Interested in learning more about some of social media's most influential environmental organizations? Using Facebook "likes" as a guide, here are the top organizations committed to safeguarding species, habitat and the delicate balance of nature on our planet. While they may not all have the same number of followers, each group is an unquestionable force for spearheading sustainable change and delivering results.
Making this list was no easy task considering the massive number of organizations dedicated to conserving and protecting habits, species and the planet. As with all lists, there's the regrettable chance that we missed a group. If you see the omission of a group that merits a mention, please let us know in the comments, and we'll weigh it against the other groups.
Update: Many thanks to everyone who has commented and shared their helpful suggestions! We've added more Facebook powerhouses to our list to reflect the awesome conservation work out there. Please note that every suggestion will make the list.
The world's largest conservation organization, with more than 5 million supporters worldwide working on some 1,300 projects, the group formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund is also the reigning champ of Facebook. In addition to making recent news for efforts to protect gorilla and tiger populations, as well as educating the masses on climate change through Earth Hour, the organization also recently announced a collaboration with Netflix and Silverback films to create a nature documentary sequel to the hit series "Planet Earth."
Founded in 1999, The Wildcat Sanctuary is a no-kill big cat rescue funded solely through private donations. The organization not only rescues and rehabilitates wild cats, but also works to end the captive wildlife industry. The sanctuary houses over 120 large cats (including Bengal tigers, African lions, and bobcats) on roughly 40 acres of land. In keeping with their mission never to expose these animals to exhibition ever again, the sanctuary is not open to the public.
With 15,000 volunteers globally, a staff of 2,400, and offices in more than 40 countries, Greenpeace is one of the most active and influential international nonprofits fighting for the planet. From safeguarding forests to protecting the Arctic from oil drilling, activists fighting for Greenpeace are well-known for their creative and daring stunts to publicize their campaigns.
Created in 1992, the Big Cat Rescue is the world's largest sanctuary dedicated to saving and educating exotic big cats. The 67-acre sanctuary located in Tampa, Florida, is home to more than 100 big cats representing 11 species. In addition to ending the abuse of captive big cats from attractions like roadside zoos and circuses, the organization is also committed to saving wild populations from poachers and trophy hunters.
Best known for their long-running "Whale Wars" series on Animal Planet, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a global organization that uses direct tactics to save marine life. The organization's naval fleet, nicknamed Neptune's Navy, currently includes four ships, with another custom vessel in development. Sea Shepherd's current campaigns include saving dolphins in Japan, saving pilot whales in the Faroe Islands, saving turtles in Costa Rica and saving toothfish in the Antarctic.
With a focus on the conservation of land and water, the Nature Conservancy has protected more than 120 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers since 1951. It also oversees more than 100 marine conservation projects around the world. One of the organization's longest running efforts, the Plant a Billion Trees campaign, aims to restore 2.5 million acres of forest in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil by 2025.
The United States' largest private, nonprofit conservation organization, the National Wildlife Federation focuses on connecting people to nature, fighting climate change, and protecting and restoring critical wildlife habitats. Some of the group's current campaigns include restoring wild bison to the Great Plains, strengthening environmental legislation (such as the clean air and water acts), and advocating for more outdoor time for kids.
Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife focuses its efforts on protecting animals and plants native to North America. Recent victories made by the organization include reinstated protections for gray wolves in Wyoming, expansion of critical habitat for the world's most endangered whale, and the blocking of road development through some of the world's most important wetlands.
Creators of the annual and popular "Dirty Dozen" list of foods with the highest pesticide residue (stay away from those non-organic apples!), the Environmental Working Group specializes in exposing toxic contaminants, reigning in harmful agriculture subsidies, and promoting conservation. The organization's website features in-depth information (such as scores for more than 160,000 food and cosmetic products), healthy living guides, and updates on efforts to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act.
Focused on promoting healthy and diverse ocean ecosystems, the Ocean Conservancy uses peer-reviewed science to drive ocean policy at the state and federal government levels. The group's annual International Coastal Cleanup, one of the largest volunteer efforts in the world (with more than 648,000 participants in 2014) has removed an estimated 144 million pounds of trash over the last 25 years from oceans and waterways.
Founded in 1961, AWF is the leading international conservation organization focused solely on protecting Africa's wildlife and landscapes. With poaching on the continent at an all-time high, the group is particularly focused on saving threatened species like elephants, leopards, rhinos and giraffes. The group most recently opposed a proposal in South Africa to legalize the rhino horn trade, saying it would "prove disastrous and accelerate" the species decline rather than "curtail rhino poaching in all of Africa."
