Veteran Greenpeace watchers will have noticed that we’re running hot with quite a few online brand-jamming campaigns at the moment.
- You can become a Jedi in the Rebel Alliance against VW’s green veneer (Yes, VW makes some of the most fuel efficient cars on the European market. But thats only 6% of their global group sales, they artificially inflate the price of those cars AND they’re the big gorilla of opposition to climate legislation in the US and EU. If that’s green, I’m a wookie.)
- You can join Ken in his intervention against Barbies’ packaging, which is supplied by notorious criminal deforesters in Indonesia. (Lego gets it — they’ve already pledged to switch)
- You can Unfriend Facebook’s idiot retrograde policies of fueling their servers with coal instead of renewables
- You can urge Nike and adidas to stop poisoning Chinese rivers and detox the textile industry.
All of these campaigns ultimately aim at sea-changes in the way we do business with the Earth. They’re about changing entire industries to more sustainable practices. But unlike so many Greenpeace campaigns in the past, we’re not putting government or regulators directly in the crosshairs with weak-ass petitions or the kind of clicktivism I call Santa Claus missives (letters that will never be read, asking for things you know you’re not going to get): we’re targeting global brands.
I wrote the following for today’s launch of our campaign against Nike and adidas. It says a lot about where we’ve been with this form of campaigning and why we are increasingly going after big brands:
Over the past years you, our 11 million subscribers and supporters worldwide have been changing the face of earth-destructive industries by challenging their leading brands. You’ve helped reduce toxic chemicals in the computer industry with the successful Green My Apple campaign. You’ve convinced Coca Cola to remove climate-killing chemicals from their refrigerators. You’ve stopped a major cause of Amazon forest destruction by challenging the soy purchasing policies of McDonald’sand other fast-food brands. You’ve battled forest destruction by getting Unilever and Nestle to drop contracts with palm oil suppliers sourcing from deforestation through pressure on their Dove and Kit-Kat brands. You’ve recently convinced Lego to stop using packaging from the habitat of the sumatran tiger. Barbie, Facebook, and Volkswagen are all feeling the heat of current corporate campaigns to end deforestation and stop climate change.
You have the power to change Nike and Adidas, and with them, an entire industry. Clean water is not only a basic human right — it is the world’s most threatened essential resource. We’re asking governments to commit to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals within a generation. But governments are slow — the real players in changing industry are the global brands and corporate decision-makers who set policies about what they buy and where they buy it.
What that doesn’t say is how duecedly hard it used to be to get Greenpeace to do this stuff. Back in the days when we first were setting up Greenpeace Planet and our global web presence, most campaigns were all about pressuring politicians. The kind of fun evident in the Barbie push or the VW Darkside campaign was not allowed. Humour was verboten as unbecoming of discourse on a serious issue, and our happy band of hipster webbies were regularly getting their wrists slapped for attempting to spice up the odd press release with a bit of wit.
But in those days we were still, as good McLuhan’s Children, all about the “Media Mind Bomb.” We were convinced that getting coverage from Journalists meant providing a dramatic visual, then sounding like a journalist, or a scientist. We were trying to gain mainstream acceptance from a mainstream media. That’s changed over the last decade or so as we’ve stopped having to speak through the filter of a story editor or a press desk. We knew the power of the “Media mind bomb,” but then we discovered the “Social Media mind bomb.” Boom. Everything changed.
Globalised brand reputations were suddenly massive corporate assets: tarnishing them got the attention of decision makers. We had barely launched our campaign against Coca Cola’s use of climate-killing chemicals in refrigerants at the “Green Olympics” in Sydney in 2000 before the CEO himself was on the phone pledging a phase out: a promise Coke not only kept, but which they extended by bringing along Unilever and most of the industry.
And when we finally started winning concessions, oy the grief we caught for patting Coke or McDonalds on the back or congratulating them or even declaring victory. The dominant thinking was that all corporations were monolithically evil. Kudos –even when they did the right thing– were bad karma.
We’ve come a long, long way from those days, and to the credit of the Good Ship Greenpeace, for all our internal arguments, we don’t argue long with success: these days, every campaign wants the next Green my Apple, the next Kit-Kat, the next Barbie, the next VW Darkside, and every iteration seems to raise the bar and ups the ante.
Flipping a big brand away from the Dark Side is good Judo: it can achieve the same aim as a targeted public push at international legislation or national law, by putting a bigger gorilla on your side of the table. We’ve watched so many former targets (Not just Coke, but McDonalds, Apple, Home Depot, and others as well) change not only their own policies, but step up to change the entire supply chain, or put their lobbying weight behind changing the regulatory environment. That’s where the real change happens — and sometimes it simply isn’t heard if you or I or Greenpeace are asking for that change. But it is heard if a Fortune 500 company is asking for the same thing.
And somewhat sadly, it’s a testament to who runs the world these days. The US Supreme Court decision to grant corporations equal protection under free speech laws as human beings, and thereby contribute as much as they like to political campaigns, says it all. Politics is no longer about people power.
But, as these campaigns demonstate, people power is alive and well when it comes to corporate reputations. We vote with our wallets now, and global brands are connecting the dots between their brand reputation and their bottom lines.
We need to be increasingly vigilant in demanding that those brand reputations be built on good stewardship of the Earth and care for the future: and that it be built on real action, not a green veneer bought cheap with PR pixie dust.