Social media has brought the conversation between brands and consumers full-circle as the intersection between digital citizenry and corporate citizenship increasingly requires "doing what’s right."
The latest company not only bowing to but engaging pressure from consumers and environmental activist group Greenpeace to dial-down deforestation and Sumatran tiger extinction in pursuit of palm oil is Procter & Gamble, the world's biggest and most profitable consumer goods company.
“P&G’s commitment to no deforestation in its palm supply chain is unequivocal,” stated Len Sauers, P&G's VP of Global Sustainability. “Our aim is to develop effective long-term solutions to the complicated issue of palm oil sustainability. We are committed to driving positive change throughout the entire supply chain, not just for us, but for the industry and for the small farmers who depend on this crop.”
Among the fastest growing crops worldwide, palm oil is harvested in tropical forests and endangered wildlife habitats in Africa, Latin America and primarily Malaysia and Indonesia, with these two countries alone producing 80 percent of the world's palm oil.
Feeding the hungry palm oil beast has put 7,300 Sumatran orangutans at risk of becoming displaced and losing their habitat, while as few as 400 Sumatran Tigers remain and are at risk of extinction as up to 620,000 hectares of forest are destroyed every year.
The now decidedly-controversial palm oil is found in more than 50 percent of all packaged goods consumed by Americans according to WWF, including lipsticks, soaps, shampoos, ice cream, not to mention that it's also used as a bio-fuel. P&G’s nearly 5 million consumers who use Head & Shoulders, Gillette, and Pampers are all consuming palm oil.
We spoke with Joao Talocchi, a Greenpeace Palm Oil campaigner, about the organization's Dirty Secret campaign and the role of consumer participation on social media.
“People power is a critical part of holding brands accountable for their actions. As consumers, we all make choices about where and how to spend our hard earned dollars, and a brand’s reputation can be made or broken on the basis of a company’s integrity in its business practices.”
“People power, both online and offline was integral to putting pressure on P&G to improve its sourcing policy for palm oil. Almost 400,000 people signed a petition, asking P&G’s CEO to stop buying palm oil that comes from companies that are destroying Indonesia’s rainforests.”
P&G used 462,000 tons of palm oil and derivatives last year. “This scale puts P&G in an influential position in the international market,” said Talocchi. “Part of this is ensuring full supply chain traceability and advocating industry-wide measures that support an end to deforestation.”
Procter & Gamble joins Nestle, L'Oréal, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Mars, Kellogg, Safeway, Delhaize, Ferrero, GAR, and Wilmar in a commitment to such policy across their supply chains. Greenpeace will be monitoring P&G and its suppliers and pushing for action against suppliers like Musim Mas and KLK “who continue to be involved in clearing forests and peatlands.”
Collectively, it’s a corporate change of heart as the global palm oil industry and the branding community engage public opinion and step up to address the growing consequences of deforestation.
It’s also a story at the very heart of digital transformation, defined by Brian Solis at the Altimeter Group as “the re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”
As Interbrand’s Global CEO Jez Frampton puts it, such actions represent the best in brand leadership: "In a very real sense, brands, and consumers aren’t just 'doing business'—we are knitting the fabric of global civilization."
Greenpeace and P&G are modeling the new conversation between brands and conscious consumers, each leveraging the power of social media for greater collective awareness. After all, in the words of philosopher, writer and speaker, Alan Watts, “our environment is not something other than ourselves.”
Connect with Sheila on Twitter: @srshayon