What Kimberly-Clark learned from 5 years with Greenpeace

What Kimberly-Clark learned from 5 years with Greenpeace

Image by ChicagoStockPhotography via Shutterstock

For Greenpeace's perspective on this partnership, read this article by Rolf Skar, Greenpeace's forest campaign director.

In August, Kimberly-Clark Corporation and Greenpeace marked the fifth anniversary of a milestone agreement on sustainable fiber sourcing, which established a framework for collaboration towards long-term solutions to protect forests. The relationship between Kimberly-Clark and Greenpeace remains a healthy one today—one that is anchored in some shared values, including the desire to protect the forests of world, and the environmental, social and economic values they create.

Creating the partnership

Not a lot of companies can say they have such a positive relationship with Greenpeace. And this wasn’t always the case for us either.

Between 2004 and 2009, Greenpeace engaged in a negative public campaign regarding Kimberly-Clark's use of fiber sourced from the Canadian boreal forest. The “Kleercut” campaign involved direct actions, including Greenpeace activists interrupting Kleenex marketing events and blockading manufacturing sites, in order to draw attention to forestry practices in the boreal. While we felt that our practices at the time were very responsible, this high-profile conflict with a leading NGO raised questions and concerns with customers and overshadowed our good environmental performance.

By 2009, it was clear that we needed to take a different approach. We had to set aside difficult experiences and perceptions to push for a different outcome. By engaging key leaders from both organizations, we were able to identify a mutually agreeable approach. And so, together we signed an agreement that set us on a path to increase the use of environmentally preferred fibers (including fiber certified to the Forest Stewardship Council and recycled fiber) in Kimberly-Clark products.

The result was also a step in the right direction for the industry at large. With the new agreement, we embarked on a journey to work with our suppliers to encourage Forest Stewardship Council certification and protection of high-conservation-value forests, while at the same time using our brands to increase the awareness of the importance of certification.

The collaboration with Greenpeace furthered our appreciation of the value of—and need for—partnering with the right stakeholders. These partnerships deepen our understanding of environmental issues by seeing them through a different lens—this new perspective can create the impetus to change direction, accelerate plans or deploy improved practices. For us here at Kimberly-Clark, the collaboration with Greenpeace and other stakeholders such as the Forest Stewardship Council has helped us gain insights into ways to improve the sustainability of our products and supply chain.

Results

At Kimberly-Clark, we’ve set higher standards for ourselves in the area of responsible fiber procurement, and we continuously push ourselves to meet them. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.

First, we reached our goal to source 100 percent of virgin wood fiber from suppliers whose forestry operations or wood-fiber procurement activities are certified by a third-party forest certification system.

In addition, we have a clearly stated preference of Forest Stewardship Council-certified fiber, which has contributed to global growth in FSC-fiber supply through supplier partners. We’ve increased the use of FSC-certified fiber in our global tissue products by 111 percent since 2009 .

Finally, we have increased the use of environmentally-preferred fiber, which includes FSC-certified fiber and recycled fiber, in our global tissue products to 83.5 percent from 54.6 percent.

Lessons learned

Of course, we’re pleased to no longer be a target of Greenpeace’s creative campaigning activities, but more importantly, we’re still learning from each other. Here are 5 lessons learned from Kimberly-Clark’s perspective:

1. Common ground is within reach

Kimberly-Clark and Greenpeace learned that we both want forest management practices to improve around the world, but we had to work on being open-minded with each other. At first, it was hard to truly listen.

2. Transparency and trust are key

Both parties must be transparent regarding their objectives, plans and processes. We had to push past our hesitancy to share internal information, which was critical to building trust.

3. Both parties’ reputations are on the line

We learned that Greenpeace has just as much at stake as Kimberly-Clark does. Both teams highly value their reputation with their stakeholders and want to be respectful to all as they work together.

4. Know the customer

Understand the value drivers, priorities and processes of your customer. This is critical to finding the middle ground and a principle that applies equally to NGOs.

5. Set the pace of change

NGOs want to see change happen faster than a company may be prepared to realize. Thus, expectations may be seen as unrealistic or not financially viable. By striking an ambitious timeline for change, there is an opportunity to demonstrate leadership ahead of the curve and, perhaps, realize value you never anticipated you could.

Image of tissue box by ChicagoStockPhotography via Shutterstock