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Mattel Says Yes to Greenpeace, No to Rainforest Destruction

| Monday October 10th, 2011 | 1 Comment

Last week, Greenpeace made another impressive victory in its ongoing battle against paper company Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). After a four month Greenpeace campaign, Mattel, the largest toy company in the world and maker of the famed Barbie doll line announced a new paper policy. One of their decisions was to direct their printers not to contract with controversial sources, including APP. This was not just a huge win for Greenpeace, but also an important reminder to APP and other companies: rainforest destruction is bad for business.

As we reported here on June, the campaign’s goal was to draw attention to the toy industry’s use of glossy cardboard packaging whose pulp is partly sourced from Indonesian rainforests. Greenpeace International investigations have also established links between leading toy brands, such Mattel, Disney and Lego and APP, which Greenpeace describes as “the largest and most notorious pulp and paper company operating in Indonesia.”

Greenpeace focused its efforts on Mattel in a brilliant and creative campaign that used one of Mattel’s most famous toys – Barbie and Ken — to draw attention to Mattel’s relationship with APP. They produced a funny ‘Barbie, It’s Over’ campaign, which included a shocking interview with Ken, a public Twitter feud between the former couple, inappropriate photos of Barbie with a chainsaw and so on. And there was some activism offline as well, including a banner of Ken protesting Mattel’s actions in the Indonesian rainforest Greenpeace protesters hung on Mattel headquarters in California.

The result was not just a lot of media attention, but also attention from consumers who participated in the campaign online, on Facebook, Twitter and other channels and also sent, according to Greenpeace, over 500,000 emails to Mattel, expressing their dissatisfaction with Mattel’s relationship with APP and asking the company to “immediately implement a new procurement policy for all pulp and paper products, including packaging, and make sure that its products are made in ways that don’t damage the environment.”

And Mattel indeed listened. They have come up with new and quite impressive list of sustainable sourcing principles, focusing on three fundamental steps to advance sustainability: maximizing post-consumer recycled content where possible, avoiding virgin fiber from controversial sources, and seeking to increase the percentage of fiber that is certified by a credible third party. Mattel has also announced it is establishing aggressive goals to measure progress on packaging as the focus of the company’s initial implementation phase: By the end of 2011, 70 percent of Mattel’s paper packaging will be composed of recycled material or sustainable fiber. By the end of 2015, it will increase to 85 percent. Last but not least, Mattel will show preference, when feasible, for FSC- certified fiber.

Mattel didn’t name names in their announcement, but it’s very clear which company they refer to when talking about “controversial sources.” For those who want it in writing, Mattel’s spokesperson Jules Andres has no problem to say it loud and clear, telling the Los Angeles Times “Mattel’s new policy “directs our printers not to contract with controversial sources” and that Mattel considers Asia Pulp & Paper “a controversial source.” Mattel, by the way, directed its suppliers already in June, to put a freeze on purchases from APP, following Greenpeace campaign.

What was APP’s response to Mattel’s new policy? The LA Times reported that a statement from APP said the company “applauds Mattel’s commitments to recycling, wood legality, protection of High Conservation Value Forest, respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and robust auditing and certification procedures.” APP added that it “supports all credible industry certification, however, we strongly urge companies to not limit their procurement policies to one standard, in this case FSC, which discriminates against products from Indonesia and other developing markets.” As you can probably guess APP doesn’t sell fiber certified by FSC. They did once, but it was revoked by FSC.

Mattel is not the first company that stopped doing business with APP following such a campaign. Carrefour, Tesco, Kraft, Nestlé, Unilever, Staples and Home Depot are just some of the examples of companies that have made similar commitments in the past.  Last year when I asked Ian Lifshitz, Sustainability & Public Outreach Manager at APP, about it in an interview I did with him, he told me: “Despite the circulating rumours started by the GP report, overall volume of APP products to customers has not been impacted upon. Most our associates know that these rumours are unfounded.”

I wonder if this is still the case. APP is unwilling to admit it right now, but Mattel’s pull-out is a huge financial loss, given it’s the largest toy company in the world. If there’s something APP can learn from history it is that they shouldn’t fight a war they can’t win. They can check with Kimberly Clark, Nestle and other companies that understood the hard way that forest destruction is bad for business. The question is not if APP will get it, but when and how many customers it will lose until then. For the sake of the forests in Indonesia let’s hope it will be sooner than later.

Image credit: Archangeli, Flickr Creative Commons

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.


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  • Ashley

    The Barbie, It’s Over campaign launched by Greenpeace featured videos and links to write to Mattel’s CEO from anywhere in the world. This campaign was linked to Facebook which forced Mattel to address the campaign and transform how it manages third party suppliers. Mattel purchased pulp from Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world environment’s biggest offenders (according to Greenpeace) for harvesting its paper pulp from the rainforest, threatening to destroy the habitat and its endangered species.
    Featuring an online video spoof of Ken Breaking up with Barbie saying he doesn’t date girls into deforestation, the campaign attracted thousands of views. The video, however, utilized humor to convey the message, but the message in no way belittled the seriousness of its purpose. Not only did the Greenpeace social media campaign prove effective in helping reverse Mattel’s purchase of paper pulp from Asia pulp & Paper, it forced the Mattel to issue a public statement of commitment to sustainable practices as it has promised. With the help of social media, Mattel was able to right its many wrongs and Greenpeace came out with another victory.