P&G, the parent company of major paper product producers like Charmin and Bounty, made a small change to its anti-forestation policy in May, Adweek reported. The company deleted a pledge to avoid “forest degradation,” which is when trees are clear cut but then allowed the regrow. While not as drastic as deforestation, when trees are cut and then the land repurposed for something else, it still disrupts delicate ecosystems.
P&G says the change is due to a move to streamline its terminology, according to Adweek.
Sticking to its pledged has caused P&G big problems already: Adweek reported that the company, which boasts membership in the multi-industry environmental coalition Sustainable Brands and whose Chief Brand Office Marc Pritchard has a long history of touting the brands widely publicized sustainability pledges, faces an SEC complaint that it was not living up to its policy, potentially misleading investors.
Why it matters
Consumers care about the environment. A McKinsey analysis earlier this year found that consumer package goods (which includes many of P&G’s paper products) that make ESG claims have seen 28% cumulative growth over the last five years, compared to 20% among those that don’t.
P&G’s actions with forest degradation specifically impact climate change, as it sources much of the wood pulp it makes paper with from climate-critical forests in Canada, Adweek said. And globally, 68% of people say that climate change is an emergency, and 54% have changed their personal actions to address climate change, according to a Deloitte survey.
Removing two words that your average consumer isn’t likely to understand might not seem like a big deal. But it’s emblematic of a bigger problem across a range of industries: greenwashing. The Wall Street Journal reported that nearly 60% of executives in a recent survey said their own organizations are overstating their sustainability. Journalists, activists and regulators will find the fakers sooner or later — and that information will certainly trickle to consumers.
PR pros are often tasked with trumpeting the latest ESG commitment or writing the press release that our organization planted a million trees. It’s important to lobby internally for transparency and honesty in communications about environmental sustainability. If you need to change your pledges due to changing terminology, explain the why. Bring customers into your reasoning. Show them a true commitment, not just a leaf slapped onto a package and a congratulatory Instagram.
Be an advocate for your audience — which in this case, means being an advocate for the environment.
Editor’s Top Reads
- Threads has begun rolling out a desktop version for some users. Previously the Instagram-infused platform had only been available via phone app. While we haven’t gotten access to the desktop version yet, this move certainly would make both posting and browsing easier for people using Threads for work rather than fun. But don’t get too excited: The desktop app still lacks critical search features, including the ability to search posts and hashtags. We’ll see if this can combat the precipitous slide in users the app has experienced since its stellar launch.
- Target is seeing a prolonged sales slump for the first time in years. That could embolden the anti-LGBT+ activists who claimed victory over a boycott centered on the sale of items in the retailer’s Pride collection, including a tuck friendly bathing suit. “In a hyper-partisan environment, where it’s easy to inflame passions, people are eager to take their effort in some direction,” Professor Maurice of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business told ABC News. Expect to see this tactic more after the perceived success of actions taken against both Target and Bud Light. Consider your audience carefully and be ready to stand by the communities you support even in the face of backlash.
- In what the New York Times calls an “unusual step,” Hollywood studios has released their latest proposal to end the prolonged writer’s strike. “By releasing the proposal, the companies are essentially going around the guild’s negotiating committee and appealing to rank-and-file members — betting that their proposal will look good enough for members to pressure their leaders to make a deal,” the Times wrote. The Writer’s Guild of America said that the offer did not go far enough and indicates that the studios ““bet that we will turn on each other.” Fighting it out in the court of public opinion can work if you have the high ground — or blow up in your face if the offer isn’t good. We’ll grab our popcorn and wait to see how this movie ends.