Activist Campaigns Can Motivate Companies to Become More Eco-friendly

Activism works

Greenpeace activists interrupted Nestlé’s Annual General Meeting in April in Lausanne, Switzerland, displaying banners that read “Nestlé stop single use” and “Nestlé, this is yours.” They also held up some of the company’s plastic waste found in the ocean and then handed it to Nestlé executives. The actions of the activists are part of a campaign by the environmental organization demanding that companies like Nestlé be transparent about their plastic use and take action to reduce their reliance on single-use plastic.

How successful are campaigns that call out companies on their environmentally destructive business practices? Change.org has a current petition directed to Target, urging the big box chain to eliminate plastic bags in its stores by 2020. Target agreed to discuss the request with Change.org in June. While that is not yet a success, it is a good start. But there are examples of Greenpeace campaigns that provoked companies to make changes.

Three successful Greenpeace anti-corporate campaigns

In 2010, Greenpeace launched a campaign targeting Nestlé’s KitKat chocolate bar with a parody of commercial which drove home the point that the palm oil used in KitKat helped destroy rainforests. In just a few weeks, 1.5 million saw the video, according to The Guardian. The end game of the campaign was to get Nestlé to stop sourcing palm oil from its supplier Sinar Mas. The video was only part of the campaign, which included social media posts and activists who dressed up as orangutans and went to the company’s headquarters in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and London plus seven of its factories in Germany. Months after the campaign launched, Nestlé announced that it would stop buying palm oil from Sinar Mas and other non-sustainable sources. A case study calls the Greenpeace campaign, “one of the most successful anti-corporate media campaigns.”

Greenpeace launched the Kleercut Campaign in 2004, aimed at Kimberly Clark, maker of Kleenex. The goal of the campaign was to get the company to stop the company from using paper sourced from suppliers who used clearcut logging methods in Canada’s boreal forest, one of the world’s last ancient forests. Activists went to a stockholder’s meeting and distributed pamphlets about Kimberly-Clark’s role in forest destruction. Greenpeace activists held 350 events in 200 cities in the U.S. and Canada in 2005.

Kimberly-Clark resisted and Greenpeace started the Forest Friendly 500 initiative which asked businesses to replace Kleenex tissues with a different brand that contained more recycled tissue. The campaign continued for several years until Kimberly-Clark announced its goal to have 40 percent of the fiber in its North American tissue products come from either recycled sources or ones certified by the Forest Stewardship Council by 2011. That goal represented a 71 percent increase from its 2007 levels. The campaign also resulted in logging companies shifting to more sustainable logging methods.

Greenpeace exposed Best Buy’s role in helping destroy Canada’s Boreal Forest through a report which revealed that the electronics retailer sourced 100 million pounds of paper a year from the ancient forest to produce flyers. The report also revealed that Best Buy sourced paper from Resolute Forest Products, a company responsible for destroying “vast swathes,” as Greenpeace put it, of Canada’s Boreal Forest. Two weeks after the release of the report, Best Buy announced that it would require its suppliers to provide them with paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

What you can do

There is something you can do to hold a company accountable. Remember the petition mentioned earlier that asks Target to stop selling single-use plastic bags at all of its stores? Sign it and let Target know where you stand about plastic pollution.

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