For the last few years, Greenpeace has waged a relentless campaign against Kimberly-Clark, a $19-billion a year forest-products giant whose brands include Kleenex, Huggies, Scott, Pull-Ups and Cottonelle. Greenpeace accused K-C, among other things, of destroying ancient forests in Canada so we can all wipe our noses with Kleenex.
Kimberly-Clark also misled the public about its practices, as I reported back in 2006, citing Greenpeace’s research. (See Are Kleenex Tissues Wiping Out Forests? on Fortune.com.)
Now, it looks as if the antagonists have made peace. Kimberly-Clark and Greenpeace invited reporters to a Washington news conference tomorrow (8-5) and while neither side will talk yet, you can bet that they’ve made a deal.
Knowing Greenpeace as I do (my wife worked there for a couple of years), you can also be confident that K-C has agreed to make significant changes in its practices. Maybe the company will use more recycled stock in tissues? Maybe the company will use more wood that’s certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council? For sure, K-C will agree to take better care of Canada’s Boreal Forest, a focal point of the campaign, which began in 2004. We’ll know soon.
We already know that this has been a very tough campaign, waged on the Internet, with street protests and at shareholder meetings.
Greenpeace and its supporters built an anti-K-C website at http://www.kleercut.net. They made a video called What’s Inside Your Box of Kleenex? (The answer: “Some of our last remaining ancient forests.”) They got arrested at a K-C office in Knoxville, Tennessee. They published a Recycled Tissue Guide for mobile phones to steer consumers to more eco-friendly products. They helped persuade stores or dining halls at more than a dozen colleges to stop buying some or all of K-C products. (Among them: Harvard University, University of Miami, Rice University, American University, Wesleyan University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Vermont, University of Florida, and Northern Arizona University.) They confronted the Cottonelle “Be Kind To Your Behind” Puppy Bus when it toured New York and Philadelphia. They even subverted a Kleenex man-on-the-street ad campaign in New York, as you can see in the video at the end of this post, which conveys the flavor of the irreverent campaign. Drawers were dropped at one point, but we won’t go there…
It wasn’t just Greenpeace. The Natural Resources Defense Council spoke out against K-C, and shareholders, including the Domini group of mutual funds, took their concerns to K-C management.
Kimberly-Clark says its sources its wood sustainably and says on its website that “sustainability is a core value.” Last year, presumably in response to the campaign, Kimberly-Clark published a lifecycle analysis of tissues which found, somewhat surprisingly:
There is no environmental preference between the use of recycled or virgin fiber in the manufacture of K-C tissue products. Both types of fiber offer a similar range of environmental benefits and drawbacks. The sustainable management of both types of fiber depends on minimizing their environmental drawbacks and maximizing their benefits….The study concludes that the total environmental impacts associated with tissue products are modest relative to those of other household and commercial activities, such as driving a
car and commercial transport.
Well, sure–we didn’t need a study to know that blowing your nose has less environmental impact than driving an SUV. As for the claim that there’s nol benefit to using recycled product in K-C tissues, I supposed it’s possible but hard to know, even after reading the study, how and why the researchers came to that conclusion. Companies with a strong environmental track record like Seventh Generation favor recycled stock for their paper goods.
Generally, it’s been my experience that anti-corporate campaigns like this one need a few things to succeed. They need to be smart and attention-getting and focused on brands. (It’s tough to go after a forest products company that does not sell branded consumer products.) They need to operate on several levels at once. (Private negotiations between the enviros and K-C have been unfolding for two years.) Most of all, the campaigns need to have substance behind them, Enviros usually target corporate laggards, not leaders.
I’ll update this post when more information becomes available. Speakers at the presser will be Suhas Apte, Kimberly-Clark Vice President of Environment, Energy, Safety, Quality and Sustainability; Scott Paul, Greenpeace USA Forest Campaign Director; and Richard Brooks, Greenpeace Canada Forest Campaign Coordinator.
Here’s the Greenpeace video.