The Group of Ten Meets for the First Time Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Leaders of the most important U.S. environmental groups met in Washington, D.C., to discuss common goals for political action. The formation of this powerful group symbolized a widespread recognition of the essential interrelatedness of all environmental concerns and of the need to engage corporations and political leaders.

Summary of Event

The Iron Grill Inn, located near the White House in Washington, D.C., has been the scene of many environmentalist meetings over the years. The most important of these meetings occurred on January 21, 1981, when leaders of nine of the largest national environmental organizations were hosted by sympathetic funders who wished to contribute millions of dollars to their common cause. Group of Ten Environmental organizations Environmental activism [kw]Group of Ten Meets for the First Time, The (Jan. 21, 1981) [kw]First Time, The Group of Ten Meets for the (Jan. 21, 1981) Group of Ten Environmental organizations Environmental activism [g]North America;Jan. 21, 1981: The Group of Ten Meets for the First Time[04420] [g]United States;Jan. 21, 1981: The Group of Ten Meets for the First Time[04420] [c]Organizations and institutions;Jan. 21, 1981: The Group of Ten Meets for the First Time[04420] [c]Environmental issues;Jan. 21, 1981: The Group of Ten Meets for the First Time[04420] Allen, Robert L. Peterson, Russell Wilbur McCloskey, J. Michael Adams, John Hamilton

The nine leaders assembled at the Iron Grill Inn were Thomas Kimball, Kimball, Thomas chief executive officer (CEO) of the National Wildlife Federation; National Wildlife Federation Jack Lorenz, Lorenz, Jack CEO of the Izaak Walton League; Izaak Walton League of America Russell Wilbur Peterson, former governor of Delaware and CEO of the National Audubon Society; National Audubon Society J. Michael McCloskey, CEO of the Sierra Club; Sierra Club William Turnage, Turnage, William CEO of the Wilderness Society; Wilderness Society John Hamilton Adams, CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Janet Brown, Brown, Janet CEO of the Environmental Defense Fund Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); Louise C. Dunlap, Dunlap, Louise C. CEO of the Environmental Policy Center Environmental Policy Center (EPC); and Rafe Pomerance, Pomerance, Rafe CEO of Friends of the Earth Friends of the Earth (FOE). Later, Paul Pritchard Pritchard, Paul of the National Parks and Conservation Association National Parks and Conservation Association was invited to join the group, which came to be known as the Group of Ten.

The event, organized by Robert L. Allen, a vice president of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, Henry P. Kendall Foundation was intentionally scheduled for the day after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan Reagan, Ronald [p]Reagan, Ronald;environmental policy as fortieth president of the United States. Reagan, a conservative Republican who succeeded the liberal Democrat and proenvironmentalist Jimmy Carter, Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;environmental policy had promised to reduce the size of government by cutting government spending. Reagan had won the national election by a landslide, and it was assumed that public opinion had turned against government protectionist policies.

Antienvironmentalists Antienvironmentalism Environmental awareness;backlash persuaded the American public that they were being hurt in many ways by government interference with free market forces. They pointed out that such control cost money to staff government offices with bureaucrats and keep government inspectors in the field and that it affected the price of resources such as coal and timber. This in turn could hurt the building trades, the real estate business, manufacturers and retailers of such articles as appliances, carpeting, drapes, and furniture, and many businessmen, contractors, and wage earners. There could also be a negative impact on government revenue, since people who are thrown out of work collect unemployment insurance benefits, food stamps, and welfare instead of paying taxes. Reagan thus blamed a large part of the federal budget deficit and the growing national debt on government interference with free enterprise.

Environmental activists foresaw the possibility that Reagan would try to save money and stimulate private enterprise by slashing funds that had previously been used to protect land, air, and water. Activists feared that Reagan administration policies might include selling tracts of federal land to private parties, abolishing or seriously reducing federal agencies charged with environmental protection, lowering air- and water-pollution standards, and allowing more logging, oil drilling, mining, and cattle grazing in protected areas.

The sponsors of the Iron Grill Inn meeting intended to send Reagan a clear message that they were prepared to fight for preservation of the protective legislation won in the course of the previous decade. Beyond that, their long-term objective was to protect and enhance the quality of the environment and of life worldwide through promoting public awareness and corporate social responsibility.

The Group of Ten commanded public respect and government attention because the leaders represented some of the oldest and most distinguished environmental and conservation organizations in the United States. These included the National Wildlife Federation; the Izaak Walton League, named for the famous seventeenth century author who wrote on the subjects of fishing and love of the outdoors; and the National Audubon Society, named for a Haitian ornithologist who became famous for his beautiful paintings of birds.

Lobbying the federal government was not the sole purpose behind the formation of the Group of Ten. The founders were also strongly interested in convincing corporate leaders to practice voluntary restraint and positive action. They hoped to be able to do this effectively because of the prestige of the organizations they represented and of the powerful organizations providing much of their operational funds. During the mid-1980’s, as the group gained security in defending existing environmental policies, the leaders began to try to establish dialogues with important business leaders.

A series of meetings was conducted with the heads of such huge companies as Du Pont, Exxon Chemical, Union Carbide, Dow, American Cyanamid, and Monsanto, which were sensitive to the unfavorable publicity they were receiving as environmental polluters and despoilers. These meetings helped to persuade big business to assume greater social responsibility for the protection of the environment and for the welfare of future generations.

