The NGO, Consumer and Corporate exchange
In November 2015 Greenpeace launched their campaign, ‘Detox Outdoor’, following a report published in September 2015 called ‘Footprints in the Snow’. This report draws attention to perfluorinated chemicals (“PFCs”), toxic chemicals which are damaging to both the environment and humans, which are used to make outdoor gear waterproof. ‘Detox Outdoor’ targets user groups directly by involving alpine associations and hiking groups in the campaigning process. We thought this was an interesting case study for bringing about corporate action through consumer campaigning.
Evolution of the campaign
‘Footprints in the snow’ followed a report published in 2012 called ‘Chemistry for any weather’, which itself was part of a larger ‘Detox my Fashion’ campaign, initially focussing on major brands such as Nike and Adidas. ‘Footprints in the snow’ focussed more specifically on PFCs after Greenpeace teams discovered them in remote locations across the globe. Having seen little progress since the 2012 report from the major outdoor clothing makers such as Patagonia, Columbia and the North Face, the 2015 report put fresh pressure on them to eliminate PFCs from their production lines.
As set out in an article published in the Financial Times (“FT”) ahead of the publication of ‘Footprints in the Snow’, Greenpeace focussed on the contradiction between companies who make environmentalism a core part of their marketing effort, yet still produce environmentally damaging chemicals.
How successful has the campaign been?
By many measures the PFC campaign has been a success in terms of changing corporate behaviour, with over 30 global brands committed to ridding their products of PFCs; retailers such as H&M, Mango and Aldi have already successfully done so, whilst others like Puma and Adidas are set to be PFC free by the end of 2017.
However, a substantial group of companies continue to use PFCs and many of the brands who have committed to end usage of PFCs may not have used them in a significant volume anyway.
A number of outdoor clothes makers have argued that sufficiently robust alternatives to PFCs are not available. Patagonia, which is a B Corporation, originally responded by switching from “long-chain PFCs” to “short chain PFCs”, saying that the non-PFC technology was “not there yet”, and their main priority remained “keeping people safe in really extreme conditions”. However, Greenpeace argue these shorter PFCs are simply being used in higher quantities so the result is equally damaging. Furthermore some outdoor clothes makers have also been able to successfully phase out PFCs, as Greenpeace explain here.
Despite the campaign, the major outdoor apparel manufacturers appear largely unaffected – sales figures and share prices appear to be holding up and the media response was limited, the FT being the only major publication to cover the September 2015 report. Whilst Greenpeace are very active on influential social media platforms such as Twitter, capturing the attention of a broader group of stakeholders should further promote the campaign’s effectiveness.
Hence the decision to publish ‘Footprints in the snow’, to increase awareness and to broaden the range of campaign tactics which Greenpeace are applying.
A Global Week of Action is planned in early 2016, where user groups will have the opportunity to contribute directly to the campaigning process by submitting their ideas and tactics on how to increase pressure on major brands who continue using PFCs. We will be watching developments closely.