Greenpeace ridicules “Traitor Joe’s”

Whatever you think of the people at Greenpeace, you’ve got to admit they are environmentalists with a sense of humor. Recently, Greenpeace published a scorecard that ranks supermarket chains on the sustainability of their seafood. It’s a serious analysis, intended to guide shoppers to those stores that recognize their responsibility to protect the oceans, and to pressure those stores that don’t. In the argot of activists, this is known as a “name ‘em and shame ‘em” strategy.

Then Greenpeace went a step further. It ridiculed Trader Joe’s, the national supermarket chain with the lowest ranking, by creating a website called Traitor Joe’s (“Your one-stop shop for ocean destruction”), producing an amusing video (below and at and sending protesters dressed as Orange Roughy to a Trader Joe’s outlet in San Francisco, calling on the company to clean up its act.

While these tactics might not be well suited for, say, the World Resources Institute, the diversity of the environmental movement is a wonderful thing. Activists at groups like Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network or Friends of the Earth function, in essence, as the business development arms of the more collaborative, mainstream groups like the Environmental Defense Fund or Conservation International. Companies under  attack from Greenpeace or RAN often ask EDF or CI to help them dig out of trouble.

I didn’t write much about Greenpeace while my wife, Karen Schneider, worked there, but she has since moved on (to become a vice president for communications at the National Women’s Law Center), so I feel more comfortable reporting on Greenpeace. The Greenpeace gang can be aggressive—they oppose the Waxman-Markey climate change bill because, they say, it’s too weak to deal effectively with the threat of global warming—but to the surprise of some, they have also collaborated effectively with companies like Coca-Cola and Unilever, around the issue of HFC-free refrigerants. And they do solid research.

Greenpeace’s seafood study, called Carting Away the Oceans: How Grocery Stores are Emptying the Seas, is worth a look.  It ranks 20 supermarket companies and assesses their seafood policies (if any), initiatives they are taking to promote sustainability (again, if any), their approach to labeling, and their sales of so-called “red list” fish, meaning  fish that Greenpeace deems imperiled or those that come from fisheries that harm sea turtles, dolphins, seals, sea lions, or other marine mammals. Red list fish include, among others, Atlantic Cod, Atlantic haddock, Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sea scallops, Chilean sea bass, grouper, monkfish, ocean quahog, Orange Roughy, red snapper, redfish, skates, South Atlantic albacore tuna, swordfish, tropical shrimp and yellowfin tuna. (For another look at what seafood to buy and why, see the Seafood Watch list published by the Monterey Bay Acquarium.)

Fortunately, there is some good news in Greenpeace’s scorecard, its third since 2008. More than half of the  supermarket chains in the U.S. have made some progress in increasing the sustainability of their seafood operations, the group says. The Wegman’s chain received Greenpeace’s top ranking followed by Ahold USA, while Whole Foods dropped to third place from its first-place finish last December. Wal-Mart ranks No. 7. On the plus side, the report says:

Greenpeace is delighted to announce that several of the companies included in this report have not only shown great improvement, but continue to move toward being the first large-scale “green” seafood retailers in the United States. Interestingly, each store has found avenues within its unique business model to move toward a more sustainable way of sourcing and selling seafood. Examples of this kind of innovation are evident in the actions of retailers like Wegmans, Ahold, Whole Foods, and Target, each of which has made great strides in various areas.

But the report also chides the laggards, saying:

…there remain nine retailers that have made no visible effort whatsoever to increase the sustainability of their seafood operations. These industry laggards continue to wreak havoc on our environment, with no apparent regard for the health of our ecosystems or the values of their customers.

At this point, Greenpeace has little choice but to call out these gross offenders for who they are, and to strongly urge all consumers to avoid buying seafood from the following retailers: Aldi, Costco, Giant Eagle, H. E. B., Meijer, Price Chopper, Publix, Trader Joe’s, and Winn-Dixie.