In 1985, the Group of Ten published a carefully planned, detailed environmental agenda. This volume, titled An Environmental Agenda for the Future, Environmental Agenda for the Future, An (Cahn and Adams) was of historic importance. It was divided into eleven major sections dealing with global environmental concerns: nuclear issues, human population growth, energy strategies, water resources, toxics and pollution control, wild living resources, private lands and agriculture, protected land systems, public lands, urban environment, and international responsibilities. The joint authors described their common objective as the wish to promote and enhance the quality of life worldwide:

If focused and directed, the sense of purpose and human potential that all people share will be adequate to persuade decision makers to correct the serious resource, population, environmental, and development conditions that affect the world. Only through understanding these global issues and giving them their necessary place on the scale of priorities can citizens improve opportunities for sustainable human progress and preservation of the earth’s environment.

The creation of a mainstream CEO organization symbolized a process of institutionalization that was considered essential for environmentalism during the Reagan era. The severity of the environmental crisis, coupled with the threat of the Reagan administration’s new environmental policies, had brought about a historic unification of the environmental movement and given it a common agenda and shared assets.

The Group of Ten collapsed as a formal organization at the end of the 1980’s. The group’s dissolution more or less coincided with the end of the Reagan era. The name Group of Ten continued, however, to be used as a symbol of mainstream environmentalism.


Ronald Reagan, who had been regarded as the chief foe of the environmental movement, unintentionally aided the movement by forcing various important organizations to join together for their mutual defense. It was later said that the meeting of the Group of Ten on January 21, 1981, ushered in the modern era in environmentalism.

The formation of the Group of Ten symbolized a widespread recognition of the essential interrelatedness of all environmental concerns. The environmentalists and their supporters created a new kind of environmental organization, staffed with lawyers, scientists, and professional lobbyists, which was more effective because it presented a common policy and a united front. As a consequence, the Reagan administration was largely unable to dismantle environmental regulations.

The Reagan era was a period of dramatic increases in the national debt that resulted from increased military spending without commensurate cuts in government spending on domestic projects. This inability to cut domestic spending was partly the result of the polarized opposition of such interest groups as the Group of Ten. Environmentalism had become an emotionally charged issue that served as a protective umbrella for totally unrelated government programs. The Group of Ten was praised by environmentalists for its leadership and condemned by antienvironmentalists for helping to increase inflation and government debt. While the group received credit for protecting the resources and beauty of the natural environment for future generations, they also received blame for contributing to the trillions of dollars of government indebtedness that future generations would have to assume. Group of Ten Environmental organizations Environmental activism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berry, Joyce K., and John C. Gordon, eds. Environmental Leadership: Developing Effective Skills and Styles. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993. A collection of essays by prominent environmentalists addressed to those interested in becoming leaders in the movement or in improving their leadership capabilities. Varied points of view and interesting insights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cahn, Robert, and John H. Adams, eds. An Environmental Agenda for the Future. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1985. A detailed history of the Group of Ten and their environmental objectives by the chief executives of ten major environmental and conservation organizations. Contains a useful bibliography. By far the best book available on the Group of Ten.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gordon, John C., and Joyce K. Berry. Environmental Leadership Equals Essential Leadership: Redefining Who Leads and How. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006. An invaluable resource on the principles of leadership from the authors of Environmental Leadership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. 1992. Reprint. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 2006. Highly readable book by an environmental crusader who became vice president of the United States in 1993. Presents an overview of the ecological crisis and offers pragmatic suggestions for bringing Earth back into ecological balance. Includes an excellent bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gottlieb, Robert. Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2005. A history of the environmental movement as of the 1930’s. Chapter 4 contains a discussion of the Group of Ten from its inception to its dissolution at the end of the 1980’s. Includes detailed endnotes and a comprehensive index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lash, Jonathan, Katherine Gillman, and David Sheridan. A Season of Spoils: The Reagan Administration’s Attack on the Environment. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. A harsh critique of the revisionary environmental policies of the federal government during the early years of the Reagan administration. Publication was partially funded by the Group of Ten. Includes an extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Simon, Julian L. The Ultimate Resource 2. Rev. ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996. Expresses a point of view antithetical to the views expressed in An Environmental Agenda for the Future. Seeks to demonstrate that, because of human creativity and adaptability, the burgeoning human population does not represent a threat to the global environment. Includes numerous figures and tables.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Snow, Donald, ed. Voices from the Environmental Movement: Perspectives for a New Era. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1992. A collection of essays by leading environmentalists intended to create “watering holes” (sources of information and inspiration) for establishing a common agenda based on understanding and respecting the multiple interests and points of views involved in environmental questions. Extensive endnotes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Department of State. Council on Environmental Quality. The Global 2000 Report to the President: Entering the Twenty-First Century. 3 vols. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980. Report of a study of probable changes in world’s population, natural resources, and the environment, commissioned by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Calls for changes on an international scale, including radical measures to promote birth control.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vig, Norman J., and Michael E. Kraft, eds. Environmental Policy in the 1980’s: Reagan’s New Agenda. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1984. A collection of essays on various aspects of environmental policy under Ronald Reagan’s probusiness Republican administration. Includes a summary of the major consequences of the policy changes. Extensively documented, and with useful endnotes.

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“Deep Ecology” Platform Is Drafted

“An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” Signals a Backlash

Earth Summit Convenes in Rio de Janeiro

Categories: History