Environmental groups are known for the doggedness with which they pursue their causes. So it’s not a surprise that Greenpeace would go to Peru to stage a demonstration, encouraging people to be eco-friendly. That the protest itself may have caused irreversible damage to a historic site is surprising.
Global leaders gathered in the South American country’s capital, Lima, and agreed last week to reduce greenhouse gases with details about how to do that coming this spring.
In the shadow of that, at the Nazca Lines, a World Heritage site where geoglyphs, hundreds of drawings in stone and sand have been around for more than 1,000 years, Greenpeace staged one of their high-profile demonstrations. They laid out a cloth message that can be seen from overhead, spelling out “Time for change! The future is renewable. Greenpeace.”
The only problem is the 20 Greenpeace members were there without legal consent and without the proper equipment normally used by professional archaeologists to prevent damage being done to the sensitive rocks and sand that cover the earth in that location.
“To have a group of people, irresponsible, childish, to lay out a message and completely lose respect for the law, and absolutely disregard for what they were actually damaging…,” said Luis Jaime Castillo, the country’s Deputy Minister of Culture.
When passions flare or when someone feels as though they’re on to a great idea, it’s hard to dissuade them from moving forward. This is where a level head and/or a good comms pro comes in handy. Here, Greenpeace would’ve done well to consult with the Peruvian government or simply a website containing information about these historic areas and the care one must take to visit. Calm down, come up with a strategy, proceed with caution.
Besides the legal repercussions that the Peruvian government is promising, there is great damage to Greenpeace’s credibility. Stunts are only effective when their message comes across loud, clear and without mishap. Deputy minister Castillo’s use of the word “childish” is a particularly stinging one because it makes Greenpeace sound like a bunch of amateurs. It undermines and overshadows the message.
Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace, has issued a video apology to “anyone who was offended by our actions”; the organization also scored a spot on last week’s week in apologies post.
“We must now commit our full attention to making amends. I am committed to explore all options to the best of our ability for repairing any damage,” he added. Deputy minister Castillo says he’s waiting for a list of members to pursue legally.
Besides making amends and repairs, Greenpeace must now work to reassure governments and others that they mean make change, not trouble.