Consumer power

Background - 10 February, 2011
The conversion of irreplaceable forests into disposable consumer products like tissues, books, paper and ingredients for toothpaste and food is one of the great environmental crimes of our time. But, in the battle to protect our forests, consumers have the power. Don't believe us? Just ask Unilever, Nestle, McDonald's and Kraft.

The orang-utan finally got a break

If you ever doubted whether you have the power to stop rainforest destruction, this story might change your mind:

Early in 2010, Greenpeace launched a campaign to persuade Nestlé to commit to stop using products that come from rainforest destruction - in this case Sinar Mas' palm oil. Hundreds of thousands of supporters took up the call, emailing Nestlé, calling them and spreading the word to their friends online. The result? Nestlé quickly promised to identify and exclude companies from its supply chain that owned or managed 'high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation'.

This success wasn't a one-off. McDonald's, Kraft, Unilever and other corporate giants have all cancelled vast contracts with notorious rainforest destroying suppliers in recent years, after their potential customers made themselves heard.

Not only that, but many of these multinationals went on to put pressure on their suppliers, competitors and governments to support moratoria that would halt forest destruction. In the Amazon, this led to moratoria on soya plantations and cattle ranching, which are still in place today.

Consumer power - or people power - works. It works because the destruction of ancient forests is driven by global demand for products like paper, timber and palm oil, and only thrives because most consumers rarely hold the producers to account. But, when we do - en masse - our power is phenomenal.

We believe that consumer power - when combined with political solutions, corporate action and the work of forest communities - can help to achieve our vision of zero deforestation by 2020.

After massive consumer pressure, McDonald's changed its sourcing policies and joined the campaign to end deforestation in the Amazon.

As well as taking action to persuade specific companies to change their sourcing policies, people also have a right - and a responsibility - to purchase forest products that don't contribute to deforestation and climate change. We can collectively wield huge power by changing our shopping habits but, to do this, we need to know where our goods originate and how they were produced.

For wood products, the Forest Stewardship Council™(FSC®) logo will tell you that what you are buying comes from socially and environmentally responsibly managed forests.

But for other products - the palm oil in your chocolate bar, say, or the pulp from which your tissue paper was made - it can be harder to find out. Greenpeace actively investigates, documents and exposes the hidden global trade - "the chain of destruction" - in forest products coming from forest destruction. If you follow our campaigns, you'll know that we periodically highlight some of the worst offenders.

With knowledge comes the opportunity to make an informed choice, and to use the power of the market to support those who are promoting ecologically responsible practises around the world, and to penalise those who aren't. 

What you can do

  • Consume greener: find out where your products come from. If you're buying timber products, demand products that are FSC® labelled. 
  • Consume less: we know that over-consumption in some parts of the world is driving degradation. One thing most of us can do for the Earth's forests (and its other, finite resources) is to consume less.
  • Greenpeace investigates, documents and exposes brands that rely on forest destruction, and targetting industry slow-learners in order to realise our vision of a world in which no ancient forests are destroyed. If you haven't already, join our forest campaign now:

Watch the video that persuaded Unilever to change their minds: