New alliances between labor, greens and big business emerging

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The transformation of America’s environmental movement began, as ex-United Steelworkers board member David Foster recalls, in late 2004 in a borrowed conference room at a table surrounded by union officials, top aides and the always-present group of Washington assistants.


“We’re in this together,” Foster remembered Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope and Frances Beinecke, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, telling USW President Leo Gerard.


About the same time, another group of environmentalists began networking with equally unlikely partners.


Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, asked General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to help lobby for a national climate policy. The dialogue they launched eventually became the basis of legislation now in Congress to cap greenhouse gas emissions.


“We had been lobbying for what we felt was right but not seeing the interconnectedness,” Foster said of the different efforts and their unusual coalitions.


Today, alliances between Big Business, labor and environmental groups — once nearly impossible to imagine — are not only restructuring political advocacy but also shaping policy in President Barack Obama’s Washington.


Labor unions, Fortune 500 corporations, utility companies and other corporate interests have joined forces with environmentalists in at least five different lobbying coalitions. The labor-environmentalist pact eventually became the Blue-Green Alliance, a strategic partnership of six unions, NRDC and the Sierra Club. And the meetings between Immelt and Lash grew into the United States Climate Action Partnership, an association of 26 utilities, manufacturers and technology companies and five environmental organizations.


All of the groups are focused on a very big goal: a cap-and-trade system that will curb greenhouse gas emissions across the economy.


“We are talking about transforming the energy economy of the country and the world,” said Beinecke. “Our aim is to have the biggest tent possible, taking into account what the concerns are — from business to labor to the environmental community — and crafting something that can get the broader support.” 


The alliances are particularly remarkable because in the past, environmentalists had frequently battled with both labor and business over conservation efforts, new environmental standards and cleanups.


“It was a fairly ‘out there’ decision,” Beinecke said of forging the alliances, “because you were going in not knowing what you were going to come out with.”

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Taylor, T. (2009). New alliances between labor, greens and big business emerging. Retrieved from


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