Greenpeace: Using Activism and the Law to Protect the Planet

the-greenpeace-logoAs one of the pioneering environmental organizations still operating today, Greenpeace remains as vital as ever. At times controversial, Greenpeace exists to protect our vital ecosystems in a way that preserves them for future generations. Whereas in their early days Greenpeace relied primarily on their groundbreaking “mind bomb” direct actions, today their methods of operation are much more diverse. While they still engage in a number of creative direct actions, they also are involved in much behind the scenes work whether at the United Nations, state capitols around the world, corporate boardrooms or the courthouse, always to continue to push for their goal to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity.” According to their website:

Greenpeace exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action.

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace by:

Greenpeace is present in 40 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

Recently I had the chance to talk to Tom Wetterer, General Counsel for Greenpeace USA on his role with the organization and how Greenpeace uses the law to further their goals.

Progressive Lawyer: Please introduce yourself and describe your role in your organization

Tom Wetterer: Tom Wetterer, General Counsel, Greenpeace USA

PL: Why was your organization started? What issues does it confront?

TW: The organization started in Canada to protest against nuclear armament, but has grown into an environmental organization that works on a number of issues, including climate change, oceans, and forests.

Tom Wetterer
Tom Wetterer

PL: What services does your organization offer? Who are its primary clients/audience?

TW: We’re a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. We do not accept money from the government or corporations and primarily rely on a broad base of individual donors.

PL: How do you utilize the law to further your organizational goals?

TW: We utilize the law to further the organization’s goals in many different ways. We advise activists on their legal rights, as well as legal risks, so that they can effectively confront environmental harms at their source. We also pursue proactive lawsuits against corporations and the government for actions that violate environmental laws and regulations.

PL: What role do legal professionals play in your organization?

TW: We have three in-house attorneys, including me, and work with a number of external lawyers in various practice areas.

PL: Do you offer any internships or volunteer opportunities?

TW: We occasional offer legal internship opportunities. (Ed. Job and internship opportunities can be found at the Greenpeace International website at as well as the individual websites of each Greenpeace country site such as Greenpeace USA

PL: How would a legal professional pursue a career with your organization? What advice would you give a law student or legal professional who would be interested in this type of law?

TW: We have a small legal staff with little turnover. The advice I would give someone who’s interested in this type of law is to talk with as many people in the field as possible, build networks of like-minded people and do volunteer work in the field to get a foot in the door.

PL: How do you balance your work life with your private life?

TW: Time management and intentional focus on creating space for outside interests, including healthy pursuits such as biking and yoga.

PL: Outside of your organization, what issues are you particularly passionate about?

TW: Diversity and inclusion issues. More specifically, I’m currently working on the issue of getting the Washington football team to change its racist name.

PL: What do you think the role of law and lawyers should be in society?

TW: Effect positive change, protect and advance individual legal rights, and push back on the overstepping of corporate power.


Living For A Cause is a series of web shorts presented by Greenpeace International Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo. Reflecting on 3 years at the helm of what has become a dynamic international organisation, the series presents an ‘insider’ look at the Greenpeace of today, highlighting some of the more surprising aspects of our organisation, from the well known protest actions, to our people, and volunteers.

An international team of Greenpeace volunteers and staff is supporting the “Arctic 30” in Murmansk. They provide legal support, put together personalised care and deliver communications work to help those behind bars. The Arctic 30 were arrested by Russian authorities following a peaceful protest at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Pechora Sea.

More information on Greenpeace can be found at

A big thank you for Tom taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions and for Molly Dorozenski for helping to make this happen.

Until next week!

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