Celebrate the Earth, but don’t believe the corporate hype
by Jeff Conant, Senior International Forest Program Manager
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In 1970, the first Earth Day was established to celebrate our collective love for our one and only home – and to recognize the massive harm done by reckless overconsumption, mindless pollution, and a profound alienation from the natural world. Today, Earth Day continues to be a moment when people in towns and cities across the U.S. and across the world come together to pick up trash, to learn and teach, and to take a moment to reflect on the need to clean up our messes and, if you will, respect our Mother Earth.
It is also a day when corporate America loves to broadcast its social responsibility and to spend public relations budgets on ever-increasing forays into greenwashing.
Case in point: last year on Earth Day Procter & Gamble (P&G), the world’s largest consumer goods company, announced several measures to showcase its leadership on sustainability. The campaign, called It’s Our Home, told us that “the small changes we make – such as using cold water for laundry, taking shorter showers or turning off the tap while brushing our teeth or shaving, and recycling more – can make a big impact.” P&G offered its customers advice like to pre-soak your clothes, turn off the tap when you brush teeth, and use a dishwasher to save water.
These sorts of individual actions are all good things to do, no doubt – but it would be naïve to think they will ‘save the planet’ – especially when industrial giants like P&G are enabling far more environmental destruction than the average consumer would suspect.
While P&G teaches us how to turn off the tap while we brush teeth and pre-soak our laundry, P&G’s Crest toothpaste and Tide laundry detergent are filled with conflict palm oil sourced from some very unsavory companies like Astra Agro Lestari, Golden Agri Resources and Felda Global Ventures. These companies are destroying Indonesian rainforests and grabbing land from local and indigenous communities.
While P&G’s greenwash brigade “shines a spotlight on the importance of consumer use of products in the home as an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emission,” the company continues to source the pulp for its Charmin toilet paper from virgin fiber in prime caribou habitat within Canada’s boreal forests. With deforestation driving about thirteen percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, P&G’s attempt to place the burden of climate chaos on consumers, rather than on its own corporate practices, is nothing short of gaslighting.
However, some very important stakeholders have not been duped by P&G’s attempts to displace responsibility onto its consumers: in 2020, two-thirds of P&G’s shareholders rebuked the company for its deforestation problem. While P&G tries to earn points as America’s most family-friendly brand, Procter and Gamble family members – the heirs to the P&G fortune – have come out on CBS News to challenge the company’s claims.
Under pressure from an ongoing campaign, P&G has actually taken some positive steps, but fallen short of what’s needed to halt the devastating consequences of its supply chains on forests and human rights. P&G’s updated “Wood Pulp Sourcing Policy” does take a step forward by voicing respect for the right of Indigenous and local communities to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent to operations on their lands, but it remains unclear whether P&G actually requires its suppliers to comply and, if so, how. This is especially concerning as recent report from NRDC, “By a Thousand Cuts” found that three key pulp suppliers to P&G do not require FPIC, while Friends of the Earth’s recent report No Consent exposes an ongoing landgrab in Indonesia by a key P&G palm oil supplier. To be fair, P&G has commissioned a study to confirm the allegations, after which…we’ll see what they do.
All the while, P&G seems to be working behind the scenes with the American Forests and Paper Association to undermine pending regulatory efforts like the California and New York Deforestation-Free Procurement Acts.
This is why one of our Earth Day efforts this year is to team up with partners to deliver nearly 500,000 petition signatures to P&G, urging the company to honor its commitment to social responsibility with real action, not just empty words. This Earth is our one and only home. At Friends of the Earth, our message to P&G’s consumers is: turn off the tap when you brush your teeth, love your Mother, and don’t believe the corporate hype.