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Grantee Profiles

EARTHWORKS: Mining the markets for new strategies

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Until a few years ago, the Mineral Policy Center (MPC) sought mining reform primarily by supporting local opponents of individual mines and by intervening in the regulatory process. The strategy had a history of success, but Steve D'Esposito had a different vision. He believed that campaigns that focused on changing market conditions and dynamics could promote "materials responsibility" and provide leverage for efforts to reform the archaic General Mining Law of 1872.

Today under D'Esposito's leadership, MPC has a new name -- EARTHWORKS -- and it recently helped launch two market-based campaigns. The "No Dirty Gold" campaign encourages the gold mining industry to adopt sustainable practices. On college campuses, for example, students are setting up information tables about gold mining's dark side across from displays hawking shiny class rings. The other campaign is "Westerners for Responsible Mining," (WRM) a broad coalition of western residents and organizations. WRM partners recently generated publicity by staking a claim under the 1872 Mining Law outside a Reno neighborhood. EARTHWORKS has also put together a program to promote cell phone recycling -- more cell phone recycling means more recycling of gold and other metals, and therefore fewer new open-pit mines. But EARTHWORKS' focus on local community participation has not changed. "Our campaigns are grounded in the objectives of the communities that are impacted by mines, and changes in policy and practice will help local communities," D'Esposito says.

MPC was founded by Phil Hocker, Mike McCloskey and former Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall. Hocker recruited D'Esposito as vice president of policy in 1997. D'Esposito had begun his organizing career with three years at New York Public Interest Research Group. In 1986 he joined Greenpeace USA where he served as deputy director and acting executive director. In 1993, he joined Greenpeace International as deputy director and then executive director. D'Esposito says he was drawn to MPC because "mining is a really dirty business, with some really bad actors, and things really needed to change in the sector. "

Greenpeace has a history of seeking non-traditional allies and finding creative ways to change market conditions. For instance, it had worked with the insurance industry on global warming. When it wanted to reduce the use of chlorofluorocarbons in Europe, it actually helped research, develop and deploy CFC-free refrigeration technology.

D'Esposito succeeded Hocker as president and executive director in 1998. Soon after, EARTHWORKS engaged in a four-year process of laying the groundwork for both the No Dirty Gold campaign and WRM. Among other things, EARTHWORKS organized a meeting of activists and community leaders from around the world to share experiences and explore strategies and campaign options. It also co-organized (with Tiffany & Co.) a meeting of leaders from jewelry and high-tech retailers, investors, insurers and nongovernmental organizations. "Before a formal campaign was launched, we wanted to seek out leadership in each of these sectors" D'Esposito says.

One of the first leaders to emerge was the chairman and CEO of Tiffany & Company. "Mike Kowalski reached out to me," D'Esposito remembers. "They were assessing their risk profile as a company and they had identified gold as a real high risk." On March 24, 2004, Kowalski published an open letter in the Washington Post that opposed the Rock Creek silver mine in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area near Sandpoint, Idaho. "Minerals should -- and can -- be extracted, processed and used in ways that are environmentally and socially responsible," he wrote.

While developing its campaigns and charting out a new vision, EARTHWORKS was the recipient of a Brainerd Foundation Challenge grant that catalyzed several organizational changes. The most readily visible change is the new name. They found that people, even supporters, were confused by their name. Was it an industry group or a think tank, they wondered, and if it was a think tank, why was it running these activist campaigns? So MPC became EARTHWORKS. It also merged with a group that worked on oil and gas issues and formed partnerships with other organizations such as the Center for Science and Public Participation. "These alliances create 'a new universe of tools' for our campaigns and partners while allowing EARTHWORKS to remain 'fast and nimble,'" says D'Esposito. "The grant changed the way we look at the organization and opened-up new possibilities for us."

Profiled 2005