Exclusive: How Kimberly-Clark Ditched its Forest-Destroying Reputation and Embraced Greenpeace

Sometimes, Greenpeace's tactics against corporations really work. For proof, look no further than Kimberly-Clark.

In 2004, Greenpeace launched an aggressive campaign against Kimberly-Clark, the manufacturer of Kleenex and Scott toilet paper. Dubbed "Kleercut," the campaign targeted the tissuemakers questionable sourcing practices—according to Greenpeace, Kimberly-Clark sourced up to 22% of its paper pulp from Canadian boreal forests containing 200-year-old trees. The Kleercut website claimed, "Kimberly-Clark is, unfortunately, a company that puts more effort into making their environmental record 'sound' good and green than it does into actually improving their business practices and making the manufacture of their disposable tissue products environmentally friendly."

Greenpeace didn't just send out strongly-worded press releases. The nonprofit launched blockades at Kimberly-Clark's offices, disrupted meetings, snuck into Kleenex commercial shoots, and released aggressive YouTube videos. But ultimately, "Kimberly-Clark didn't think they were doing anything wrong. The company took a lot of pride in its sustainable practices," explains Suhas Apte, Kimberly-Clark's vice president of global sustainability. "We used to consider NGO's as non-value add entities."

Then students on college campuses latched onto the Kleercut campaign. The media—including Fast Company—started highlighting the company's destructive practices. Kimberly-Clark began worrying about its reputation.

In late 2008, the company decided that it was worth listening to Greenpeace. Kimberly-Clark set up a meeting with the nonprofit sans staff support—and discovered that the relationship might be of value. "As we learned in that discussion, we realized that our sourcing protocols were not rigorous enough," admits Apte. "Our fiber policy talked about how we wanted to be 100% certified among the top five certifications but our actions were not promoting that gold standard."

With Greenpeace's help, Kimberly-Clark fast-tracked its sustainability goals. The company has pledged to stop sourcing non-Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood by 2012, and it set a 2011 goal to have 40% of the fiber in North American tissue products either recycled or certified by the FSC—a 71% increase from 2007 levels. These are all goals that Kimberly-Clark would have achieved without Greenpeace, Apte says, but cooperating with the nonprofit sped up the process considerably.

And since Kimberly-Clark is such a major player in the tissue industry, the company's move towards FSC-certified products has shaken up its entire supply chain. "We have been able to influence suppliers to go to FSC certification," Apte says.

Now Kimberly-Clark has twice-a-year meetings with Greenpeace to review sustainability targets, share marketplace challenges, and discuss future innovations. Greenpeace has become something of a sounding board for Kimberly-Clark when the company wants to know how NGO's will react to future announcements, or whether a potential supplier meets sustainability criteria.

"They are passionate, but they're also rational people. They understand pragmatic realities," Apte explains.

And as for all those other corporations that are being targeted by Greenpeace campaigns? Apte is more than willing to facilitate discussion when the time is right.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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1 Comments

  • DWA Rose

    Looks to me as though Greenpeace used extortion in an attempt to create a monopoly for the Forest Stewardship Council. I’m not a big fan of monopolies. Especially when it doesn’t take too much research to show Forest Stewardship Council is not as pure as Greenpeace and Fast Company would have us believe.

    A quick run through just a couple Forest Stewardship Council certification audits shows huge clearcuts, unabated chemical use and poor treatment of First Nations on FSC forests. Check it out:
    FSC in Ontario – http://www.rainforest-alliance......
    FSC in Manitoba- http://www.rainforest-alliance......

    Seems to me that if Greenpeace truly cared about sustainable sourcing practices they’d do a little more research instead of putting all their money on one horse without first checking the odds or track conditions or some of the other horses.