Greenpeace has been at odds with marketers since its 1970s campaigns against tuna brands it said were killing dolphins. Its relations with the tuna industry and some other big marketers remain chilly – as evidenced by the group hanging putting an orangutan-suited protester on a zip line between the twin towers at Procter & Gamble Co.'s Cincinnati headquarters in March.
But it's possible for brands to live in peace with Greenpeace. The group just celebrated the fifth anniversary of a collaboration with Kimberly-Clark Corp. that both sides see as a model of how companies can work with the group, even holding a joint Twitter chat (hashtag #forestsolutions) Aug. 5.
Seemingly a business that cuts down trees to market disposable tissue products is a tough sell to environmentalists. But following a five-year campaign by Greenpeace, Kimberly-Clark in 2009 changed its forestry practices to steer clear of old-growth boreal forests of northern Canada and use more recycled pulp and renewable bamboo. Greenpeace stopped making spoof ads substituting the Kleenex logo with "Kleercut," and even made a make-up video.
So what's made the relationship work?
One reason is simple – willingness to talk. Peggy Ward, sustainability practice leader for K-C's North American tissue business, said it shouldn't be scary when that first call comes from Greenpeace. She added that in hindsight the protest phase of the relationship was probably avoidable. Greenpeace is willing to negotiate, accept achievable goals and listen to concerns about implementation, she said.
K-C helped ensure the relationship lasted by over-delivering on its earliest promises, she said. There's no third-party audit, but Greenpeace helps monitor compliance with forestry standards.
"There's a misconception that cutting down trees is bad," Ms. Ward said. "It's really about responsible forestry management."
She doesn't believe K-C has been hurt by reaching a pact with Greenpeace while key competitors haven't. The business even has been helped by the effort, she said. The Scott Naturals line, with 20% recycled fiber and launched in part as a response to Greenpeace's efforts, has grown from $4 million in sales when the deal was reached in 2009 to $100 million now.
The Kimberly-Clark relationship is a model in a few ways, said Richard Brooks, forest campaign coordinator for Greenpeace. "For one, it's based on tangible change," he said. "And it didn't simply stop when they made an announcement."
The relationship has grown through regular meetings from an initial focus on Canadian forests to those in South America, Eastern Europe, Asia and the U.S. He said Greenpeace provides consulting on which suppliers to use and which to avoid in Indonesia.
"Work with us, and we'll help you craft and implement a policy that is going to remove you from controversy," he said. "Or you could not do that and there's a chance you could face a very public campaign."
Greenpeace also has reached accords in recent years with Unilever, Nestle and others on palm-oil sourcing after campaigns, and most recently claimed victory after its action at P&G (though eight of its protesters face felony burglary charges in Cincinnati and a ninth has reached a plea deal on a lesser felony).
Mr. Brooks said the group had been talking to P&G for years about sourcing of wood pulp and palm oil, but decided there wasn't enough progress on the latter before launching the March action. P&G said all its supply was already certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, but in April set stronger goals to ensure no deforestation from its sourcing.