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What K-C Learned from Five Years with Greenpeace

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Kimberly-Clark (Dallas, Texas, USA) Senior Director for Global Sustainability Lisa Morden authored a recent article on Greenbiz.com, that details K-C’s successful, five-year relationship with Greenpeace,
"In August," she noted, Kimberly-Clark 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 remains a healthy one today, Morden emphasizes—one that is anchored in some shared values, including the desire to protect forests of the world, and the environmental, social, and economic values they create. Morden commented on the relationship from three perspectives—creating the partnership, results, and lessons learned.
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, Morden says in her article. 
Between 2004 and 2009, Greenpeace engaged in a negative public campaign regarding K-C'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, 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," Morden points out.
"By 2009, it was clear that we needed to take a different approach," she continues. "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, K-C embarked on a journey to work with its suppliers to encourage Forest Stewardship Council certification and protection of high-conservation-value forests, while at the same time using its brands to increase the awareness of the importance of certification.
The collaboration with Greenpeace furthered K-C s’s appreciation of the value of—and need for—partnering with the right stakeholders, Morden explains. "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."
"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," Morden emphasizes..
First, K-C reached its goal to source 100% 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, it has a clearly stated preference of Forest Stewardship Council-certified fiber, which has contributed to global growth in FSC-fiber supply through supplier partners. The company has increased the use of FSC-certified fiber in its global tissue products by 111% since 2009.
Finally, K-C has increased the use of environmentally-preferred fiber, which includes FSC-certified fiber and recycled fiber, in its global tissue products to 83.5% from 54.6%.
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 five lessons learned from K-C’s perspective," Morden writes.
  1. Common ground is within reach. Kimberly-Clark and Greenpeace learned that they both want forest management practices to improve around the world, but they 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. They had to push past their hesitancy to share internal information, which was critical to building trust.
  3. Both parties’ reputations are on the line. Both parties learned that Greenpeace has just as much at stake as K-C 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," Morden says. 
As K-C’s senior director for global sustainability, Morden is responsible for articulating the vision for sustainability in support of the company’s strategies and business plans. This involves leading the transformation process that will ensure the cultural integration and adoption of "best in class" sustainability practices.
Previously serving as a tissue category manager with Kimberly-Clark Professional, Morden was instrumental in several critical projects, including commercializing several towel and tissue products containing alternative fibers, developing and executing a Forest Stewardship Council, and eco-labeling product strategy and freeing up substantial resources for strategic investment. During her K-C career, Morden also has served in various environmental and sustainability-related positions designed to integrate principles of sustainability with the objective of generating business value.


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