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Cover Story

Laws of the Jungle

1) Don't Harm the Rain Forest 2) Don't Ignore the Rainforest Action Network 3) Don't Underestimate Randy Hayes

August 08, 2004|Steve Chapple | Steve Chapple is the co-author (with David Brower) of "Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run" (HarperCollins).

It was a devastating attack ad. Over footage of a dying bird covered in oil and rivers burning in chemical fires, actress Susan Sarandon states: "Thousands are standing against Citigroup, the world's largest financer of environmental destruction." It is preceded by Sarandon and fellow actors Daryl Hannah and Ed Asner reading the names of Citibank credit card holders, and then cutting the cards in half. Ali MacGraw snips a card and then Sarandon's voice-over continues as giant trees fall to the whine of chain saws: "And when you use a Citibank Card, you fund it too." She cuts another card and adds: "Tell Citibank, 'Not with my money.' " With his gravelly trademark solemnity, Asner concludes: "Stop bankrolling bulldozers. Cut your card."

Snip.

Sanford I. ("Sandy") Weill, the CEO (now chairman) of Citigroup--the largest financial services institution in the world--watched the 30-second ad in April 2003. The Rainforest Action Network's campaign had been building relentlessly for almost three years, and Weill knew the conservation group's demands: an end to Citigroup's financing of illegal logging anywhere in the world, no oil drilling in environmentally sensitive "no-go" zones where fragile plants and animals might be endangered and indigenous people displaced, and a phase-out of funding for fossil fuels, which, in the network's view, contribute to global warming.

Since Citigroup is a leading private funder of global mining, logging and drilling, these were audacious demands with far-reaching implications for how banks and multinational corporations do business in a world of environmental concerns.

But the Rainforest Action Network had chalked up an impressive string of victories since its founding in 1985 by Weill's nemesis, Randy Hayes. The rowdy grass-roots organization had forced Burger King to cancel contracts for "rain forest beef," or cattle raised on newly cleared tropical rain forest, especially in Central America. It had induced Occidental Petroleum and Shell to abandon oil pipelines in Colombia that arguably could have destroyed Amazonian rain forests and displaced the native U'wa people. In 1999, the group persuaded Home Depot, the largest seller of wood products in the world, not to buy items manufactured from old-growth trees unless the trees have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. In 2003, the network persuaded Boise Cascade to stop logging old-growth forests in Oregon, Canada, Chile and other places around the globe.

"Whether you agree with his tactics or not, Randy has gotten companies to live up to their environmental responsibilities," says Jim Brumm, executive vice president of Mitsubishi, who duked it out with Hayes and his group in the 1990s over Mitsubishi's use of old-growth forests for product packaging.

The Boise campaign was particularly bitter, with the Rainforest Action Network's tax-exempt status attacked and Boise's brand sullied by the sight of protesters, including musicians such as Bonnie Raitt and John Densmore being arrested on national television in front of the company's Chicago offices. Perhaps most damaging to Boise's bottom line, the network persuaded 400 retail customers, including Kinko's--one of the largest consumers of paper in the country--to stop using Boise's products until it abandoned old-growth trees. Such a chain of custody now exists that it's possible to trace paper to the forests from which the trees were cut.

These market campaigns enable "an end run around Washington," as BusinessWeek has put it, during a political period when "drill-at-full-speed" is the watch-phrase along the Potomac. According to the Vancouver Sun: "With that one statement, Home Depot . . . did more to change logging practices in [British Columbia] than 10 years of environmental wars and decades of government regulations."

"The two things that Rainforest Action Network does best are kick corporate ass and throw great parties," said actor-director Tim Robbins upon receiving the group's 2003 World Rainforest Award.

And the life of this green party is its president, Randy "Hurricane" Hayes.

The streets-to-boardroom style came naturally to Hayes, the contentious 54-year-old son of a long-haul truck driver from Florida, with one grandmother who was part Blackfoot and another grandmother who was part Cherokee. Hayes moved in the '70s to San Francisco, presiding over a party house on Jones Street that played host to the city's rock, writer and environmental communities. He soon gravitated to the Earth Island Institute circle of doers and thinkers around David Brower's table at Enrico's, the North Beach bistro. Brower, who had helped save the Grand Canyon from "dam-nation" during his tenure as the first executive director of the Sierra Club, touted a two-edged motto: "Think Green."

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