Thus, the protest below at a Trader Joe’s in San Francisco:

Greenpeace Protestors dressed as Orange Roughy at a Trader Joe's
Greenpeace protesters dressed as Orange Roughy at a Trader Joe's


  1. says

    This is hilarious. Traitor Joe’s is a great idea. Social media really lets the idea grow. I wish Trader Joe’s was at the top of the list. I love their stores and who doesn’t love their frozen food aisle? Or the $2 Buck Chuck? Hopefully, they will get the message and clean up their act.

  2. Some Trader Joe's Fan says

    I’ve talked to people at Trader Joe’s about this, and here is the other side of the story…
    Trader Joe’s does not respond to surveys of any kind, and did not return the survey about the seafood they sell to greenpeace. As a result, greenpeace is acting on information that is sketchy at best.
    For example of the 15 fish on the “red list” that TJ’s allegedly sells, there are no less than 5 that I know for a fact they do not sell:
    Trader Joe’s DOES NOT carry
    Chilean Sea Bass
    Ocean Quahog
    Alaskan Pollock
    In fact, according to TJ’s, they carry fewer greenpeace “red list” fish than the #1 rated store in the “study”
    And finally from Horses mouth, this is straight off Trader Joe’s website:

    1. A Note to Our Customers About Trader Joe’s Seafood
    As we’ve often mentioned, we listen to our customers. Hearing recent feedback, our goal is to offer seafood options that fit customer needs ranging from food safety and taste, to concern over the environment.

    This is not a new development for us. For example, we stopped selling Chilean Sea Bass in 2005 because of customer feedback.

    To continue in our efforts to support this goal, we intend to use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s science-based and research-backed “Seafood Watch” recommendations to help with our seafood purchasing decisions.

    When we do offer seafood species on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch “red” or “avoid” list, we undertake additional steps to fully understand the ways in which those items come to market to be sure they fit with our customers’ needs and concerns. We’re also evaluating alternatives to those red list species.

    As with all the decisions we make about the products we offer, this is an ongoing process. We look forward to sharing our progress with our customers.

  3. says

    “When we do offer seafood species on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch “red” or “avoid” list, we undertake additional steps to fully understand the ways in which those items come to market to be sure they fit with our customers’ needs and concerns. We’re also evaluating alternatives to those red list species.”

    The word “evaluate” is means nothing… Their statement in regards to Monterey Bay Aquarium, and reflective of the culture of the store as a whole is GREENWASHING — Now, my criticism of the Greenpeace campaign is that there are much bigger Greenwashers to go after and there are some quarrels between Greenpeace and Trader Joe’s that perhaps we don’t know about…

  4. says

    @Some Trader Joe’s Fan: TJ’s doesn’t respond to surveys, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt? When I was researching where they source their coffee, they wouldn’t respond to my emails or letters asking simple questions such how they come to their claim that some of their coffees are shade-grown, since they are not certified. The fact is that TJ’s (like Aldi’s, with whom they share background and corporate culture) is known for its secrecy and lack of transparency regarding who provides their private label brands.

  5. Mik says

    I very much agree with Julie about TJ’s lack of transparency. I am a regular shopper and love many of their products, but I would definitely say they are not a company I really trust. For a company that is an obvious target for advocacy groups (based on the demographics they serve), they are NEVER ahead of the game and surrender to pressure issue by issue rather than being proactive in engaging stakeholders (we just learned that they don’t even respond to stakeholder surveys…) and developing a strategy that reflects a genuine commitment to sustainability. Ironically enough, they could look to Walmart’s example of how they have set public sustainability goals and proactively engaged NGOs to get themselves ahead of many campaigns. It is also interesting to note that TJs and Walmart essentially share a model for sourcing (find a good product, buy more of it than anyone else so you pay the supplier less, when it’s successful, make it a store brand and pay the supplier even less).

  6. says

    The fact that they chose not to return the survey speaks volumes about the importance they place on the transparency of their seafood selection. Kudos for their recent decision to sell only sustainable seafood, though they will take until the end of 2012 to do so…


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