12. Sierra Club
Now in its 122nd year, the Sierra Club is especially active in promoting green politics, focusing on issues related to renewable energy and climate change. The organization's Beyond Coal campaign, which has helped shutter some 185 coal plants since 2011, recently received a donation of $30 million from former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “The single biggest reduction in carbon pollution in the U.S. has come by retiring and repurposing coal-fired power plants — and that’s the direct result of our Beyond Coal campaign,” Bloomberg said. The Sierra Club hopes to close or transition half of the nation's coal plants by 2017.
One of the youngest organizations on our list, 350.org was founded by author Bill McKibben in 2007 with a goal of building worldwide grassroots support for action against climate change. The name comes from a goal of reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere from more than 385 parts per million to 350 parts per million. Current campaigns include international divestments from fossil fuels, stopping construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and advocating a global power shift for a more sustainable future.
With close to 500 local chapters across the U.S., the National Audubon Society is a massive environmental organization dedicated to the protection of birds, other wildlife and their habitats. There are currently 63 priority bird species the organization is currently focused on saving, including the American oystercatcher, black-footed albatross and the sandhill crane.
The Wilderness Society is one of the largest conservationist organizations in the U.S., having played a major role in expanding the National Wilderness Preservation System to more than 109 million acres. The organization is currently focused on conserving 10 wild places, including Alaska and the Arctic, the Colorado Plateau, and the North Cascades.
One of the world's most trusted environmental charities, the Rainforest Alliance works in more than 100 countries to preserver biodiversity and promote farming, travel, and forestry that is both sustainable and economically beneficial to local communities. Since 1987, the group has certified more than 128 million acres of forest according to strict environmental, social, and economic standards. For a visual overview of the organization's global reach, check out this interactive map showing on-the-ground conservation efforts and success stories.
Supported by a staff of more than 400 lawyers, scientists, and policymakers, the NRDC is a powerful force for advocating change at the federal, state and local levels. Reports generated by the organization include annual pollution assessments of U.S. beaches, home energy consumption from always-on devices, and the money-saving benefits of mass transit.
Created as a "citizen's watchdog for the National Parks Service," the National Parks Conservation Association prides itself on protecting and enhancing the United States' natural treasures. The group regularly fights on behalf of the National Parks Service against laws that might weaken protected areas, as well as addressing new threats from air, noise and water pollution.
With the tag line "Because the Earth needs a good lawyer," the nonprofit Earthjustice provides free legal counsel for hundreds of regional, national and international organizations. Several groups on this list have benefited from their services, including the Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund. Recent cases have involved everything from dangerous pesticides suspected of killing honeybees to U.S. Navy training that violates marine animal protection laws.
Committed to preserving forests around the world, the Rainforest Action Network is known for taking on large corporations that abuse natural habitats. Notable campaigns have included efforts against Cargill to curb the company's destructive palm oil plantations, as well as pushing Texaco to clean up its dumping of 18 billion gallons of waste oil into the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador.
Founded in the mid-'80s by a handful of surfers concerned about threats to a local surf break in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains more than 50,000 members and 80 chapters worldwide. There are currently 107 campaigns in motion by the group, with a focus on beach access, coastal preservation, clean water, ocean ecosystems, plastics pollution, water awareness and surf protection.
With more than 150 infant elephants saved since 1977, the David Sheldrik Wildlife Trust is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. The group, which also helps rear young rhinos, helps to maintain tens of thousands of acres of natural habitat as well as providing education, building community awareness, and aiding in support of local anti-poaching efforts.
A federation of grassroots groups in more than 75 countries, Friends of the Earth promotes policy changes that result in a more healthy and sustainable world. Current campaigns include encouraging federal dietary guidelines that recommend less meat, measuring the sustainability of cruise lines, and banning pesticides harmful to bees.
The world's largest international ocean conservation group, Oceana campaigns to stop major sources of ocean pollution, promote sustainable fishing practices, and save threatened species and marine habitats. Since its creation in 2001, the group has claimed more than 100 victories for the oceans and helped to protect more than 1 million square miles of marine habitat.
Often ranked as one of the best environmental charities, the EDF uses solid science, law, and economics to advocate for issues related to human health, habitat restoration, climate change and conservation. Past victories have included a ban on the pesticide DDT, helping FedEx develop and deploy hybrid electric trucks, and a successful campaign to clean up New York City's highly polluting heating oil.
With a focus on protecting nature, Conservation International has scientists, policy workers, and other environmental advocates on the ground in more than two dozen countries on five continents. The organization made headlines late last year for an ad campaign that featured celebrities like Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Kevin Spacey and others providing angry voices for Mother Nature, the Ocean, the Rain Forest and Soil.