National Wildlife Federation and Scotts Miracle Gro: Perfect Together?

What's NWF doing with Scotts Miracle Gro?

[Update: Listen to my interview with David Mizejewski of National Wildlife Federation here]

Imagine my dismay when I saw a press release yesterday from Scotts Miracle Gro proudly announcing their partnership with the National Wildlife Federation.

Really? WHY????

You wouldn’t think that the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Scotts Miracle Gro have anything in common would you? I mean, NWF is a very well respected wildlife advocacy and conservation organization, and Scotts has a VERY bad reputation for creating lots of nasty chemicals that kill wildlife, pollute our waterways, kill all the beneficial organisms in our soil, while reaping billions of dollars in profits for doing so.

Well, needless to say, I was disturbed and extremely saddened by this news. Was the National Wildlife Federation selling out to a corporation with no environmental conscience?

So, I wrote about it over at my team blog, Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

My team members were similarly upset by this marriage, and they began to tweet my article, share it on facebook, and leave comments at the National Wildlife Federations facebook page (make sure you click the tab that says “Everyone” under the photo bar).

Within a few hours, my article had been shared over 100 times to other people’s facebook pages. It was being tweeted and retweeted all over twitter and ahared on Google+. People were understandably upset.

Not long after this I received a comment from an NWF spokesperson attempting to explain that this really would be a beneficial arrangement. (In the interest of full disclosure I have been friends with David Mizejewski on facebook and twitter for several years now. I have always been an admirer of his work and respected his passion for wildlife conservation.)

I’ll let David’s comment speak for itself:

Hi Folks – I’m one of Carole’s online friends and admirers, and I’m also naturalist with NWF. This is an important conversation so I want to share some of what this NWF-Scotts partnership is about.

NWF and Scotts share a common goal of reaching as many Americans as possible with messages that inspire people to connect to nature and the outdoors. Through education and activities such as gardening, birding, camping and natural play areas, our mutual goal is to make more families aware of the benefits of outdoor time and to inspire people to protect wildlife.

This cooperative agreement benefits wildlife because it enables NWF to reach many millions more people than we currently reach. With the Save the Songbirds campaign alone we are going to be educating millions of new people about the decline in songbirds and about how they can create wildlife-friendly gardens to help reverse that trend. Specifically, our goal with the campaign is to create 50,000 acres of new songbird habitat and save one million songbirds in 2012.

And let’s face it, if we’re really going to make a difference with the wildlife gardening concept, we in conservation need to be reaching those millions of people out there that we currently aren’t on our own, the people who’ve never heard of a native plant, those who offer no habitat for wildlife in their yards. Those folks might not be as knowledgeable as you or me, or willing to take the concept as far as us, but we need to meet them where they are and help them along. We all know what happens when someone who has only ever had a lawn and a few exotic plants in their yard takes the first steps and puts in a birdbath or a plants a native and then the wildlife actually shows up: they get hooked. They want to take the next step, plant more natives, go organic, convert more of their yards into habitat. Some even become die-hards like us. That’s what this is all about for both NWF and Scotts.

Another key aspect of this partnership is NWF’s ability to help Scotts with its sustainability initiatives. They are already doing a lot on their own in terms of developing more sustainable products and practices. With this agreement, NWF is now working with them directly to advance important sustainability and conservation issues and promoting ways to help reduce the impact of lawn and garden products on wildlife and wild places such as ponds, lakes, and streams. In this case, we believe that by working together, we can make more progress more quickly on improving the environment.

At NWF we respect our members’ opinions, even critical or skeptical ones. So thanks Carole for sparking the discussion! We believe this partnership aligns well with our mission to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.

Now, if you’re like me, this comment raises a whole lot more questions than it answers, right? Do you understand  why NWF would “make this deal with the devil?”

I’m not quite clear on that. So, I contacted David Mizejewski and asked him if he would like to be interviewed so that he could clear up all of our questions, and he has graciously agreed to do so. I’ll be talking to him later this afternoon (Tuesday 1/24).

I’d be very interested in knowing what you’d like me to ask him. What questions do you have for the National Wildlife Federation regarding their partnership with Scotts Miracle Gro? Do you have any message for me to pass along to him? Please enter your questions below in the comments. I’ll ask David as many as we have time for.

And remember: Alone we are small, but together we are mighty!!!

