wave on the Canadian coast.

Among the protest group's founders were Dorothy and Irving Stowe, who were soon joined by Bill Darnell, Robert Hunter, Patrick Moore, Paul Cote, Jim and Marie Bohlen, Paul Watson, Ben and Dorothy Metcalfe, among others. Don't Make a Wave soon received endorsements from such organizations as the Sierra Club, the United Church of Canada, the B.C. Federation of Labour, and the Canadian Voice of Women.

During meetings for planning its protests, Marie Bohlen offhandedly suggested that the group simply sail a boat into the testing zone. The idea was later repeated to a reporter from the Vancouver Sun, thus forming the nucleus of a new form of social protest involving the use of emotionally laden, media-friendly images. At a subsequent meeting, the committee agreed to go ahead with the plan. Leaving that meeting, Bill Darnell coined the phrase "green peace." As Hunter later told the Utne Reader: "The term had a nice ring to it. It worked better in a headline than The Don't Make a Wave Committee. We decided to find a boat and call it Greenpeace."

Over the next year, the group raised funding (in part through the sale of buttons using the Greenpeace slogan as well as through benefit concerts featuring Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, James Taylor and others) and went in search of a boat to sail them into the testing zone. It was not until September 1971 that they finally found a skipper willing to take them on. The boat, a halibut seiner piloted by Captain John Cormack, set sail at the end of September and reached Akutan Island before the crew was arrested and the ship turned back to Sand Point.

In the meantime, however, the group's action had receiving international media attention. The ship headed back to Vancouver where it was met by a new, larger vessel chartered by the Don't Make A Wave Committee. This vessel was renamed the Greenpeace and set sail again. During this second voyage, the crew members hatched plans to found a more permanent environmental protest organization, to be named Greenpeace Foundation. While the second attempt to reach Amchitka failed as well, the media attention nonetheless forced the U.S. government to postpone the second bomb test and ultimately drop the Aleutian testing program altogether.

Founding and Evolution of Greenpeace

Greenpeace Foundation was officially established in 1972. The group, which remained only loosely organized, inspired a number of similar movements around the world which also adopted the name Greenpeace. Among these was a group of protesters seeking to stop atmospheric nuclear testing by the French government at Moruroa, an atoll in the Pacific. The Greenpeace Foundation launched an appeal for skippers willing to sail into to the restricted testing area. David McTaggert, a Canadian and entrepreneur who had retired to his yacht in the South Pacific, agreed to sail the group into the exclusion zone. McTaggert's yacht was rammed. In a return trip to Moruroa the following year, McTaggert and crew were beaten by the French military. Images of the beating inspired an international outcry that successfully forced the French to abandon atmospheric testing.

By the end of the 1970s, McTaggert had emerged as the de facto leader of the Greenpeace movement and was to remain as the head of the organization into the 1990s. McTaggert was credited with reshaping the loose confederation of nine Green-peace groups. The different groups, which often pursued their own agenda of issues, expanded Greenpeace's operations to include efforts to block whale-hunting and the slaughter of seal pups. Yet many of these groups had fallen into debt. In 1997, McTaggert stepped in to bail out the Greenpeace groups with his own funds. He then took effective control of Greenpeace, centralizing its operations into a new body, Greenpeace International, in 1979. Greenpeace then moved its headquarters from Vancouver to Washington, D.C. The organization also bought its first vessel, a trawler which was given the name Rainbow Warrior, taken from a Cree legend. The Rainbow Warrior, soon to become as well-known as Greenpeace itself, set sail in 1978.

Under McTaggert's leadership, Greenpeace narrowed its focus to a more limited range of environmental issues. Nuclear testing, however, remained a central concern for the group. In 1985, Greenpeace decided to take on the French government, which had not ended its nuclear testing program in the South Pacific, but simply moved it underground. After assisting in the evacuation of Rongelap Island, site of U.S. nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s, the Rainbow Warrior set sail for Moruroa in order to stop a new series of planned French nuclear tests. In response, the French government sent two Navy frogmen to attach bombs to the Greenpeace vessel. After initially denying its involvement in the attack, the French Navy finally admitted to the bombing, and, in 1987, agreed to pay damages to Greenpeace. It was not until 2005, however, that Le Monde , revealed that then President François Mitterand himself had ordered the bombing.

The resulting uproar over the bombing not only forced France to suspend its nuclear testing program, it also established Greenpeace International as a major force in the fast-growing global environmental activist movement. Donations began to pour into Greenpeace's offices. The group also recruited a growing number of activists eager to work for the cause and began expanding its network of national and regional offices. By the mid-2000s, the group operated offices in 27 countries, as well as three regional offices, reaching a total of more than 40 countries.

