Kimberly-Clark and the Greenwash Game

by Rolf Skar

September 24, 2008

If you watch TV, open a magazine or browse the web these days, you’ve probably seen the phenomenon called “greenwash.”  Simply put, greenwash is the act of pretending to be green when you’re not.

An expert greenwasher is Kleenex maker Kimberly-Clark.  Responding to pressure from our Kleercut campaign, Kimberly-Clark has made many claims about its environmental performance in recent years.  Unfortunately, Kimberly-Clark’s claims have not been matched by commitments and results in the real world.

For example, Kimberly-Clark often claims that the wood fiber they get from Canada’s Boreal Forest are made from “sawdust and chips – or leftovers – of the lumber production process.”

That’s not what see in the Canada’s Boreal Forest.  We recently documented a huge pile of wood ripped from the ancient forests in northern Ontario destined to be turned into Kleenex and other disposable products.  As you can tell from the photo below, a lot of whole trees — not "sawdust and chips" — have been sawed down to feed Kimberly-Clark.  Check out the video and full story here.

This doesn't look like lumber


Kimberly-Clark also claims they are green because they are listed on the Dow Jones World Sustainability Index (DJWSI).  Sounds nice, right?  The problem is, the DJWSI a tool for measuring a broad range of company characteristics – from “talent attraction and retention” to philanthropy – but it doesn’t have much to do with environmental standards.  In fact, only 7% of the overall DJWSI rating has anything to do with the environment, and most of that is focused on energy efficiency.  The index does not address the hot-button topics like endangered species or ancient forests.  These are core issues that have inspired the campaign against Kimberly-Clark.  Oops.

Here’s another one: Kimberly-Clark also claims it is green because it is a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  The Council can be a decent forum to exchange ideas and promote sustainability initiatives.  But, there are no real environmental standards required for membership.  Basically, any company can join.

In fact, many corporations that are neck-deep in environmental controversies, such as Chevron, General Motors, Royal Dutch Shell, DuPont, Dow Chemical, ConocoPhillips, Weyerhaeuser, and the China Petrochemical Corporation are members of the Council.  I’m not trashing the Council, but we can’t let companies like Kimberly-Clark claim their membership in the Council is proof of environmental achievement.  That’s like saying you’re in tip-top shape just because you belong to a gym. 

The list of greenwashers and greenwashing is long and growing.  Greenpeace has a new website dedicated to greenwashing where you can rate and report greenwashing.  Check it out here.  Together, we can make sure corporations match green words with green deeds!

– Rolf

Rolf Skar

By Rolf Skar

Rolf Skar is the Campaigns Director at Greenpeace USA. Since 2007, Rolf has contributed to international Greenpeace campaigns to stop deforestation in the Canadian boreal forest, the Paradise forests of Southeast Asia, and the Brazilian Amazon.

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