Good Cop/Bad Cop Goes Green
On the environment, Greenpeace isn't always combative.
The Greenpeace that the public knows has never met an environmental villain that it didn't want to make really, really miserable. So in the group's ongoing campaign to get Kimberly-Clark to stop using wood fiber from virgin forests for Kleenex and other paper products, activists have used a bus shaped like a box of Kleenex to block the entrance to one of the company's paper mills. Shadowing a marketing tour for the company's Cottonelle toilet
paper, they have unfurled banners declaring the sites a "forest crime scene." But in 2007 the attacks got personal. As CEO Thomas Falk began a speech to an executive-education program at his alma mater, the Wisconsin School of Business, two Greenpeace activists switched his PowerPoint for theirs. Instead of a primer on Kimberly-Clark's success, the audience saw photos of the Canadian boreal forests that supply the company's wood, with before (lush trees) and after (a clear-cut moonscape) shots followed by a smiling Falk declaring, "It's all business as usual." After panicked organizers ordered everyone out ("There are activists in the building!"), the attendees trooped into a cafeteria where Greenpeace had placed menus for such delicacies as "songbird stir-fry," noting that half the songbird species in North America migrate to the boreal forests that supply Kimberly-Clark. (A company spokesman notes that although it purchases wood fiber from boreal forests, its suppliers are certified by groups that require sustainable practices.) "It's a little like 'Animal House,' but in grad school," says Scott Paul, who directs Greenpeace's Forest Campaign.
The Greenpeace the public doesn't know operates somewhat differently. A decade ago it formed a partnership with a German company to manufacture refrigerators that don't use chemicals called HFCs as their coolant (HFCs are greenhouse gases, now responsible for 17 percent of man-made global warming but on track to contribute as much as carbon dioxide). Greenpeace first got China's largest refrigerator-maker to produce Greenfreeze fridges, then one in Japan, then major Western manufacturers such as Whirlpool and Miele, with the result that 300 million Greenfreeze fridges are in homes worldwide. No sit-ins, no banners, no PowerPoint sabotage was required; just business deals. "If Greenpeace is going to ring the siren saying there is an [environmental] emergency," says Amy Larkin, who directs the group's Solutions campaign of working with businesses, "we better bring the ambulance. I'm proud of my colleagues who are climbing companies' smokestacks to unfurl banners, but we need every kind of action."
Greenpeace can't say for sure that the possibility of smokestack climbing (and worse) makes companies more willing to cave to the group's demands, but "what we hear over and over again, especially after a few drinks, is company people telling us, 'We wouldn't be talking to you if we weren't scared of you'," says Greenpeace research director Kert Davies. Even if the threat is merely implicit, pairing hard-core activism with opportunistic cooperation may be exactly what the environmental community needs right now. The world has been backsliding on climate change for decades, and even a global recession has made hardly a dent in emissions: atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made greenhouse gas, rose 2.1 parts per million in 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week, essentially unchanged from the 2.2ppm in booming 2007. And, yes, the Environmental Protection Agency just took the first steps toward regulating carbon dioxide, but if you believe that's going to cut emissions in time and be enough to avert expensive climate change, I have a nice bridge you might be interested in. That means enviros need to go to the sources of greenhouse emissions and offer them affordable, workable solutions. "Given the inertia of industry and the short reach of multinational political agreements, [green groups] should consider inside-out strategies," Cathy Hartman and Edwin Stafford of Utah State University argued in a 2006 analysis, explaining that "inside-out" pairs activism with cooperation.
The good-cop, bad-cop strategy has paid off. Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Unilever have all developed Greenfreeze technology for their vending machines and coolers; Unilever, maker of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, alone has deployed 2 million ice-cream coolers worldwide, including 2,000 in Boston and Washington on a test basis. (The EPA has to rule that the technology is safe and effective—that the fridges keep food cold and don't blow up, for instance—before Greenfreeze coolers can be rolled out commercially.) This year Wal-Mart began using a non-HFC refrigeration system in one of its Canadian stores, and is moving toward implementing the technology in the U.S., where its coolers are responsible for more greenhouse gases than its trucks. Greenpeace also got guitar makers, including Gibson and Fender, to press their suppliers to stop using 250-year-old Sitka spruces from Alaska's Tongass National Forest for the instruments' sound boards. As for Kimberly-Clark, Greenpeace has persuaded 20 colleges and 700 small businesses, such as mom-and-pop grocery stores, not to carry its products, and the company just introduced Scott Naturals, with some recycled fiber rather than just fiber from ancient trees. Score another for the bad cop.