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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
P&G, NRDC and FSC:
The Debate Over Sustainable Tissue Continues

Earlier this year, P&G outlined a comprehensive framework for its leading brands to increase their positive impacts on society and the environment. But forest-conservation NGOs say they need less talk, more action when it comes to P&G's tissue products.

On Tuesday, at Procter & Gamble’s general shareholder meeting in Cincinnati, CEO David Taylor received a letter signed by leaders of more than 115 environmental, conservation, consumer and student groups across the US and Canada, which took the consumer goods giant to task for of profiting from the “wasteful, globally harmful” practice of turning trees from the world’s largest, most carbon-rich intact forest into throwaway tissue products. The letter was delivered to shareholders at P&G’s general meeting on Tuesday by environmental advocacy NGOs Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and, which also organized a rally outside the meeting.

The action comes amidst increased calls from consumers and climate change activists consumer goods companies, including P&G, to use their extensive resources to create and deliver products with recycled and responsibly sourced content that is better for the planet. Specifically, P&G is under fire for its Charmin brand, which the NGOs assert uses no recycled content and is made using 100 percent virgin fiber from ancient trees, much of which is clear-cut from the Boreal forest (the “Amazon of the North”) — the world's largest land biome, which covers most of inland Canada, Alaska, and parts of the northern contiguous United States. More than 200,000 people have signed petitions calling for P&G to change its sourcing practices and reduce its reliance on virgin forest fiber for its tissue products.

The activists’ letter — which cited “deep concern that Charmin” and other P&G brands contain no recycled materials or alternative fibers, and decried the toll their activities were taking on endangered species and the climate — urged the company to apply its 181-year history of innovation to create tissue products that are truly sustainable. 

“In the face of the worst environmental crisis our planet has ever faced, there is simply no excuse for P&G to continue flushing our forests down the toilet with its unsustainable business practices,” said Shelley Vinyard, Boreal Corporate Campaign Manager for NRDC. “Nature’s call is loud and clear: Charmin must stop sourcing from threatened species habitat and forests that are vital to fixing our climate emergency, now.”

As it happens, P&G quietly announced last month a new commitment to increase its use of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified fiber from 40 percent to 75 percent by 2025 for its Charmin, Bounty and Puffs-branded Family Care products. As part of its commitment, P&G also agreed to help raise awareness about FSC and the importance of responsibly managed forests.

FSC says these new commitments are important for forests in the US and Canada, where P&G sources much of its fiber. Working with Domtar, P&G has supported expansion of FSC certification, both to increase FSC supply for its products and to help reward landowners for their responsible forest management practices. As demand for FSC-certified fiber grows, landowners across North America will have additional incentives to earn and maintain certification.

“We applaud P&G for increasing its commitment to using FSC-certified fiber in its iconic consumer products,” said Corey Brinkema, President of FSC US. “This new demand will help justify to landowners the value of FSC certification, delivering positive impacts to forests in the Southern US.”

“The Forest Stewardship Council is the world’s most trusted forest certification system, which is one of the reasons Procter & Gamble has a preference for FSC-certified fiber in our family care products,” said Manuel Ceja, Family Care Sustainability Leader at P&G. “With this new commitment, we see the opportunity to translate our procurement policies into direct positive impacts for forests.”

When asked to comment on P&G’s FSC commitment, NRDC’s Vinyard told Sustainable Brands (SB): “FSC certification is part of the solution, but it’s not enough. Given the scope of our climate and biodiversity crises, companies like Procter & Gamble need to take full responsibility for the impact they have on the planet. What we’re asking of P&G is very simple: Stop sourcing from critical caribou habitat and reduce their use of virgin forest fiber in their tissue products. P&G is one of the largest companies in the world, with one of the largest R&D budgets. They have the power to decide whether they’ll be on the right side of history when it comes to our climate and our forests.”

FSC says it has recently reinvented its forest management standard in Canada; it now targets the most pressing issues threatening Canadian forests — including the woodland caribou crisis, as well as the rights of Indigenous Peoples, workers’ rights, conservation and landscape management.

And in addition to ramping up its use of FSC-certified forest fibers, P&G says it is already addressing NRDC’s other points, with plans to invest $20 million by 2025 to accelerate research into non-wood fiber alternatives as well as FSC-certified fast-growing fibers, with a goal to include more than 50 percent of these environmentally preferred fibers in its products.

P&G’s Ambition 2030

In April, P&G outlined a comprehensive framework and roadmap that its leading brands will take to increase their positive impacts on society and the environment, as part of the company’s “Ambition 2030” criteria. The framework comprises innovation and communication strategies aimed at inspire and enable responsible consumption for the five billion consumers served by P&G each day — part of the ambition involves developing what the company calls a “Forest Positive” approach for the forest products industry “that is based on sound science and delivers forest health benefits. As the concept of a Forest Positive approach is better defined, we will seek to implement Forest Positive actions that we believe will serve to sustain and expand the protection of working forests P&G depends on.”

We’ve seen movement from P&G on the environmental improvement front, as well as the consumer engagement piece of its plan, in several recent initiatives: P&G is a founding member of TerraCycle’s Loop platform — which sees 10 of its best-selling brands delivered to homes in durable, reusable packaging; and also a founding member of SB’s Brands for Good collaborative, aimed at fostering more conscious consumer habits and purchasing behaviors through better products and messaging. So far, P&G says its Pampers®Ariel® and Herbal Essences® brands are progressing in adopting the Ambition 2030 framework with actions and commitments to help accelerate sustainable lifestyles. With the addition of a few tissue brands — made with, say, 100 percent recycled, alternative and/or sustainable materials — P&G would be that much closer to achieving its ambition.