Good Cop, Bad Cop: Environmental NGOs and their Strategies toward Business . London : RFF Press . xiii + 282 pages. ISBN 9781933115771 , $39.95 . Thomas P.Lyon ( Ed ). 2010 .

Classic cop movies often portray a couple of seemingly mis-paired officers, bickering and fighting like an old married couple. But while they differ in style and demeanor, when it came to dealing with the bad guy they used their differences to arrest, interrogate, and bring justice to an otherwise insane world. Either Mr. Lyon or his editors may have a different understanding of the phrase “good cop/bad cop,” for they could easily have tried to shed light on the seemingly uncoordinated but possibly effective behavior of the “good” environmental organization versus the “bad” one. That said, Good Cop Bad Cap: Environmental NGOs and their Strategies Toward Business, provides some insights into the world of environmental advocacy, and may be useful as an introductory reader for upper division courses.

First, given my unorthodox relationship with academia, I first ask absolution for my biases from the reader. I am a recovering academic, escaping to the environmental advocacy community long before seeking a higher office afforded to those blessed with tenure. I once published a book (Audley, 1997) that devotes an entire chapter to the “good cop/bad cop” relationship between two groups of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the American government. I have been a professional advocate for one environmental organization or another off and on for close to 20 years—and now work closely with some of the world's largest businesses as we advocate for renewable energy projects in the Pacific Northwest. Finally, I was once on the brunt end of environmental advocacy, having served a number of years for an Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

Properly cleansed of my sins, onto Mr. Lyon's collection. Lyon charges the contributors to this series with the task of deepening our understanding of the environmental movement. Using contributions from academic scholars, advocates, and some business elites, he argues that the goal of an environmental NGO is best understood by understanding governance structure, membership interests, and the support they receive from foundations. “Without understanding these factors, we cannot hope to understand why NGOs do the things they do and how they influence public policy and corporate behavior” (p. 2). Do the book's contributors rise to this challenge?

The first section of the book offers some solid insights into the world of environmental advocacy. Using a selection of ocean animals to help us understand different organizational structure and behavior, in Chapter 1, John Elkington and Seb Gloe make an important point: how an NGO is held accountable for its action provides an important insight into how it behaves. This is accompanied by Chapter 2, written by Andrew J. Hoffman and Stephanie Bertels, where the authors emphasize the role funding plays to explain behavior. Hoffman and Bertels add depth to their understanding by introducing the role played by relationships, and in my experience as an advocate, I am convinced that relationships between and among environmental groups and “following the money trail” provide the best insights into why groups do what they do. While some may find useful Hoffman and Bertels's effort to visually demonstrate relationships between and among NGOs and other elites, they remind me of my daughter's discarded artistic efforts using her Etch a Sketch. Hoffman and Bertels also make the best effort at living up to the expectations created by the book's title, although swapping out “good cops and bad cops” with the less street-friendly term “positive/negative radical flank effect” won't win the Public Relations Platinum Award. Rounding out the first section is a chapter on framing by Robert J. Brulle and J. Craig Jenkins, and entering section two of the book the reader has a basic handle on some of the key elements associated with environmental advocacy.

The next section relies on the social sciences to try and provide deeper insight into the environmental community. Lawrence S. Rothenberg skewers the environmental community by arguing their best skills lie in self-creation and sustainability—not measurable impact on policy or the quality of the environment. Using the dismal science as his lens, John W. Maxwell argues that, while environmental NGOs may not have as dramatic an impact on policy as they believe themselves, as a group, they tend to balance competing interests—thereby offering some public benefit. Maxwell's section of the environmental community as adversaries is a good read for us practitioners, as it draws upon real examples to underscore how groups use information and politics to effect change. But while both chapters provide some insights into environmental advocacy, in the end, I found myself wanting more than those contributed by the social sciences.

Part III asks NGOs to share their own perspectives on environmental advocacy—a section I found much like reading the details of each organization's website or annual report. If I used this book to teach students, rather than read this section, I would send them to each organization's website to read the most up-to-date stories. Martin B. Zimmerman and Steven W. Percy offer useful counterviews from the perspective of business elites who once peered down the barrel of environmental advocacy, although I would much prefer to hear Mr. Percy's take on things post-BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The book ends with a research program proposal by Erica Johnson and Aseem Prakash. In some respects, their summary of the book's chapters reinforces my own—that social science offers limited insights into the world of NGO advocacy—but they argue that the collection provides greater insight into the relationship between environmental groups and business elites. Proposing a research agenda based on the classic theory of collective action, I found myself feeling their research was better suited for academics than practitioners. A semester spent interning for a national or international environmental organization would be the other half of the “good cop/bad cop” pairing I would suggest for this collection.


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  2. Reference
  • Audley, J. N. (1997). Green politics and global trade: NAFTA and the future of environmental politics. Washiongton, DC: Georgetown University Press.