The Issue with Tissue

While government action is crucial, some businesses are so big that their programs have the impact of government policies. Therefore, it's important to crack the whip on other businesses as well.

In 2006, in response to a request from Forest Ethics, Aspen Skiing Company joined a Greenpeace-led boycott of Kimberly-Clark (K-C) paper products, including the legendary brand Kleenex. The concern about Kimberly-Clark was the company's use of paper and pulp from endangered ancient forests. Greenpeace's boycott, which had seven hundred participants as of 2007, was organized to force K-C to stop using fiber from endangered forests, to use fiber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and to increase dramatically the percentage of post-consumer recycled fiber in all of their tissue paper products, since Kleenex uses no postconsumer waste.

Aspen Skiing Company joined the boycott by switching our mountains, hotels, and restaurants away from K-C products. In the process, I made the mistake of talking to the press about it. The press had a field day dreaming up headlines like

"The Issue over Tissue" and "Kleenex Maker Not Sneezing at Skico's Concern." While the reporting was fair, local columnists went nuts. One wrote a column titled "Save the Planet, Eat a Booger," and closed with blistering sarcasm:

The modern reality is that the louder a corporation blows its own recycled aluminum trumpet on environmental issues, the more offensive that profit-seeking organization likely is to our global well-being. Good for Skico to focus so much of their own internal marketing resources lately on letting the world know about this ecological travesty disguised as mucus absorption technology.9

While Aspen Skiing Company received some limited kudos for the action, many locals felt the move was hypocritical and flagrant greenwashing. Who were we to pick on another business when we had our own problems? Worse, the move was seen as an easy PR opportunity for Aspen Skiing Company, one that didn't require much in the way of change or effort on our part. Internally, when we floated the idea of changing the name of a famous Aspen ski trail from "Kleenex Corner" to something else, the old-timers were outraged. (The name stayed.) The bad press lingered for more than a year after the event, with columnists referencing it again and again. The boycott was widely seen as a PR disaster, at least locally, for the company.

And it was. But it was also something else: The Kimberly-Clark boycott was one of the most important and influential actions taken by Aspen Skiing Company that year.

Almost as soon as Aspen Skiing Company sent a letter to Kimberly-Clark's CEO announcing its participation in the boycott, our CEO Mike Kaplan received a letter in response from their CEO. In short order, K-C flew in a team of highlevel managers (including senior vice president of environmental affairs Ken Strassner) to talk to us about K-C's work.

Why did they care? Aspen Skiing Company buys at most $30,000 worth of product each year, and K-C is a $32 billion company.

K-C cared for the same reason that businesses like Ralph Lauren, Prada, and Louis Vuitton insist on locating stores in Aspen even though they might not be profitable. Because of its profile and reputation, Aspen drives public opinion. And the town is newsworthy. Although a boycott might or might not have been news, Aspen's participation was.

This boycott, like our amicus brief filing, is another example of Aspen Skiing Company's leverage strategy in action. Once again, we were using the Aspen name to drive disproportionate change as a small company.

When K-C arrived to meet with us, I expressly told them that I didn't want to hear a dog-and-pony show about their environmental programs. I had read their materials online. What followed, unfortunately, was a dog-and-pony show on their environmental programs. And to be honest, those programs were impressive. In addition, showing their open-mindedness, the K-C team agreed to meet with NRDC and Greenpeace as a result of our meeting. Coming into the meeting, we had felt that the primary issue was their unwillingness to engage the environmental community, which was the primary differentiator between Kimberly-Clark and, say, Georgia Pacific. I asked them why they wouldn't at least hold discussions.

One of the executives replied, red-faced: "Greenpeace occupied our offices. Would you negotiate with people who had invaded your office?"

The answer is, of course, "Absolutely." How else are you going to get them out? Not engaging these groups is a move from the 1950s. But most modern corporations make it standard practice to engage. In fact, Aspen Skiing Company has a long-standing policy of engagement, going back to 1998, when then-CEO Pat O'Donnell told my predecessor Chris Lane to find our biggest enemies in the environmental community. "Who really hates us? Get me the list. I want to buy them lunch at the Little Nell four times a year." The point wasn't to buy these guys off (though as I often told the group, "This is probably the best food you dirtbags are going to have all year"). The point was to have conversations, to give nonprofit heads and government leaders a direct line to the CEO so that they could air their concerns directly and be heard, and so that we could use them as a free consulting group, testing ideas on them before releasing new programs.

To its credit, K-C did agree to meet with NRDC and Greenpeace. Unfortunately, the talks failed. But we're certain the talks will continue. In the end, what some had called Aspen Skiing Company's "craven act of greenwashing" leveraged a long-term, ongoing, and serious CEO-level conversation about K-C's business practices.

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment