Who's Behind MacArthur's Big Climate Change Marketing Play?

The climate change fight could use a good marketing campaign, and MacArthur has hired Bob Perkowitz's firm, ecoAmerica, for the job — to the tune of $2.5 million. (See MacArthur Foundation: Grants for Conservation.)

The John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation rebooted its Conservation and Sustainable Development program in 2011 to include underlying threats to biodiversity, such as climate change. And in the program's first rounds of grantmaking, one of the big partners is the consumer research and marketing firm that boasts celebrity board members such as actor Ed Begley, Jr., Hollywood producer Paul Junger Witt, and PR legend David Fenton.

The two-year grant from MacArthur — along with backing from the Linden Trust for Conservation — will support the non-profit marketing firm's MomentUs campaign, which it describes as an organizing and communications initiative designed to build a game-changing increase in support for climate change solutions among Americans.

"MomentUs will lead from behind, fill in strategic gaps, and empower sector-based American responses to the economic health, security and moral challenges brought by climate change," the mission states.

EcoAmerica's strategy involves consumer research, partnerships in a variety of sectors, and then outreach. The messaging focuses on meeting people where they are on the issue, finding out what they are open to, and then framing solutions in a way that appeals to their own interests. For example, in a 2007 interview, founder Perkowitz described how climate change for some is a religious issue, others a conservation issue, while still others a business decision.

If it sounds like a businesslike approach to environmentalism, it should. Perkowitz is not just an environmentalist; he's a savvy and very wealthy entrepreneur. The Economist featured him in a 2012 article on the political activity of "the 1%," noting Perkowitz's curious contradictions: "He is a lifelong Republican who objects to George Bush junior's tax cuts for the wealthy, and backed Barack Obama in 2008." He's now mostly invested in his environmental work and has sat on the boards of the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club Foundation.

Similarly, the board and staff of ecoAmerica are stacked with environmental and political minds, but also with many former corporate executives and marketing experts. The firm made news in 2009 when polling and focus group results were accidentally leaked to the media; these results urged environmentalists to shy away from politically loaded phrases such as "global warming" and instead stick to more populist talking points.

For Perkowitz and ecoAmerica, as he pointed out after the leak and since, it's all about getting the environment out of the bottom of the polls and into the mainstream in a big way.

And with MacArthur's funding behind them, they'll have a big boost to do so. The two-year grant is roughly twice the firm's annual budget in previous years. (See MacArthur Environment Program Director Jorgen Thomsen's IP profile.)