International Non-Governmental Organization Case: Greenpeace

Greenpeace’s logo


Greenpeace is an international non-governmental organization known for their work in environmental activism and public education on environmental issues. They are particularly known for their main principles of non-violence and direct action on such environmental endeavors. This essay will be analyzing their philanthropic work as an INGO, focusing on their organizational strategies internationally and at localized levels. Greenpeace started as a small anti-nuclear group that worked on accountability measures against United States nuclear bomb testing in the late 1960s. Over the course of 50 years, the group of activists has now grown to include advocacy and work in multiple sectors concerning the environment such as overfishing, commercial whaling, deforestation, and climate change. The organization now has an international office by the name Greenpeace International, holds National and Regional offices in over 40 countries, and remains one of the largest and most recognizable environmental organizations on a global scale. Throughout this essay, Greenpeace’s operation from local, national, and international level will be analyzed to understand how its existence played a part in past and current philanthropic globalization. Greenpeace is a case exemplifying the importance of civil society organizations when it comes to global governance, and although has dealt with controversies, continues to be a leading example in non-profit organizations (Zelko, 2017).

Localization Strategies

Greenpeace’s localization strategies largely sit on the fundamental basis of having a combination between activism and political opportunity structures. Meaning, while Greenpeace continues to focus on its core values in environmental activism, it also values the structure of their local, regional, and national performance politically. They currently work in a top-down format organizationally, much like a for-profit organization would, to fit their global scale aspirations and achievements. One key aspect of Greenpeace’s organizational management involves their way in breaking down the division of labor. For example, Greenpeace has National and Regional Offices (NROs) that use the name ‘Greenpeace’ in their various geographical regions with adherence to Greenpeace Council’s policies and Greenpeace International review (Timmer, 2007, p. 72).  This allows for these regional offices to focus on environmental work in their local communities, with meeting requirements and permissions from the international scale of Greenpeace. In the beginnings of their development, thought, this was certainly not the case.  “Greenpeace’s governance system has evolved from a system where everybody was involved in everything and decisions were made by consensus, to a system where governance and executive powers are clearly separated…” (Greenpeace International, 2003). Therefore, Greenpeace’s origins as a grassroots group of activists each with wholistic involvement, was not possible for globalization.


Greenpeace’s shift into globalization came from its development of Greenpeace International, led by David McTaggart. McTaggart is notable to discuss, as his ideology in pushing Greenpeace to a global scale, was in many ways pertinent to making Greenpeace an INGO (Zelko, 2017). He had a desire to shape the organization into a more professional, organized presentation, and as key developer of Greenpeace International, he has made claims to founding Greenpeace as a whole. It’s important to note that this shift was not quick as “There has been an almost constant tension… between a desire among local activists to maintain their autonomy and operate according to the principles of grass roots, consensus-based democracy, and the staff at Greenpeace International…” (Zelko, 2017, p. 340). Yet as the organization grew, it became involved in global forums, gaining recognition from the United Nations, and involved itself in supporting INGO accountability. Greenpeace is a founding member of the INGO Accountability Charter, which included several INGOs to uphold international legitimacy (Zelko, 2017). These decisions to involve the organization in international transparency allows Greenpeace to hold itself in “world civic politics” as coined by political scientist Paul Wapner. He defines world civic politics as a strategy for creating influence of opinion at different political and social levels, “from small communities to multilateral governance bodies and powerful nation states” (Zelko, 2017, p. 319). Thus, Greenpeace could hold an influence global governance such as the United Nations.

Relationship with Media

Looking at the organization’s early development, their relationship with media and broadcasting was significant in their establishment as a globally recognizable environmental group. For example, during their 1970s campaigns against commercial whaling, the protesters were heavily followed by the media. “[Greenpeace activist] Hunter talked to virtually every TV and radio station in the Bay Area, and the story, complete with dramatic photos and film footage, was printed and broadcast throughout the United States and the world” (Zelko, 2017, p. 329). In fact, in an interview with various key members of Greenpeace’s first anti-whaling protest, member Jim Bohlen explained “…Out of a crew of twelve, half were journalists. We did a lot for the media from the very beginning…” (Bohlen). This continuous media success over the course of their first few years led to an increase in the number of sympathetic individuals desiring Greenpeace involvement, support, and membership. Additionally, Greenpeace publishes reports for their campaigns, included annual reports on science research and policy updates globally. In their 2011 annual report, a representative of their council states:

we recognize that protecting the plant ‘company by company’ is not a viable solution – we must work harder to commit industry as a whole to embrace the ethics of sustainability. We also recognize that to do this, we must further strengthen our mobilization capabilities, expand our coalitions and alliances, and look more deeply into the economic structures that drive unsustainable development.

(Toni, 2011, p.4)
front page to Greenpeace’s 2011 report


This focus on themselves as catalysts for environmental action is consistent in their reports; pushing for global effort while still calling for action on a grassroots level with coalitions and alliances. These publications are another way in which anyone from local to global scale can be informed on Greenpeace’s work. Essentially, the continuous involvement with the media as well as localized Greenpeace organizations that focused on specific local issues became key to how this INGO kept mutual communication between itself and various local cultures/people. Ultimately, Greenpeace is recognizable for its unique beginnings as a “hippy” activism group running up against anti-environmental actions taken by large corporations and governments. “Greenpeace, if it was going to succeed, had to professionalize and become a transnational environmental empire.” (Zelko, 2017, p. 339). Yet to this day it is still maintaining aspects of its original essence of non-violence and direct action, even as an INGO, largely by its organizational understanding of impacting small to large scale communities. In this sense, Greenpeace can stand as an important example for organizational management and project operation within environmental non-profit work.


Author’s bio:

Valarie Gold is a filmmaker based out of Austin, Texas. She is currently pursuing a MA in Media Studies & a Nonprofit portfolio at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on youth and media literacy. She also works as a community assistant at the Austin School of Film. You can connect with her through Facebook.

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