Organization Profile – Friends of the Earth International

Authored by: Johannes Kruse

Routledge Handbook of the Climate Change Movement

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415839259
eBook ISBN: 9780203773536
Adobe ISBN: 9781135038878


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Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) is a transnational environmental NGO describing itself as “the world’s largest grassroots environmental network” (FoEI 2011a). The organization was founded by David Brower in the United States in 1969. Before that, Brower, an environmentalist, had long played a prominent role in leading the Sierra Club. After leaving the Sierra Club due to conflicts about campaign goals and tactics, Brower’s aim was to establish an organization that would be truly international, decentralized, and more actively engaged with the media (Wapner 1996: 121–122). According to Brower, Friends of the Earth (FoE) should “have as its specific purpose the task of waging political battles to protect the environment” (quoted in Burke 1982: 105). In 1969, FoE established an office in San Francisco and later also opened offices in Paris, London, and Sweden. In 1971, FoE groups from these four countries founded the transnational umbrella organization FoEI. Today, FoEI is one of the largest transnational environmental NGOs in the world with member organizations in over 70 countries, which – taken together – have more than two million individual members. Its annual budget of a bit more than two million euro is funded by two main sources: (i) donations and core funding provided by foundations, aid organizations, and governments; (ii) fees paid by its member NGOs (FoEI 2012a). Compared with other environmental NGOs and even some of its own members, FoEI’s budget is only modest. The structure of FoEI is that of an international umbrella organization or federation: All decisions about its international work are made at biennial assemblies in which every member NGO has equal speaking and voting rights. In contrast to other transnational NGOs, voting rights are not coupled to membership numbers or financial contributions. The participants of these assemblies also elect the chair and the board of FoEI (FoEI 2012b). Its structure makes FoEI rather a network of NGOs than one hierarchical organization. Furthermore, this structure secures the independence of its national member NGOs and arguably grants Southern NGOs more influence than in other transnational environmental NGOs (Doherty 2006).

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