If you’d like to tell NWF your thoughts on this subject you can do it here:

  • Post your thoughts on NWF’s facebook page (make sure you click the tab that says “Everyone” under the photo bar)
  • Tweet your message to NWF on twitter, including @NWF in your message
  • Call NWF:  1-800-822-9919 ; M-F 8 a.m to 8 p.m. EST
  • Leave a comment on their webiste

Read more about NWF partnership with Scotts:

© 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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  1. says

    Carole I am very concerned about this statement, “Another key aspect of this partnership is NWF’s ability to help Scotts with its sustainability initiatives. They are already doing a lot on their own in terms of developing more sustainable products and practices. With this agreement, NWF is now working with them directly to advance important sustainability and conservation issues and promoting ways to help reduce the impact of lawn and garden products on wildlife and wild places such as ponds, lakes, and streams. In this case, we believe that by working together, we can make more progress more quickly on improving the environment.” I would like to know what efforts Scotts is working on…forgive me but the everyday gardener will see this partnership as an endorsement of using the chemicals…is Scott going out of the lawn chemical and weed chemical business…doubt it…if not then again this is the wrong partnership and wrong message being sent. Instead work with them on their sustainability efforts but don’t be a partner. Be clear that his statement is still not convincing folks like me and I will be severing my ties with them.

  2. says

    Carole, I have tried and tried but I honestly cannot come up with a question that makes sense to me to ask. I just don’t get this partnership and I don’t think anything the NWF can say can explain it. I have been outspoken in my area for awhile now how I feel about keeping your lawn and gardens organic and how the focus should be on building the soil to nurture the plants that will sustain the wildlife. This includes not using “natural” lawn and garden fertilizers with ANY synthetic ingredients at all. Scotts just does not fit there in any way, shape or form. I look forward to reading your interview later today.

  3. says

    I agree with Donna. I would like to know what initiatives Scotts is taking to improve. As an advocate for natural gardening without the use of pesticides, how does this work? I do agree that it may help reach others that aren’t already on board, but it really does seem like encouragement to use chemicals when they’re simply not needed and above all dangerous. This would have been a much different scenario had Scotts asked for help from the NWF in creating natural products or lessening the amount of dangerous chemicals they create, but for an all-out partnership between NWF and Scotts to come about is ludicrous.

    During your interview with David, I would like you to ask him why NWF thinks it is so important to reach out to people who clearly don’t care about the environment as the supporters of NWF do, and if he really sees the justification in alienating all of us whom truly care about sustainability within our home landscapes and the ecosystem.

  4. says

    So it’s about money, but I guess that’s not surprising. I imagine that Scotts is giving NWF a lot, and I hope they realize that they’re selling out the thousands of wildlife gardeners who supported their programs. I’d say this makes NWF look like they’re prostituting themselves, but at least prostitutes are generally honest about their business model…

  5. says

    I would like a clear statement on whether the NWF supports or opposes the Scotts “lawn care system” with the 4-to-6 yearly treatments of fertilizer on suburban lawns, combined with extensive applications of weed-killer. Does the NWF believe that this use of chemicals is actually good for the wildlife it claims to protect?

    The runoff of fertilizers from lawns are extremely damaging to watersheds and the wildlife that lives in them. If the NWF is partnering with Scotts, are they going to assume responsibility for cleaning up the damage to our ponds and streams caused by the widespread use of their new partner’s products?

    Those would be my questions…

  6. says

    I’m sorry, but the skeptic on me says that the reasons he gave are rationalizations for NWF getting a lot of money for this partnership. Working together can be great, but the message this campaign is sending is way off base.

    The odd pairing between a pro-wildlife organization and a chemical company is too glaring to see past.

    There is a lot of gray area in this, of course. For example, I’m happy that imidicloprid has saved my Eastern Hemlocks.

    Chemicals obviously can do us a lot of good. But I seriously question this one, as it makes no sense on the surface.

  7. Sue Sweeney says

    I agree with Ursula.

    Further, would the NWF be willing to post signs at all its facilities where children play either stating that the facility is chemical-free or listing the chemicals used and their actual known and potential dangers to humans, animals, and the environment?

    I would also like David’s comment on the following: Where I think NWF has gotten into trouble here is that they don’t understand their support base (remember Netflix had this problem a few months ago). Scotts may get away with puffing statements like the one David shared with us because Scotts’ support base is unquestioning (or won’t be buying Scotts products); the NWF support, however, especially the certification program people, think for themselves – which is why their backyards are chemical-free and full of wildlife. Are they willing to have us walk out en masse? AARP has never recovered its reputation, or clout, after supporting Bush’s prescription drug program for Medicare. Is the NWF content to have a similar future?

