August 23, 2018, Portland Press Herald
Maine’s Portland Press Herald reports that outdoor retailer L.L. Bean committed $3 million (pledged over three years) to the Find Your Park awareness campaign of the National Park Service and its official charity, the National Park Foundation. Other corporate sponsors include American Express, Budweiser, Hanes, and Nature Valley. REI created this #FindYourPark app for the campaign.
“People might be surprised to discover how close many of these parks are,” said Shawn Gorman, L.L. Bean’s executive chairman and great-grandson of founder L.L. Bean. “The outdoors is part of our company’s history, heritage and DNA.”
Founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean in Freeport, where its headquarters and flagship store remain, four years before President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill that created the National Park Service, L.L. Bean is still family-owned. Shawn Gorman was named chairman of the board of directors in 2013. L.L. Bean is Maine’s third-largest corporation and the state’s fourth largest private employer.
This $3 million pledge could reasonably be seen as a line item in L.L. Bean’s marketing budget. It fits squarely with L.L. Bean’s new “Be an Outsider” ad campaign. (If you want your own L.L. Bean “Fund Your Park” t-shirt or tote bag, go here.) Whether or not it’s intentional, this pledge also may be an effort to counter calls for a national boycott of the company after the Federal Election Commission accused L.L. Bean heiress and board member Linda Bean of giving more than allowed to a pro-Trump political action committee she bankrolled.
In any event, the corporate sponsorship (or commercialization) of national parks and monuments is not without controversy. (More on that here). Floating feel-good philanthropic mythologies to the media cannot mask the environmental challenges facing the nation today. As NPQ reported, 10 of the 12 National Park Service Advisory Board members resigned last January to protest the Trump administration’s antagonistic stance to rules and efforts to protect the environment. If L.L. Bean sincerely intends to invest its wealth with the solemnity of a cause that is boundlessly larger than its brand, real sacrifice is required. In the face of climate change, strategic marketing tactics keep the storied L.L. Bean name small.
With each concussive blow of an environmental protection rule rollback and with each new history-making ecological disaster thrust into the national narrative, public and private companies need to do more than traffic in “giving back” platitudes or their customers will increasing accuse them of being out of touch.
Those at the philanthropic helm celebrating the economic world they helped create should do more than attend Davos sessions discussing the risks of climate change while praising tax cuts and applauding deregulation. The rationalizations of corporate titans believing they are making the world a better place merely by supporting important causes are no longer holding water.
As technological revolutions increasingly determine our nation’s economy, and as future innovations are unknowable even by those leading the way, a moral reckoning is needed, if not inevitable. Otherwise, if L.L. Bean’s tepid response to catastrophic climate change is any indication, while no one is looking the ladders to spaceships to Mars will be pulled up and the ladders to doomsday bunkers will be pulled down; there will be no brave calls of “Women and children first!” for these luxury lifeboats.—Jim Schaffer