With the usual pre-election jitters, American businesses are bracing for the possibility of four more years under President Obama's overbearing government regulatory power.
But Big Green's private regulatory power is beginning to steal the business spotlight. High-profile "seal of approval" schemes and "green certification councils" of unelected eco-activists are enforcing their ideological "sustainability" directives under threat of brand sabotage and product trashing.
It works like this: First, powerful Big Green leaders -- say, for example, the bosses of the World Wildlife Fund -- decide that businesses with customers near their favorite habitats and natural resources need to be transformed in the WWF image. They can well afford the effort: WWF's 2011 assets were $400 million; its president's salary $426,000.
WWF's website tells us that "the most efficient way to effect change is to work with [a] handful of companies -- about 100 in total. Together they buy and sell 25 percent of the commodities with the greatest impact on WWF's priority places. And this demand can shift 40-50 percent of global production."
What's the easiest way to control the global supply chain of those commodities from production and extraction through to their retail sale? Simple: create a certification organization that sets voluntary standards for an industry, and that rigorously inspects every company's commodity "chain-of-custody" to verify unadulterated compliance. Those that pass get an "eco-label" or "certified green" logo for the retail product, which may prompt consumers to prefer or pay more to gratify their environmental, social or ethical preferences.
WWF helped create the Forest Stewardship Council in 1993 to certify wood from "socially and environmentally responsible forestry." Others have popped up, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
It doesn't sound so bad at first. But once businesses have been lured into these "voluntary" standards, they have no choice but to comply when the obligations are ratcheted up as the greenie activists keep pushing the goalpost downfield. Having failed to realize the higher profits and expanded market share that an eco-friendly certification was supposed to bring, they suddenly find they are being squeezed.
Australia's Institute of Public Affairs was so alarmed by certifier tactics that it released a 22-page report last year titled "Naked extortion? Environmental NGOs imposing [in]voluntary regulations on consumers and business."
The IPA was concerned about member companies that tried to leave or didn't comply, only to find that Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth International and others then colluded to ruin their businesses. The groups staged street protests, placed negative news stories and caused panic among retailers with tales of "renegade" seafood suppliers trying to put "bad fish" in their cold cases. Forest campaigners rampaged through Home Depot stores shoving "bad lumber" stacks on the floor.
In 1997, WWF and Unilever established the Marine Stewardship Council "to assure the long-term sustainability of global fish stocks." The MSC has had a substantial and controversial impact on global fisheries, facing allegations that its alarmist science is self-serving propaganda.
When the Seattle-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute recently took its group out of MSC, it got a rude surprise. Executive Director Ray Riutta told me the group ran into pushback from stores fearful of retaliation from MSC.
"MSC's fisheries management rules are established basically by green activists with a reputation for being potentially disruptive," Riutta said. "Worse, they exaggerate world fishery conditions with gloomy claims to justify tightening their rules to the public."
An ironic twist: For many years the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has managed a fair and effective "Certified to FAO-Based Responsible Fisheries Management Standard" system worldwide.
Riutta concluded, "We have better standards. The FAO code is our code."
There is no public benefit for businesses in appeasing the private Big Green regulators and their plan to "shift 40-50 percent of global production." We have enough unelected people trying to rule the world already.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.