    Lastly: where is the money going? How much money is involved in total, and as a percentage of NWF’s total budget? How much do the NWF executives make?

  8. Lynn Maun says

    In what way will Scotts promote the use of native plants to create wildlife friendly habitats that do not require the use of fertilizers and pesticides? Will the NWF promote the use of Scotts products?

  9. says

    I’d like to know if Scotts is going to pick up the slack of supporting the NWF’s initiatives by writing to members of congress or other local representatives when all the active NWF members stop supporting the NWF.

    Honestly, they couldn’t have pursued a partnership with any other, less offensive and controversial company?? There are plenty of routes into mainstream gardening that wouldn’t have upset the member base.

    I’m certainly glad I didn’t volunteer with the NWF to be in their booth at the Northwest Flower and Garden show this year after having done so the last two years. I wonder if they’ll have Scotts signs in their booth or if David’s talk will have Scotts logos all over it.

    For my part, I’m going to start directing my readers to our local certifications, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Northwest Zoo and Aquarium Alliance. If the NWF continues on this path, I will encourage both of those organizations to drop their partnerships with the NWF as well.

  10. says

    How much money is NWF receiving from Scott’s for this “partnership? Exactly WHAT initiatives is Scott’ s taking? This sounds like political propaganda to me. I agree that NWF could certainly WORK with Scott’s on programs. BUt the truth is, as long as Scott’s sells products that we all know can kill everything in our soil AND create harmful algal blooms in our water, they are NOT helping the environment. Are they now offering “organic” solutions to “pest” problems? I doubt it.

  11. says

    Let’s call Scotts what it IS: Scott’s Lawn Chemical Company. Greens your grass at the expense of all wildlife, including birds. NWF is sleeping with the enemy here and Scott’s is laughing all the way to the bank.
    Read my post “Are You Killing the Catbird Family” about what lawn chemicals mean to our backyard birds:
    Carole, be tough and let David know of the disappointment out there in NWF’s sell-out. First Paula Deen and now NWF…the dollar trumps all common sense!!

  12. says

    Ask NWF this please – Exactly what is your opinion about the lawn chemicals and pesticides that SMG sells? What impact do you believe these chemicals have on the environment and wildlife?

    • says

      Hal, Good one.

      What is the stance of NWF in regards to promoting wild insects that are an integral part of any native species’s life cycle.

      And let’s face it, we as a species are very ignorant of how insects and plants interact. Sure, we know a lot, but just imagine what we don’t know. (Is it imposible to imagine what you don’t know? Hm?)

  13. Violets says

    Suggestions for questions about the partnership:
    Specifically which concerns are NWF addressing with Scott’s?
    Does Scott’s have a timeline for eliminating the most hazardous chemicals from it’s products?
    In which ways will NWF and Scott’s promote sustainability?
    What are their views on GM seeds?
    What happens if NWF and Scott’s disagree on the sustainability or environmental friendliness of a product? Now that the partnership has taken place, will Scott’s be able to use the NWF tie even for questionable products? Or does NWF get veto power?

  14. says

    Carole, Thank you for offering readers the opportunity to ask Mr. Mizejewski a question. It’s understandable that there are some any visceral emotional reactions to the announcement. On the surface, it’s incomprehensible and begs the question of when will the other shoe drop? There must be more to this than meets the eye.

    But from a purely business perspective, the partnership raises some other interesting questions. I’d like to know if NWF anticipated this kind of negative reaction and its intensity? Is it possible they’ve been caught off guard? What impact ($ and %) does NWF anticipate this will have on both short term and long term fundraising efforts? What about employee morale? This can’t sit well with all the employees. I’m making a blanket statement here but most people who work for a non-profit don’t do it for the high salary – they can be paid more in the for-profit arena. Instead, they are often passionate about the non-profit they work for and the message the non-profit preaches. Does NWF anticipate any keys employees will leave and bring their talents to another non-profit where the message is not so muddy? While $$ is important, the people behind the NWF brand are even more so.

  15. says

    Great questions everyone!

    Here’s some questions that have come in from twitter:

    From @jeremymarin: @CB4wildlife Ask him if he’d let his kids do the @NWF “backyard camp out” if the yard was treated with Scotts chemicals.

    From @AboutInsects: @CB4wildlife Please ask – “How’s it feel to be bitch slapped by the blogosphere, sucka?”

