Kleercut: Kimberly-Clark Commits to End Deforestation

How people power stopped clearcut logging in Canada’s boreal forests

The campaign that caused an industry giant to adopt sustainable logging practices, protecting the boreal forest and setting a precedent for forest conservation around the world.

Kleercut Campaign

Greenpeace forests campaigner Richard Brooks in Ontario's Kenogami forest. © Greenpeace / Andrew Male

Clearcut Logging Is Unsustainable

The Canadian boreal forest is an ancient forest, its multi-story trees allowed to flourish untouched for hundreds of years. 3 million square kilometers of woodland have resulted in a delicate ecosystem that serves as home for an array of critters. Clearcut logging is the complete removal of all trees in a given area, a practice that can be devastating to people and animals alike.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has described clearcutting as “an ecological trauma that has no precedent in nature except for a major volcanic eruption.” According to a study titled “The Carbon the World Forgot,” boreal forests contain 703 gigatons of carbon, while the world’s tropical forests contain 375. The boreal needs to be maintained, but for years Kimberly-Clark’s clearcut logging practices did just the opposite.

Clearcutting is cheaper for logging companies, which means less overhead and more profit for corporations. This is no excuse for Kimberly-Clark to support unsustainable practices from loggers that auditors discovered leaving more than one million cubic meters of trees cut and left to rot on logging roads in the Kenogami Forest of Northern Canada.

Introducing the Kleercut Campaign

In 2004, we initiated the Kleercut Campaign. A public relations assault was waged on multiple fronts. Activists crashed a stockholder’s meeting by distributing pamphlets titled “Kimberly Clark: Investing in Forest Destruction,” and setting up a “Forest Crime Scene” outside of Kimberly-Clark’s headquarters. These creative ways of getting the public’s attention galvanized support and rallied supporters to join the fight against deforestation.

The Boreal Day of Action Goes Global

On November 3, 2005, a grassroots campaign culminated in the “Boreal Day of Action,” with 350 events in 200 cities spanning the U.S. and Canada. There were demonstrations outside Kimberly-Clark facilities across the globe, including in New York City, Toronto, London, and Hamburg.

This advertisement showed up in the New York Times, attacking Kimberly-Clark in its most vulnerable place—their flagship brand, Kleenex.

Corporate America Throws Its Support Behind Boreal with the Forest Friendly 500

As Kimberly-Clark refused to budge, the movement to stop deforestation gained in momentum and allies. We started the Forest Friendly 500 initiative, asking businesses to pledge to stop wiping away Canada’s boreal forests by replacing their Kleenex brand facial tissues with a different brand that uses more recycled tissue.

Activists continued direct action; they blockaded Kimberly-Clark mills and staged events in front of various Kimberly-Clark buildings. In 2009, we released the “Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide,” which was later complemented with an app buying guide.

Kleercut Case Closed: Kimberly-Clark Adopts Zero Deforestation Policy

After several years of effort from thousands of supporters across the globe, Kimberly-Clark outlined a sourcing strategy that makes it an industry leader in sustainable logging practices. It set a 2011 goal to have 40 percent of the fiber in North American tissue products either recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council—a 71 percent increase from 2007 levels.

More importantly, their demand to logging companies for sustainably logged outpaced production. This meant logging companies themselves were forced to shift toward more environmentally friendly forms of acquiring timber, leading to less deforestation in the entire industry. It set precedent for a higher standard of sustainable logging, while sending big business a message that consumers are willing to choose with their wallets when it comes to protecting the environment.

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