Press release: Embargoed until 07:00 EST September 20th, 2019

Largest Climate NGOs take $125MN/year from Corporations, including Oil Majors

Key donors to The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, EDF, WRI include oil majors Exxon, Shell, Chevron and BP.

As New York readies itself for the UN Climate Change Summit 2019 and yet another Climate Week we are likely to see the corporate sector, assisted by large NGOs make yet more top line pledges to increase ambition on climate change – driven by voluntary commitments. Such statements remain disconnected with the realities of increasing emissions, growing citizen unrest, a climate policy vacuum and the physical impacts of global warming. Given this disconnect and failure to make progress on climate, the mandate of many large and well-funded NGOs to represent civil society is questionable. Especially in light of the close financial and other relationships many of these NGOs maintain with the corporate sector (including the oil majors) that this research uncovers.

The following are aggregated conclusions from a survey by watchdog group of websites and financial filings of key US and international NGOs acting in the climate change space. All data is taken from latest disclosures (mostly 2017/18) and links to relevant sources online.

Twelve of the largest US climate and environmental non-profits in the US and UK accepted $125MN in contributions from the corporate sector in the form of both donations and services revenue in the latest years filings are available (2017/18). This total is likely an underestimate given poor disclosure from the group. It does not include revenue gained from corporate foundations. The largest single corporate recipient was The Nature Conservancy (TNC) which received $51MN from the corporate sector in 2018. TNC maintains a “Business Council” whose members include Chevron, BP, Duke Energy, Bayer and Boeing.

In terms of % of total revenue, non-profit Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), which effectively acts like a corporate consultancy, accounted for 87% of its revenue from corporates while climate-focused multinational charity CDP, which scores companies on climate performance, took 35% of its $20Mn 2017 income from such companies.

In terms of disclosure of corporate revenue, the leaders are Conservation International (CI), World Resources Institute (WRI) and Greenpeace (US operations). They provide a clear proportion of total revenue from corporates and details of individual donors. The only two NGOs to clearly disclose they receive no corporate revenue are Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Greenpeace (US operations). The latter states a strict policy in this regard.

Leading non-profits Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Sierra Club offer little-to-no information or specifics on their corporate revenue. EDF does declare significant links with the corporate sector including a relationship with ExxonMobil on its website. NRDC appears not to maintain any corporate links or groupings.

The oil and gas sector appear well entrenched with numerous leading non-profits active on climate change. ExxonMobil works with EDF and Conservation International (CI) while Shell maintains relationships with TNC, CI, BSR and the World Resources Institute. TNC has BP and Chevron on its Business Council.

Of large non-profits with revenue of over $100MN/year Conservation International stands out as having the closest links to corporations, gleaning 15% of its 2017 revenues from corporations. It maintains a Business & Sustainability Council made up of “corporate sustainability leaders advancing global solutions for the pressing environmental challenges we face.” Members of this council include ExxonMobil, Chevron, Bayer, Bechtel, Northrop Grumman and Shell International.

The average compensation received by the CEOs of the group of 12 non-profits in the latest filing year was $525,000. This average is heavily skewed by the highest paid – the CEO of WWFUS Carter Roberts who drew down a package of $1,470,000 in 2017 according to the non-profit’s tax filings.

Given the urgency of action needed on climate and continued anti-climate lobbying by the oil & gas sector it is imperative that the critical non-profit sector disclose fully all links, financial and otherwise, to the corporate sector, particular fossil fuel companies. They should also clearly explain how, given these links, they intend to manage potential conflicts when the need to challenge the corporate sector on climate inevitably arises.

Name Revenue
2017 $mn
Corporate Funding % CEO Salary $ Disclosing on Corporate Funding
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) 1288 4% 812,000 top line only
WWF US 334 5% 1,460,000 top line only
Environmental Defense Fund
223 N/A 712,000 poor
Natural Resources Defense
Council (NRDC)
165 N/A 543,000 poor
Conservation International (CI) 158 15% 614,000 poor
Sierra Club 141 N/A 301,000 poor
World Resources Institute (WRI) 111 8% 468,000 good
Union of Concerned Scientists
40 0% 348,000 top line only
Greenpeace USA 21 0% 115,000 good
CDP 20 35% 225,000 top line only
Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) 19 87% 415,000 top line only
CERES 15 16% 249,000 top line only