Greenpeace and Kimberly-Clark Accused of Greenwashing

Greenpeace ends Kleercut campaign against Kimberly-Clark


Last week Greenpeace said it was okay to buy Kimberly-Clark (K-C) products again so I loaded up my shopping cart with Kleenex, Scott paper towels and Cottonelle toilet paper.  After years of fighting, Greenpeace and K-C finally reached an agreement.  The corporation will begin sourcing fiber responsibly, and the NGO will end its Kleercut campaign.  It seems pretty cut-and-dry to me.  Or is it?

Sites such as Treehugger.com and Grist.org applauded the agreement.  Even the environmental organization, ForestEthics told Grist that K-C’s new sourcing policy “is among the strongest in the world … truly impressive.  ForestEthics congratulates Greenpeace and allies for a campaign well run.”  Wow, I’m getting all teary-eyed just reading the accolades.  I think I need a Kleenex.  So why are some folks crying foul?

Not everyone was so eager to join the love-fest.  It appears some are not happy with K-C’s 2011 goal of ensuring 40% of their fiber will be either recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified with the intention of reaching 100%…some day.  They didn’t give a time-line for this lofty aspiration.

One of the critics is Marcal Paper‘s CEO, Tim Spring.  He said in a press release that he was “deeply disappointed” by Greenpeace’s decision to end the Kleercut campaign,

“Since when is 40 percent a passing grade?  While I understand the negotiating process, Greenpeace needs to rethink these standards. There is no excuse to make paper from anything but 100 percent recycled fiber, especially when you consider that paper takes up a quarter of our landfill space today.”

Okay…well, Marcel Paper is a K-C competitor.  I understand this may be a good opportunity to promote their 100% recycled paper products and their brand.  As a former communications professional, I get it.

Forests.org, however, has launched a full-on campaign against Greenpeace on their website.  They want me to send Greenpeace a scathing email demanding that they “cease and desist” their collaboration with K-C.  They slam the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and accuse Greenpeace of “greenwashing”.  Huh?  Greenpeace?  Aren’t these the guys (and gals) who chain themselves to trees and harass big whaling ships in tiny rowboats?  I don’t get it.

I think there’s a danger in warring environmental organizations.  First, you get more accomplished with a united front.  Have you heard the saying, “divided they will fall”?  Second, the average consumer won’t know who to trust.  Where’s the credibility?  Playing tug-o-war with a consumer’s conscience may backfire.  In our fast-paced, sound-bite culture, consumers may throw up their hands and give up on the “green” movement.

Yes, yes…I understand the desire to have K-C use only 100% recycled paper in their products.  I too don’t mind wiping my behind with post-consumer fiber, but the change is not going to happen over night.  I believe it is naïve to think you can get a multinational to restructure its entire supply chain in the blink of an eye.  Sorry.  We aren’t living in an episode of I Dream of Genie.  It doesn’t work that way in business especially if the business has been around since the late 1800’s.

I applaud Greenpeace’s collaborative strategy and long term vision.  We need to support K-C’s efforts but at the same time hold them accountable to their publicly stated goals.  K-C is dipping their toe into sustainable sourcing to see what the water is like.  We can turn up the heat and scare them away, or we can keep the temperature warm and inviting so they jump in with both feet.  In the end, it is our choice as aware consumers.

Image Courtesy Greenpeace

  1. grace

    — I think there’s a danger in warring environmental organizations. First, you get more accomplished with a united front. Have you heard the saying, “divided they will fall”? —

    Couldn’t agree more. Doesn’t encouragement work better than accusations?

    On the other hand, I think we’d all be better off without paper towels — recycled or not, they still take up too much resource for the flimsy work they do.

  2. Robert Johnston

    Everyone should know that Dr Glen Barry and Forests.org have had it out for environmental organizations for years. He’s an armchair environmentalist that has never campaigned for forests — rather feels his contribution is criticizing groups that are making real change on the ground and getting forests, globally, protected.

    To give him and his organization any type of credibility and creedence is to play into his strategy of criticism is going to protect forests. Simply, it doesn’t work.

  3. Survival Acres

    There is a good article on how movements are co-opted into giving up their goals on Tribe of Heart’s site, link is here.

    “Their favorite method,” wrote Stauber and Rampton, “is a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy heavily dependent on co-optation: First identify the ‘radicals’ who are unwilling to compromise and who are demanding fundamental changes to redress the problem at hand. Then, identify the ‘realists’ typically, organizations with significant budgets and staffs working in the same relative area of public concern as the radicals. Then, approach these realists, often through a friendly third party, start a dialogue and eventually cut a deal, a ‘win-win’ solution that marginalizes and excludes the radicals and their demands.

    “Next, go with the realists to the ‘idealists’ who have learned about the problem through the work of the radicals. Convince the idealists that a ‘win-win’ solution endorsed by the realists is best for the community as a whole. Once this has been accomplished, the ‘radicals’ can be shut out as extremists, the PR fix is in, and the deal can be touted in the media to make the corporation and its ‘moderate’ nonprofit partners look heroic for solving the problem. Result: industry may have to make some small or temporary concessions, but the fundamental concerns raised by the ‘radicals’ are swept aside.” [Emphasis added.]

    I haven’t bought paper towels in over two decades, there is no real “need” for such products when a reusable rag will do just fine.

  4. Korey Smyth

    Wow…who would’ve EVER have thought Greenpeace would be accused of “greenwashing”…probably the same guy from Marcal who promotes 100% recycling (Marcal likes recycling I guess as long as you don’t have to breathe it: “Most recently, NJDEP has continuously fined
    Marcal Tissue $46,000 in 2001, $10,500 in 2003 and $193,984 in 2005 for failure to operate the
    Facility in compliance with the Clean Air Act and applicable state laws and regulations”).
    It’s the balance – and evidently Greenpeace saw an opportunity that big business could also be green business.

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