Greenpeace Inc.

The $336 Million-a-Year Multinational Organization Turns its Focus to the US and Global South

A March 9 profile on The Observer spotlights writer and activist Mark Lynas, who has gained notable attention for arguing that environmentalists need to reconsider their longstanding opposition to nuclear energy and genetic engineering. As Lynas told The Observer, during his days as an activist, he had viewed the Green movement as a brave, scrappy underdog – a little David battling the Goliaths of industry, government, and conservatives.

But the more he critically examined the work of Greens on issues like nuclear energy and genetic engineering, the more he was surprised to discover the vast financial and organizational resources available to organizations like Greenpeace.

The financial might of today’s environmental groups has helped narrow the gap with industry and their political allies across issues. Yet, as Lynas rightly argues, in some cases this same organizational wealth has helped institutionalize an ideological bias that threatens progress on issues like climate change and food security.

"The anti-nuclear movement is partly responsible for global warming," Lynas told The Observer. "Everywhere, pretty much, where a nuclear plant was cancelled, a coal plant was built instead, and that's because of the anti-nuclear movement. The environmental movement has been very successful in regulating GM [genetically-modified agriculture] out of existence in some parts of the world." [1]

The Observer profile sparked my curiosity about the financial resources of Greenpeace International/Worldwide and how these resources have been applied to limiting rather expanding the technological options countries have available to address problems like climate change and food security. To its credit, Greenpeace provides readily available and detailed information on its financial resources by way of its website and annual report.

As explained in its 2011 annual report, Greenpeace International manages international campaigns and the Greenpeace fleet, and provides coordinating and leadership functions for national and regional affiliates such as Greenpeace USA, Greenpeace Germany, and Greenpeace India. Its annual budget of €60 million (US$83 million) is derived from donations from its affiliates. [2]

Even more relevant are the figures reported for Greenpeace Worldwide, which according to the annual report represents the combined budget of Greenpeace International and its affiliated national and regional organizations. In this case, Greenpeace brought in global revenues of €241 million (US$336 million) and spent approximately €159 million on program activities (US$221 million) and €77 million on fundraising (US$107 million) across countries.

To put Greenpeace’s global fundraising prowess in context: the organization’s annual revenue is equivalent to or greater than some of the world’s richest sport franchises including the Arsenal soccer club (US$336 million), Boston Red Sox (US$272 million), and L.A. Lakers (US$212 million).

Greenpeace global revenue also compares well to that of major U.S. industry associations which we commonly think of as having inconceivably large budgets. Consider that in 2009, the American Petroleum Institute generated $203 million in revenue and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $214 million in revenue from its industry members.

At the global level, Greenpeace employs nearly 2,200 staff, with 1,039 based in Europe and 314 in the U.S and Canada. As displayed in this graph from its annual report, Germany is the leading source of the organization’s worldwide fundraising followed by the U.S., Netherlands, and Switzerland.

As big in scope as Greenpeace Worldwide might be, it is smaller than at least one other multi-national environmental organization. Consider that in 2011, the World Wildlife Federation Network, which includes the U.S. based World Wildlife Federation and affiliates in 80 other countries, generated €575 million in revenue (US$800 million) and employed 5,000 staff worldwide.[3]

According to its annual report, the goal of Greenpeace over the next few years is to move beyond its supporter base in Europe, and for the organization to focus more heavily on donor recruitment and campaigns in countries of the Global South including India, China, and Brazil, as well as the United States. Greenpeace USA – which consists of partner 501C3 and C4 organizations – brought in a combined $37 million in revenue in 2010, spent $33 million on programs, and $4 million on fundraising.

Greenpeace spending is focused primarily on bolstering direct political action campaigns, pursuing strategies that mobilize activists, framing media coverage, shaping public opinion, and driving consumer preferences. And all spending areas are designed to pressure corporations and government leaders.

Along with staged media events, protest activities, and social media organizing, Greenpeace also releases analyses and reports that call attention to perceived environmental risks and provide political opposition research specific to targeted industry members and their allies.

In 2011, among major program areas, Greenpeace International spent €28 million on climate and energy campaigns, €12 million on efforts to stop deforestation, €9.5 million on ocean conservation, and €4.4 million to oppose GM agriculture and promote what the organization views as sustainable practices.

