Criticisms against TNC’s partnerships

As TNC has expanded its conservation efforts and become one of the world’s largest environmental groups, TNC has faced some major condemnation towards its corporate partnerships with oil companies, chemical producers, and the mining and logging industries. In 2003, a three-part series in the Washington Post called upon the accountability of TNC’s governance and conservation approach.[1] Collective evidence against TNC proved that the organization sold its name and logo to companies for symbolic environmentalism to earn profits. In the first series, the reporters accused TNC for letting corporations donate to conservation projects and get pollution credits in return.[2] Moreover, TNC remained silent to avoid losing their reputation and credibility as two members of its business council, BP and Exxon Mobil, have been involved in the Alaska oil drilling since the early twentieth century.

Another primary criticism comes from environmental organizations who do not want to work with big corporations like Dow and Coca-Cola.[3] Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network represent groups of environmentalists actively calling out the mistakes of TNC’s corporate partnership projects for their lack of transparency and responsibility. In a 2009 report titled Carbon Scam, Greenpeace raised tough criticism towards TNC’s forest carbon project in Bolivia.[4] With the participation of General Motors and American Electric Power, the project did not take into account the livelihoods of local people who depended on the forest for their survival.

The above critics against TNC disclose that TNC has made land-deal decisions instead of science-based conservation. TNC did not react or raise its voices when the government and public were holding its partners accountable for their environmental impacts. The collaborations between TNC and big corporations contain loopholes for businesses to practice greenwashing. However, the above criticism does not take into account the fact that TNC has changed some parts of business activities and persuaded many managers to include natural capital into their production inputs.   

[1] Ottaway, David and Joe Stephens. “Nonprofit Land Bank Amasses Billions”. The Washington Post, May 4, 2003.

[2] Ibid

[3] Birchard, Bill. Nature’s Keepers: The Remarkable Story of How the Nature Conservancy Became the Largest Environmental Group in the World. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

[4] Ibid, 187-189

TNC’s responses and changes

TNC’s executive boards have considered criticism towards its corporate relationships and governance issues as feedback to improve better strategies and more successful protection of nature. TNC has chosen to revamp internal governance and examine every procedure of all collaborations with its business partners. Leaders of TNC have responded that the if nobody changes the business behavior of big corporations whose production dependent on natural ecosystems, the future of the earth can become gloomier.

Regarding the environmental scandal in 2003 reported by the Washington Post, former president Steven McCormick decided to improve TNC’s internal management by asking the question of what legitimate criticisms TNC should alter and improve.[1] This crisis became a good opportunity for TNC to reform its governance and review its practices. The whole organization started to stop its four main practices including resource extraction on nature preserves, employee loans, conservation buyer deals, and cause-related marketing. In response to Greenpeace’s argument about the environmental oversight in 2009, Mark Tercek, the current CEO of TNC, articulates that TNC is open and respectful for all kinds of constructive criticism and dialogues among environmental organizations for the sake of protecting nature.[2] Indeed, environmental progress necessitates the exchange of different opinions, discussions, and tough criticisms.

TNC has explained the framework of TNC’s approaches to collaborating with the private sector through the publication of its Principles of Corporate Engagement.[3] The document lists ten requirements that TNC and its partners must follow to ensure common conservation goals. TNC requires companies to prove their commitment to conservation and environmental sustainability through their changes in policies and business practices. This legal document holds companies and TNC responsible to meet its conservation priorities. Any conservation activity must generate more benefits than risks to nature. Ultimately, this framework exemplifies TNC’s efforts in advancing social and environmental responsibility from the lessons learned of the previous crises and challenges.

[1] Birchard, Bill. Nature’s Keepers: The Remarkable Story of How the Nature Conservancy Became the Largest Environmental Group in the World. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

[2] Tercek, Mark. The Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature. New York: Perseus, 2013.

[3] “Principles of Corporate Engagement”, The Nature Conservancy, accessed March 6, 2016,