    From @NCoastGardening: @plantnative I’d like to know how he reconciles their advice to be organic in habitat gardens with this new partnership @plantnative Do they feel their association with Scotts is lending an aura of sustainability to the Scotts brand? @PlantNative What is the benefit to NWF of this association? Will they be using the funding to create new initiatives, or what?

  16. says

    And more questions from Facebook:

    Michelle: What’s the rationale behind a decision that seems contrary to everything we believed NWF supported. What are the economic benefits (ramifications) of doing this for NWF, Scotts, the Earth.

    Susie B: I would like to know why the National “Wild”life Federation would promote children playing on pesticide and fertilizer laden, perfectly groomed turf grass rather than going out into the “wild”. I am admittedly a bit baffled by that. I am al…

    Beverly W: Now that they have a big (chemical) money source, do they really need my meager donations?

    Miriam G: NWF mission statement out the window….

    Michelle V: What’s the rationale behind a decision that seems contrary to everything we believed NWF supported. What are the economic benefits (ramifications) of doing this for NWF, Scotts, the Earth.

    Julia L V: Aesthethic garden use of many herbicides and pesticides, manufactured by Monsanto and others, are being banned from retail distribution across Canada and Europe as more is learned about how the ACTIVE and/or INERT chemicals in these products affect our neurological systems (aka, ADHD) and endocrine glands. Now NWF is accepting money from the makers of these products to develop a children’s program? The ONLY way GOOD can come from this is if NWF somehow gets these products off the market in the US. Ask them if this is something they are willing to do in exchange for the funding.

  17. says

    Ask him if he has read the ingredients list on the Scott’s Songbird seed that will contain the NWF logo. Ask him if he understands that most of what is put into the blend is junk seed. They are actually adding unnecessary vitamins and minerals in the seed blends, along with grain products. Ask him if he knows what “grain products” are. It’s certainly not worthy for my birds.

  18. Mary Evans says

    whose idea was this? I have to believe that Scotts approached the NWF and they fell for the shiny money. UNFRIEND!

  19. says

    Question for NWF: Were there other partners considered before sealing the deal with NWF. If so, which ones? Why was Scotts chosen above the others?

    FYI, I have started a hashtag on Twitter should you wish to join:

  20. says

    Carol, I appreciate the concern you and others have expressed about NWF’s partnership with Scotts. I’d like to share my perspective with you on how we came to this decision.

    National Wildlife Federation has long believed that America works best when we work together. We fail when we divide. We have a 75-year history of collaborating with people and organizations from across the spectrum on the most important issues facing wildlife.

    Much of our conservation work focuses on making changes on Capitol Hill, but more and more I believe we must all do what we can to change corporate and individual behavior when it’s incongruent with a healthy, sustainable world. We have carefully considered the pluses and minuses of working with ScottsMiracle Gro in an objective way, knowing that our friends in the organic gardening world have legitimate concerns about the company. I am sure the staff at Scotts had their own set of concerns about National Wildlife Federation.

    I looked very carefully at not just where Scotts is at the moment, but more importantly where the company is going. While National Wildlife Federation is not endorsing any of the products that organic gardeners and others find objectionable, we will be encouraging Scotts to develop products that will lead to a more sustainable world.

    I believe we can do more for wildlife by working to move corporations with a large environmental footprint in the right direction. Here are three important indicators of where Scotts is taking a new approach to lawn and garden products.

    Lawns are a significant feature in the American landscape and what happens in our lawns doesn’t stay in our lawns. NASA has a great website that depicts the significance of lawns in and around aquatic ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay.

    Chemical runoff from lawns, particularly phosphorus which is a limiting nutrient, has a major impact on a number of lakes and fresh water portions of estuaries. Excess phosphorus stimulates “dead zones” by stimulating algae blooms that cause oxygen depletion in lakes, reservoirs and tidal fresh estuaries.

    National Wildlife Federation has been promoting efforts to regulate non-point pollution under the Clean Water Act for decades with little real progress. It is clear that to make progress in this cause we need to work with companies that can make better product formulation decisions that will have a positive impact on millions of lawns and gardens across America. By working with Scotts, we can give voice to the need to curtail the use of phosphorus in lawn and garden fertilizer. As a result of a recent court decision, Scotts will phase out phosphorus in all of its fertilizers at the end of 2012 (with the exception of its plant starter products). This will create a market shift, as Scotts is a dominant player in the residential lawn care world. National Wildlife Federation supported this decision and we will work with Scotts to continue to encourage further improvements in the company’s fertilizers to protect fish, wildlife and their habitats.

