They don’t care much about the realities of the business world, stock prices or the importance of making profits, but environmental activist groups nonetheless influence public opinion and have an impact on corporate images.

Several of the most influential have targeted Ford Motor Co. in particular because of its poor overall corporate average fuel economy. Here is a snapshot of four that focus on the automotive industry.

Rainforest Action Network

Home base of jumpstartford.com, a website dedicated to forcing Ford to improve its CAFE efficiency and adopt alternative fuels. A tax-exempt group based in San Francisco, RAN was founded in 1985 with a stated aim of preserving of tropical rainforests.

The group has about 100 employees and uses at least as many volunteers, according to records. It reported revenue of $1 million in 2003, almost all of it from donations. RAN at one time took on global giant Mitsubishi Corp. (parent of the auto maker) over its logging practices in the rainforests.

Donors include Ted Turner’s foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Tides Foundation.

Global Exchange

A heavyweight in the tax-exempt environmentalist industry, Global Exchange was founded in 1988 and reported revenue of $7.1 million in 2003, the last year with tax records available. Global Exchange also was involved in the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee in support of the convicted murderer, who remains incarcerated. The Global Exchange website links to jumpstartford.com, and has a dedicated employee to the Clean Car Campaign, its own version of auto industry activism.

Sierra Club

In becoming a Ford ally, of sorts, the Sierra Club surprised many observers, especially in light of the group’s hard-line stance on the environmental performance of the auto industry. The Sierra Club embraced the Mercury Mariner Hybrid last year.

“We call ’em as we see ’em,” is the amiable response from Dan Becker, director of Sierra Club’s global warming program.

While it still plugs jumpstartford.com on its website, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope was on the panel that awarded the Mariner the “green car of the year” award in January.

Ruckus Society

Another Ford critic, it is best known for its “training” sessions for protestors. The Ruckus Society gained notoriety for coaching part of the crew that protested the meetings of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999. Ruckus last fall put on a workshop in South Carolina that advised teens how to keep military recruiters out of their communities

– With Bill Visnic

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

bvisnic@wardsauto.com