Greenpeace USA -- an environmental group that blends colorful protests, organizing and lobbying -- announced the appointment today of its top organizer, Phil Radford, as its new executive director.
Radford, 33, the grassroots director, has been with Greenpeace since 2003 and was behind the launch of the "Frontline" initiative that nearly doubled the organization's annual budget to $30 million, the group said. He was also instrumental in mobilizing Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter users.
"Phil Radford has helped make Greenpeace more robust, more powerful, and more technologically savvy," said Donald Ross, the chairman of Greenpeace's board of directors, in a statement. "This is not your father's environmental movement."
Radford replaces John Passacantando, who stepped down last year after eight years as executive director.
Radford is taking the helm at a simultaneously promising and difficult time for environmental groups. After years of battling former President George W. Bush on a wide range of environmental issues, organizations have expressed optimism about President Obama's plans and have cheered his early moves and appointments.
But the recession creates fundraising and other challenges.
"When the economy is in the tank, other issues pale in comparison," said Dan Becker, a longtime environmentalist who currently directs the Safe Climate Campaign. "If you are worried about losing your job, or your 401(k) has become a 201(k), concern about global warming and other environmental issues may not be foremost in your mind."
Also, fundraising has become more difficult, Becker said. "Obviously, most environmental organizations' biggest budget item is staff, and when there is less money, the tendency is to cut back," he said, adding that groups do not have obvious targets for trimming, such as travel on corporate jets and lavish parties.
Radford, who grew up in Chicago, earned a bachelor's degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1998 and has a certificate in nonprofit management from Georgetown University.
Before joining Greenpeace, Radford founded a nonprofit group called Power Shift aimed at boosting use of clean energy sources. He worked with city governments to make renewable and energy efficiency investments for municipal buildings, according to Greenpeace.
He had a post-college fellowship in the Green Corps program, which trains young grassroots organizers.
Greenpeace forms part of the left flank of the environmental movement and has often employed a confrontational approach against major corporations such as Exxon Mobil Corp. But the group is also emphasizing its collaboration with companies in areas including the marketing of more environmentally friendly refrigerators.
"You can either dance with corporations or dance on them," Radford said in a statement today. "The more supporters we have, the more you'll see even the biggest polluters willing to waltz with us to solve global warming."
He said that his priorities as executive director will be expanding the group's grassroots work and pressing Congress and the Obama administration on climate change.
Democratic leaders and the president are pressing for legislation that would mandate steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but they face hurdles, intricate negotiations and deal-making to win the 60 Senate votes that will be needed.
Greenpeace has more than 400 employees nationwide, a spokesman said.