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Enel is making a mistake suing Greenpeace

This FT article: “Enel seeks damages from Greenpeace” reports that:

“Enel, Italy’s largest utility, is seeking more than €1.6m in damages from Greenpeace for alleged losses in electricity production and damage caused by protests launched by the environmental group at Enel’s four coal-fired power stations”.

The facts of the case seem to be in little doubt or dispute.

The question point is whether this is a smart move by Enel.

This is a company that, despite being in a very difficult industry for sustainability, has a half decent reputation for being engaged in corporate responsibility.

Why then, would it make sense to sue the world’s pre-eminent environmental campaigning organisation?

In terms of effecting change and cutting deals that help achieve that, Greenpeace is miles ahead of Friends of the Earth and WWF. (The latter appears confused about whether to campaign or sell business services, and you can’t do both, in my view)

I understand that Enel is annoyed that Greenpeace’s stunts cost it money.

The FT reports that this is €1,606,545 since 2006, calculated to the last penny by Enel.

But this is peanuts compared to the cost of the fallout from suing Greenpeace.

Big companies cannot win in the court of public opinion against NGOs like Greenpeace unless the NGO is revealed to have done something so egregious that all trust is lost.

Despite the odd claim of exaggeration and figure-fiddling against Greenpeace, (the most serious of which is in the book Flat Earth News, evidence seen in these two conflicting GP and WHO reports about Chernobyl) the organisation is seen as acting in the public interest by most people who care about the environment.

So Enel can’t win. The company may rightfully feel that those who break the law should be punished. But that should be a decision for the Italian prosecution service from the criminal perspective. On a civil, financial basis, the pros for Enel must clearly outweigh the cons.

When a company reacts in this way, it reeks of a combination of sour grapes, defensiveness and agression.

Does Enel want to end up with a reputation for attempting to hobble discussion and debate?

Any company that continues down a path like this may well end up viewed that way.

Trafigura has achieved that. I can’t see why that’s a position anyone would want to emulate.

Who wants to become a negative case study in business and academia?

Just ask Shell, Exxon, United Fruit, Union Minière, Newmont Mining, Monsanto and Freeport McMoran.

Even if Enel ‘wins’ in court, that’s surely how this will end up.

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