The ozone layer absorbs ultraviolet radiation that can be very harmful to all forms of life. In 1974, however, scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a chemical used in aerosol sprays, refrigerants, and the creation of synthetic materials, break down when they enter the stratosphere, and produce a chlorine atom, which then contributes to breaking down the ozone layer. In 1985, British Antarctic Survey scientists discovered a massive hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica. These discoveries spurred the United Nations to create the 1985 Vienna Convention, which established a method for negotiating and creating international regulations on CFCs, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and other ozone-depleting substances (ODSs).
In 1986, Greenpeace began a campaign to end the international use of CFCs immediately and responsibly by targeting both governments and major producers of CFCs. Additionally, they demanded that companies and countries repay victims of ozone-depletion. They campaigned against CFC-producing companies, such as DuPont and Hoescht by leading marches, organizing protests, and carrying out symbolic acts of defiance. On one occasion, Greenpeace labeled Hoechst’s CFC tanks with stickers that read “Environmental Devil.” Dupont, an American chemical company targeted by Greenpeace, announced that it would phase out the use of CFCs in the next twenty to thirty years in a surprise concession. Greenpeace decried this move as both meaningless and useless, and continued to use nonviolent action against the company.
Shortly afterward, in 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was instated. This international treaty called for phasing out CFCs and other ODSs over several decades. Greenpeace derided this treaty as playing into the hands of the chemical companies by not calling for a stricter time limit and for allowing companies to transition from CFCs to HFCs or other ODSs.
From 1987 to 1990, Greenpeace continued to take action against multinational chemical companies and national and international lawmaking bodies. Most of these were theatrical and symbolic actions meant to grab the attention of the media in order to raise general public awareness. Examples of these actions included putting a blue ribbon on a DuPont water tower in New Jersey, commending the company for producing the largest amount of CFCs; putting a huge pair of sunglasses on the Sydney Opera House in Australia during a protest, which represented the increased UV rays that can get through a weaker ozone and then cause serious health concerns for humans; and blocking the entrance to Environment Canada, a Canadian environmental agency, in Quebec with refrigerators that used CFCs. They also sent lists of every product the pharmaceutical and chemical company Hoechst produced to every doctor and hospital in Germany. The primary response of the targeted companies was to ignore Greenpeace’s actions.
After two more years of protests from Greenpeace, in 1992, Hoechst decided to accelerate the phase out of both CFCs and HFCs, an action which Greenpeace commended, naming Hoechst an industry leader.
At that point in time, many other companies had begun to phase out the use and production of CFCs due to the Montreal Protocol, which mandated a 1995 phase-out. However, unlike Hoechst, these companies turned to HFCs and other ODSs. Because of this shift, Greenpeace began to alter their campaign to focus on HFCs, though they continued to put pressure on governments and companies that were producing or using CFCs. One such company was DuPont, which continued to produce CFCs until 1992. Until then, Greenpeace continued to target them, often buying shares in Dupont and then attending the shareholders’ meetings. At these meetings, they delivered anti-CFC production petitions with thousands of signatures, dressed up in hazard suits, handed out informational pamphlets, and tried to convince other shareholders to join them in fighting DuPont’s CFC production. The company did not respond. Greenpeace also dressed in hazard suits at a protest outside an American governmental agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which the protesters derided for not recognizing the magnitude of the harm CFCs were causing to the ozone layer. A significant victory in this time period was the 1994 Greenpeace occupation of the CFC production unit of a Greek, nationally-owned company for four days, which resulted in an announcement from the Greek Ministry of Environment that CFC production would be sharply cut.
The year 1995 marked the end of the Montreal Protocol’s phase out of CFCs, so Greenpeace action against CFC production and use dropped off almost entirely at this point. However, they did continue to protest against the use of CFCs in countries that were not party to the Montreal Protocol and against the few exceptions to the CFC ban, such as inhalers.
Maté, John. 2002. “Making a Difference: A Nongovernmental Organization’s Campaign to Save the Ozone Layer.” Retrieved (https://web.archive.org/web/20150921181159/http://www.greenpeace.org/international/global/international/planet-2/report/2001/5/making-a-difference.pdf).
Greenpeace International. 2000. “25 Year Greenpeace Campaign To Ban F-Gases.” SAE Technical Paper Series. Retrieved (https://web.archive.org/web/20150921181301/http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/legacy/Global/usa/planet3/PDFs/eliminate-f-gases.pdf).
Singer, Stephan. 2014. “The Ozone Is Recovering – Can the Climate Be next?” Cool Planet Blog. Retrieved November 15, 2015 (https://web.archive.org/web/20150921175446/http://climate-energy.blogs.panda.org/2014/10/14/ozone-recovering-can-climate-next/).
Keating, Stephen. 1989. “Greenpeace Raises A Banner Of Protest At Du Pont Plant.” philly-archives. Retrieved November 15, 2015 (https://web.archive.org/web/20150921175926/http://articles.philly.com/1989-08-30/news/26149635_1_cfcs-chlorofluorocarbons-greenpeace).
Maxwell, James and Forrest Briscoe. 1997. “There’s Money In the Air: the CFC Ban and DuPont’s Regulatory Strategy.” Retrieved (https://web.archive.org/web/20150921181040/https://eng.ucmerced.edu/people/awesterling/SPR2014.ESS141/Assignments/DuPont).
The Global Nonviolent Action Database
This case study comes from The Global Nonviolent Action Database, a project of Swarthmore College, including the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, the Peace Collection, and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility.
See other case studies in The Global Nonviolent Action Database from Australia and around the world.
- Campaigning - Approaches_Actions_Tactics
- Direct action
- Direct action - Non violent NVDA
- Greenpeace International (Organisation)
- Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer
- Movements_Campaigns - Environment_Nature
- Ozone layer
- Ultraviolet radiation