Case closed! A look back at the Kleercut campaign.

by Scott Paul

August 5, 2009

First and foremost, a big "thank you" to Kimberly-Clark, the world’s largest manufacturer of tissue paper products and the proud owner of a new fiber procurement policy. We pledge to work cooperatively to help implement that policy.

Hey Proctor & Gamble (maker of Charmin and Bounty) and Georgia Pacific (maker of Angel Soft and Brawny), you reading this?

Lest I forget: Thank Kimberly-Clark now for helping protect the world’s ancient forests!

K-C’s new policy

No over-the-top celebration here (kind of promised not to) — but folks here are feeling very good indeed. Here’s the deal:

  • Kimberly-Clark now has a goal of obtaining 100 percent of the wood fiber for its products — including its flagship brand, Kleenex — from environmentally responsible sources (that means recycled or FSC).
  • By the end of 2011, the company will get out of the Boreal Forest and only buy pulp that is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) -certified.
  • The policy pledges to protect the integrity of High Conservation Value Forests and will keep Kimberly-Clark and its suppliers out of Endangered Forests.

Today is definitely a day for celebrating the new protections provided to our world’s ancient forests by the world’s biggest tissue makers. The Kleercut campaign was what we call a “market campaign,” so I thought it would be interesting to look back on the strategies and tactics that made today’s victory for ancient forests possible.

Market campaigning, the Boreal, and Kleercut

Forest “market campaigns” typically start in a forest. In fact, right now in countries all around the world Greenpeace staff are meticulously documenting forest activities — logging, mining, road building, damns, agricultural expansion, you name it.  In addition to physical mapping (where’s the forest, what condition is it in, what species exits, etc.), our teams conduct social mapping to identify and reach out to communities in the effected region to understand competing or conflicting issues, such as land ownership or tenure rights and displacement.  

Obviously we also focus on major commercial activities to better understand who is acting responsibly and who is not. For example, in any given region a logging company may be acting responsibly while another is blatantly breaking the law, disrespecting human rights, or otherwise causing sever environmental destruction. I have no problem with the forest products sector, but you’d be truly shocked what some people are getting away with… And too often you end up buying it at your local store and never know it!
So once again, our story today began in the forest. Prior to the launch of the Kleercut campaign, well before we even thought about Kimberly-Clark, Greenpeace Canada was busy documenting what, when, and how the logging sector was clearcutting the Boreal forest. This is the largest intact forest in North America and is home to woodland caribou, lynx, grizzly bears, and wolverine, to name but a few. Birds? Forget about it! Over 1 billion migratory song birds call the Boreal home for part of the year.

The Boreal is also home to nearly a million aboriginal peoples. On top of this, it is the largest storehouse of terrestrial carbon on the planet. Did you know that worldwide forest destruction release more CO2 into the atmosphere than all cars, planes and boats combined?

What we’re stopping: Destruction of the Boreal

Most of the destruction in the Boreal is taking place in the southern frontier, which is also where the most productive wildlife habitats are. In these areas, over 90% of the forest is being clearcut, with individual cuts sometimes extending over 24,000 acres. These are some of the largest clearcuts in the world. Point is, the place is important and it’s getting trashed.

In Canada, Greenpeace focused on documenting the ongoing history of massive forest destruction and the social unrest left in the wake of the logging industry. Once the playing field is documented (i.e. the physical and social mapping stuff), we begin the painstaking task of documenting the chain-of-custody – the often lengthy and convoluted pathway that forest products travel from the stump to the store shelf. Along the way, economic value is “added” through various processing points, which obviously differ if the tree is destined for a 2×4 or toilet paper. Yes, Virginia — toilet paper and tissues are still commonly made of 100% virgin fiber, from ancient forests and old-growth trees.

Anyway, we traced fiber from these highly destructive logging companies to end-customers all over the world, including — you guessed it — Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Kleenex.

Our first face-to-face with K-C

As we do, Greenpeace sent letters requesting a face-to-face meeting with large customers to present our facts. There are plenty of examples where corporations react responsibly once the information is on the table. Let’s be honest: A lot of companies are huge, even transnational, and (until recently) it is understandable that top management may be blissfully unaware of the procurement consequences made at lower levels. Some guy in middle management in a windowless office may have no idea that his purchasing contracts can taint the reputation of their company or for that matter may not even care that the implications can have huge impacts on critically endangered ecosystems. “I just work here, don’t bother me.”

These first face-to-face meetings are a key moment and fraught with peril, as most corporations speak Greek, while most environmentalists speak Latin. Thus, on some occasions, we may not know how close or far apart we are on any given issue. Too may Greeks instinctively mistrust Latins (and I guess vice versa).

Sadly, let’s just say our first meeting with K-C was a lost opportunity. Maybe we didn’t make our case well enough — NOT.  Maybe the company was not about to let some hippies tell them how to run their business. Maybe some public relations firm was advising them to hunker down, promising that we’d go away. Either way, after that meeting Greenpeace decided to launch a campaign against Kimberly-Clark, the world’s largest tissue paper products manufacturer — the same company that had somehow convinced my 4-year old to ask for a Kleenex instead of a tissue. The prospect was daunting… but once you see what’s happening in some of these Boreal forests, suddenly motivation is not the issue.

YOU made the difference

The smartest thing Greenpeace ever did with this campaign was to decentralize and “let it go.” We turned our facts over to activists from around the world. From there it took on a life of it’s own. Yeah, yeah, Greenpeace did a lot too. We planned, wrote reports, organized, protested, met with customers large and small, hung off of buildings, created YouTube videos and mock newspapers, worked with shareholders and the media and argued amongst ourselves, etc., etc. etc. A core group of Greenpeace people in the U.S. and Canada worked their butts off (and nothing but love here to the international Greenpeace offices who worked on this too). To all of you: I will be eternally grateful and am thoroughly impressed. I hope to talk soon to many of you individually.

But the truth is that the best ideas and activities came from volunteers, students, retirees, Greenpeace canvassers, and some guys answering the phone in Greenpeace’s supporter services department. So to the businesses, campuses, and individuals that made this happen — this is your moment.  This is your achievement. Remember that. No one can ever take that away from you. Trust me, this victory never would have happened if individuals like you had not taken action.

Buy me a beer and I’ll bend your ear with some of the most inspirational, innovative, dedicated and downright hysterical things that happened during this campaign… and all staying within our core values of peaceful protest. Marshall McLuhan and the Quakers would be proud.

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