    Millions of American gardeners buy Peat Moss to add organic matter to their gardens, not knowing that it has an enormous ecological consequence to sphagnum wetland ecosystems all across the boreal region of Canada where peat is mined. Peat mining also disrupts critically important carbon storage systems and destroys the biological and archeological records which are preserved in acidic bogs and other sphagnum wetlands.

    With NWF’s full support, Scotts has undertaken a comprehensive effort to move away from the use of peat in its products and is replacing peat with recycled organic matter from much better sources. We will continue to encourage Scotts’ efforts in this important transition to save fragile ecosystems and to protect the earth’s best carbon sinks.

    Scotts’ scientists recognize that carbon storage in our lawns can be an important component for recapturing carbon pollution. They are studying various lawn management strategies and seed mixes to optimize carbon storage in our lawns. As we know and understand more about how to optimize carbon storage and how to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from our lawns, NWF will attempt to communicate meaningful solutions that gardeners and other homeowners can adopt. More information on this work can be found here

    • says

      To clarify, Scotts will phase out phosphorous in all of its fertilizers at the end of 2012 (with the exception of it plant starter products) as a result of an internal choice, not a court decision. Apologies for the confusion.

  21. says

    I understand David’s comment, but before we started the farm, I worked with a large corporation in a professional capacity, as a biologist, when they were looking to ‘green’ their image (not by choice, it was my job). In that project, a mega-corp was concerned about their public image. Our organization was concerned, as a non-profit, about operating capital. Said corp would fund a very VERY public conservation project, thereby providing us much needed funding, in exchange for the ‘green’ points they would gain from their own consumers by partnering with us. This is a transaction. A business transation, pure and simple, and it happens more than you might think. Scotts would not enter into a partnership with NWF if Scotts did not stand to benefit. NWF would not agree if they did not in turn, stand to benefit. I don’t believe for a second that this was done purely so NWF could reach more of the public. Clearly, to my mind Scotts wishes to ‘green’ their image, and NWF is now sending a very muddied, and mixed message to the public. Our group was a tiny non-profit, with diminishing resources. I do not believe for a moment that NWF, even in this economy, needed to sell out, and I see much more in this arrangement to benefit Scotts, than will ever benefit NWF. I looked at our Certified Wildlife Habitat sign this afternoon with disappointment, and disgust. I’m sorry NWF, this was not a wise move on your part.

  22. says

    What is the enemy: fertilizer applied without consideration of consequences.

    I live in a heavily awarded sustainable community. I was blue in the face a couple years back to find community support to ban the commercial pesticides. It is considered a political liability to tell people best practices! Smoothing over with politics does not bode for effective communication.

    So, I am saying, the community leaders we trust, have little incentive to change policy. Today our municipality has banned commercial use of pesticides… And our community proudly touts themselves as a pesticide literate community.

    In the meantime, it is the grassroots people who continue tirelessly.

    Basically we must work from tree to tree, and leap into the pond when the water is aplenty – and clean or we won’t survive.

    I think of people who need employment.

    Scott’s will need to change policy if they are to survive in the future. It IS possible that NWF, can make a difference. We have some big changes ahead.

    I like 1% for the planet. group that grants membership to private companies who commit 1% of annual profits to environmental charity. This creates a business model where companies are able to survive as they explore environmentally friendly business practices, while supporting an infrastructure of environmental practice.

    1. NWF needs to organize projects using their knowledge base, where local relationships (location based)
    2. Scotts can use an old format for moneymaking to support infrastructure for change. Scotts becomes a non-profit and supports new projects hat support of environment. The value is the relationships, the fresh water, the sustainable, healthy lives… perhaps a little simpler…

    An environmental argument gets stronger when we distill it into the basics.

  23. jennifer says

    Thank you for your coverage on this. I really feel at bottom that Scotts and the creation and protection of habitat are mutually exclusive in a way that can’t be overcome by picking and chosing which products may be less harmful or tweaking lawn grasses so that they are slightly more ecologically useful. I’d love to see Scotts truly move away from toxic products, but they are selling not just their products but the very IDEA of this product-intensive, manicured, controlled landscape and the very IMAGE of the lawn which is contrary to backyard habitat. Their whole business is based on miseducating people about what makes for a “healthy yard”. It’s just not possible to support that AND say you want wildlife habitat at the same time. According the the NWF website, Scotts will sponsor a homeowner’s guide for “backyard play habitats”. I hope I’m wrong, but that sounds just like Massey Energy creating lessons plans about global warming to give out to grade schools!


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