Environmental Force in the 21st Century

McTaggert retired from the organization in the early 1990s. By then, the momentum for Greenpeace's operations had shifted to Europe, which remained its primary source for donations into the next decade. In response, the group created a new central operating body, Stichting Greenpeace Council, which was established in Amsterdam to oversee the group's future growth. Greenpeace also shifted toward a more professional organizational structure, and began issuing annual reports in the 1990s.

Company Perspectives:

Our mission: Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organisation that uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and force solutions for a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace's goal is to ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity. Greenpeace organises public campaigns for: The protection of oceans and ancient forests. The phase out of fossil fuels and the promotion of renewable energy to stop climate change. The elimination of toxic chemicals. The prevention of genetically modified organisms being released into nature. An end to the nuclear threat and nuclear contamination. Safe and sustainable trade. Greenpeace does not solicit or accept funding from governments, corporations or political parties. Greenpeace neither seeks nor accepts donations that could compromise its independence, aims, objectives or integrity. Greenpeace relies on the voluntary donations of individual supporters, and on grant support from foundations. Greenpeace is committed to the principles of non-violence, political independence and internationalism. In exposing threats to the environment and in working to find solutions, Greenpeace has no permanent allies or enemies.

Greenpeace growing stature as one of the world's most well-known and effective environmental activist groups helped it achieve a number of important victories in the 1990s. In 1991, the group's efforts to protect Antarctica led to the signing of the Antarctica Treaty, which placed a 50-year moratorium on mining in the region. The following year, continuing pressure from Greenpeace encouraged the French government to agree to end its nuclear testing program altogether, with the caveat that other nuclear powers agree to end their programs as well. This led to a summit in 1995 including the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China and the drafting of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

One of the most visible campaigns taken on by Greenpeace in the late 1990s was its efforts to counter the growing use of genetically modified organisms in the agricultural and food industries. By 1998, Greenpeace had successfully lobbied the European Union to set up controls on the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops by EU member nationals. At the same time, the group's local efforts led to bans on GE crops in Austrian supermarkets, the enactment of sanctions that forbid the growing of GE crops with wild equivalents in France, and injunctions against imports of GE rapeseed by France and Greece, among other anti-GE policies enacted by EU member nations.

Key Dates:

A group of environmental activists come together to protest the testing by the U.S. military of a 5-megaton bomb under Amchitka, part of the Aleutian Islands chain in Alaska.
Greenpeace Foundation is founded and begins raising funds.
David McTaggart, the central figure among various groups operating under the Greenpeace name, consolidates these diverse factions as Greenpeace International and assumes leadership of the organization into the mid-1990s.
The French Navy admits to bombing a Greenpeace oceangoing vessel carrying protesters of France's nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean and agrees to pay damages to the activist organization.
The group's efforts to protect Antarctica result in the signing of the Antarctica Treaty, which placed a 50-year moratorium on mining in the region.
Continuing pressure from Greenpeace leads the French government to agree to end its nuclear testing program.
Due to the activities of Greenpeace, a summit is convened in which the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China draft the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Greenpeace successfully lobbies the European Union to set up controls on the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops by EU member nationals.
The group's continued campaigning against GE crops and foods lead to the development of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Le Monde reveals that then President François Mitterand himself had ordered the bombing on the Greenpeace vessel involved in the protesting of France's nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean.

Other Greenpeace actions in late 1990s included attempts to limit the use of PVC, especially the initiation of a ban on the use of phthalates in PVC toys, put into place by the European Union in 1999. Into the 2000s, the organization took on the international logging industry, raising awareness of the alarmingly rapid destruction of the world's old-growth and tropical forests. The group's continued campaigning against GE crops and foods led to the development of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2003. While often criticized, especially by its opponents, Greenpeace had established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the environmental arena.

Further Reading

Burnie, Shaun, "Detonating the Mind Bomb," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , May-June 2005, p. 62.

Geiselman, Bruce, "Off the Rails; Former Environmental Leader Blasts Movement," Waste News , April 25, 2005, p. 1.

Moore, Patrick, "Failed Agenda Returns as HBN," Plastic News , June 27, 2005, p. 6.

"Profile: Blake Lee Harwood, Greenpeace," PR Week , April 26, 2002,p. 24.

Seccombe, Will, "Apocalypse Bob," Ryerson Review of Journalism , spring 2003, p. 12.

Selle, Robert R., "A Founder of Greenpeace," World and I , March 2003, p. 52.

Tickell, Oliver, "Greenpeace Suffers in the Silly Season," Guardian , August 13, 1997.

Weyler, Rex, Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World , Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale Books, 2004.

——, "Waves of compassion," Utne Reader Web Specials Archive Issue. Available from

—M.L. Cohen

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