- - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

THE HAGUE — For two years, Pascal Husting’s employer paid to fly him most weeks between his home in Luxembourg and his office in Amsterdam.

Such trips are common for executives at major international corporations in Western Europe.

But Mr. Husting isn’t working for a corporation. He is the international program director for Greenpeace, the nonprofit that is arguably the world’s most high-profile environmental advocacy organization.

SEE ALSO: EPA hears testimony on proposed carbon emissions rules

Mr. Husting’s weekly commute prompted a chorus of derision from Greenpeace opponents after “Flygate” was revealed in Dutch media this summer.

It also aroused the anger of activists, staff members and donors who have long supported the 40-year-old group. Traveling 500 miles round trip in a carbon-emitting airliner was hard to square with Greenpeace’s aims, after all.

“Arrogance is a word that springs to mind,” Greenpeace donor Altwin de Moor wrote on his personal blog. “It seems as if those at the top of Greenpeace are more interested in watching each other’s backs than standing up for the right thing. I will be keeping an eye on developments and decide on the basis of what happens whether to cancel my donations.”

The revelations followed another damaging acknowledgment by Greenpeace: A blunder by its finance department resulted in $5 million in losses on foreign exchange markets — a rare peek into the internal workings of an advocacy group associated with saving whales and protecting trees.

Many wonder what’s next for Greenpeace, which has headquarters in Amsterdam and operates on a $95 million annual budget that supports 28 branch offices, 2,400 employees and 15,000 volunteers around the world.

Arco Timmermans, a professor of public affairs at Leiden University, said the scandals show how Greenpeace “has become a victim of its own success” and that the group is having trouble balancing its activism with its operational needs.

Unlike most other major enterprises, Greenpeace has to give a nod to the environment in conducting its business.

Each of Mr. Husting’s round-trip flights generated 313 pounds of carbon dioxide. He flew between Luxembourg and Amsterdam as often as once a week — normal for a banker but too much for many of Greenpeace’s environmentalists. The total cost of his flights over two years was around $20,000.

Mr. Husting issued a public apology on Greenpeace’s website saying he “ignored the voice of my own conscience.”

He pledged to start making a 12-hour round trip by train, but the damage is done.

In the Netherlands alone, nearly 700 donors have canceled contributions to Greenpeace in response to the news of Mr. Husting’s flights.

As the public relations disaster became clear, more than 40 Greenpeace staff members signed a letter in July demanding Mr. Husting’s resignation and asking Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo to “reflect” on his own job.

Story Continues →