Apart from these major program activities, the resources spent on communication, media, and protest strategies are considerable, including €26 million on mobilization and citizen action, €22 million on media and communications, €11 million on public information and outreach, and €77 million on fundraising. These areas provide for direct communication and engagement on issues like climate, oceans, nuclear energy and food. When counting fundraising efforts, the annual communication-related activities of Greenpeace total €136 million or $189 million in U.S. dollars.

Though the communication budget of Greenpeace Worldwide is formidable, many of its industry opponents often spend more on image and issue advertising. For example, news reports peg British Petroleum's global rebranding campaign in 2000 at US $200 million. Apart from advertising and image campaigns, fossil fuel companies and biotech companies like Monsanto also spend considerable sums on insider lobbying and influence across countries. [4]

Here’s how Greenpeace defines its goals and activities across major program areas:

Combating Climate Change

Our goal is that greenhouse gas emissions peak by 2015 and decline thereafter. To achieve this we need to ensure a global energy revolution – moving away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy to renewable energy and energy efficiency; to see zero deforestation globally; and to ensure that an effort sharing framework exists for tackling climate change that is both equitable and has environmental integrity … Securing an internationally binding agreement to seriously address climate change remains a key focus for the campaign.

Opposing Nuclear Energy

Working with our office in Japan allowed us to show that the Fukushima nuclear crisis was man-made, albeit precipitated by a natural disaster. This work played a strong role in bringing about the nuclear phase-out in Germany and bringing in a vote against new nuclear build in Italy.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan also dominated work by the campaign on nuclear energy. The reaction of Germany and Japan to Fukushima demonstrated how phasing out nuclear power will strengthen the development of renewable energy. Immediately after Fukushima, Germany closed about half its nuclear reactors and pledged to shut the rest within a decade; later, Parliament voted overwhelmingly for replacing nuclear with renewable energy. By the end of 2011, Japan had shut down most of its 54 reactors for testing.

Opposing Genetically Modified Agriculture

Our goal for our sustainable agriculture campaign is to see a halt to the expansion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment. As a priority in Asia and the Global South, we need to catalyse a paradigm shift from chemical-intensive agriculture to sustainable agriculture, by shifting policies and significantly reducing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers….

The industrial model of agriculture is destroying our future ability to produce food, as it is relying on toxic chemicals and synthetic fertilisers that strip the soil of its fertility. This contributes to the reduction of natural pest control and threatens the biological diversity of our crops with contamination by genetically engineered (GE) varieties. Building on our previous work in India, we started fighting the crop in the Philippines. Bt eggplant is genetically engineered to contain a built-in toxin to kill the fruit-and-shoot borer insect. It is currently not approved in any country including India, where the technology was sourced for use in the Philippines.

In February 2010, the Indian government passed a moratorium on Bt eggplant commercialisation, to protect the country’s agriculture. In its decision, the Environment Ministry said that the science behind Bt eggplant is inadequate to answer the concerns raised by civil society groups, and that the country’s GE regulatory system is inadequate. However this did not stop the Philippine government from starting field trials. A Greenpeace decontamination unit removed Bt eggplant from a field trial site in Barangay Paciano Rizal in Bay, Laguna, and sealed the experimental food crop in hazmat (hazardous materials) containers to prevent further contamination of neighbouring fields and the environment.

The activists were supported by organic farmers from Davao, who had participated in a similar operation carried out by their provincial government last year.

It took seven years and successive teams of young campaigners, but finally, in late September 2011, Beijing said it was suspending the commercialisation of genetically-engineered (GE) rice …


[1] Update: Regarding coal replacing nuclear, see counterargument offered on Twitter by energy analyst Alan Nogee.

[2] Euro to dollar comparisons are based on the exchange rate for March 2011.

[3] Update: Thanks to Graham Thompson of Greenpeace UK for pointing me in the direction of the annual report and figures for the WWF Network and its national affiliates.

[4] Update: Comparisons to the budgets and spending of industry members were added at the suggestion of several readers.


Nisbet, M.C. (2012, May 25). Squaring the Genetically Modified Crop Circle. New Scientist magazine.

Photo Credit: Greenpeace Australia