Greenpeace on Getting Levi’s to Detox: “We’re Not Your Grandfather’s Greenpeace”


Following in the wake of Zara’s capitulation, Levi’s is now the 11th brand to bow to pressure from Greenpeace’s global Detox campaign. The denim giant has committed to eliminate releases of all hazardous chemicals throughout its supply chains and products. Still being pressured: Calvin Klein, Gap, and Victoria’s Secret as part of the green campaigner’s goal “to expose brands until the use – and abuse – of hazardous substances is totally eliminated.” 

The world’s largest denim brand, has agreed to eliminate all releases of hazardous chemicals throughout its entire supply chain and products by 2020. The commitment comes eight days after Greenpeace launched its “Toxic Threads: Under Wraps” report targeting global fashion brands releasing toxins in Mexico’s rivers, resulting in a digital groundswell with more than 210,000 people calling on Levi’s to Detox, tens of thousands taking action on Facebook and Twitter, and over 700 people protesting outside Levi’s shop fronts in over 80 cities worldwide.

As part of its Zero Discharge Commitment, Levi’s (as outlined in a blog post) will start requiring 15 of its largest suppliers in China, Mexico and elsewhere in the Global South to disclose pollution data as early as June 2013, followed by compliance from 25 additional major suppliers by the end of 2013.[more]

Greenpeace had turned the spotlight (from Zara) to Levi’s, co-opting the brand’s own marketing language, Go Forth, including Twitter hashtags  “#GoForth and #Detox!” messaging. Brandchannel spoke with Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner John Deans about the NGO’s latest win and increasing digital and brand savvy.

The list of brands that have now committed to Greenpeace’s Detox campaign: Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M, M&S, C&A, Li-Ning, Zara, Mango and Esprit and now Levi’s. Zara, Mango, Esprit and Levi’s have all been in the last four weeks since the organization launched the its toxic apparel product testing report. 

“We’re not your grandfather’s Greenpeace anymore,” Deans told us. “We’re part of a new, building movement with a new set of people who are social media denizens. Brands see it’s not going away and that Greenpeace is communicating directly with their customers.”

“Toxic-free fashion is the new frontier and Levi’s was a perfect fit with their ‘Go Forth’ message rooted in Americana, people doing what they love, not minding the rules. It was a roadmap for Greenpeace to follow, and a challenge to the brand to indeed go forth and be a leader in the space.”

The media production is done by Greenpeace staff and activists worldwide (no agency) who care about the mission and participate in the work. Deans considers the co-opting of brand messaging fair use since Greenpeace is neither advertising for nor about specific products. Besides Zara and Levi’s, successful campaigns have targeted KFCMattel and Shell.

“Companies and brands are major icons for people, prevalent and ingrained through the media. We use their logos and messaging to show the other side of the coin, ‘here’s the dirty secret’ associated with that branding,” he told us.

The biggest surprise, Deans added: “the extent of global action and how quickly it catches on fire. Social media tools have let Greenpeace latch on to the viral nature of online society – and find where people are in order to spark their interest.”

Greenpeace evolved from ambushing whaling ships and staging global photo opps on the high seas as part of the peace movement and anti-nuclear protests in Vancouver, British Columbia, in the early 1970s. Their first official action on September 15, 1971, involved taking a chartered ship, Phyllis Cormack, renamed Greenpeace for the protest, from Vancouver to oppose U.S. testing of nuclear devices in Amchitka, Alaska. 

The organization is now a master class in how social media activism can bridge real world physical protests, with a digital call-to-action and sophisticated, cross-channel campaigns giving people to persuade brands to step up and walk their talk.

Below, a Greenpeace video recapping its Levi’s Detox campaign:


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