Four Years in, P&G Still Flunks Out on Tissue Sustainability
Procter & Gamble’s stubborn failure to make its tissue products more sustainable lands its flagship brands Charmin, Bounty, and Puffs with straight “F” grades.
This month marks four years since NRDC’s original Issue with Tissue report and scorecard spotlighted the link between the everyday tissue products found in our homes and the ongoing degradation of one of the most ecologically important forests in the world, the Canadian boreal.
In the years since, NRDC has released three additional iterations of our scorecard, which have shown some marketplace progress toward sustainability as more forest- and climate-friendly tissue product options have become available to consumers each year. Yet one thing has remained stagnant across every year of our report card: Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) stubborn failure to make its tissue products more sustainable lands its flagship brands Charmin, Bounty, and Puffs with straight “F” grades.
Year after year, P&G’s reliance on virgin forest fiber has made it a key perpetrator of the “tree-to-toilet pipeline,” whereby centuries-old forests are funneled into tissue products only to be used once and flushed away forever. To make matters worse, P&G has made no commitment to avoid sourcing from primary forests, despite the irreplaceable value that these never-before-logged areas hold for the climate and biodiversity.
P&G’s entrenchment in unsustainable forest sourcing practices has been an ongoing cause of concern to the company’s shareholders. Since the landmark passage of a 2020 shareholder resolution calling on the company to address its ties to deforestation and forest degradation, members of P&G’s board, including Board Chair and CEO Jon Moeller, have come under fire for their continued failure to align the company’s forest sourcing with a climate-safe future.
In spite of this, P&G’s 2022 proxy statement describes the board’s determination that the company has made sufficient, or even exceptional, progress toward achieving its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. To top it all off, that determination led P&G to dole out an additional million dollars in bonuses to senior executives last year. The merits of this, while already tenuous, should be called further into question given a recent SEC complaint filed by NRDC, which cites materially misleading statements that P&G issued to investors on its sourcing commitments in the wake of the 2020 shareholder vote.
While P&G leadership has failed to take initiative on sustainable forest sourcing, the company has led the way in top ad spending to help deflect and distract from the environmental toll of its products. Over its four-year record of all “F” grades, P&G spent a whopping $30 billion on advertising costs and sourced roughly two million metric tons of pulp from Canada alone. (As reported in P&G's 2021 and 2022 Form 10-K, its annual advertising costs were $6.8 billion in 2019, $7.3 billion in 2020, $8.2 billion in 2021, and $7.9 billion in 2022.) Meaning that, as our screens were filled with images of animated bears fussing over the softness of their toilet paper, real-life threatened species like boreal caribou saw their critical habitat lost by the same industrial clearcutting practices that help make Charmin toilet paper.
Despite the lack of progress from P&G, other companies have found solutions for creating tissue products that won’t fuel forest degradation and loss. Each iteration of the Issue with Tissue scorecard has unveiled more brands made from recycled content and sustainable alternative fibers. This has included P&G’s top tissue industry peers, Kimberly Clark and Georgia-Pacific, which each made a 100 percent recycled content toilet paper option available online to consumers. Similarly, some retailers have launched their own private label sustainable tissue lines, like Target’s Everspring. This growing list of brands receiving “A” and “B” grades reflects a marketplace shifting to meet the urgency with which scientists are calling for the protection of these vital forests.
Ultimately, we can’t afford for the companies with the largest supply chain impacts to continue dragging their feet on protecting wildlife and the global climate. P&G flunking out on its tissue sustainability isn’t just bad for their reputation, it’s bad for the planet. It’s long overdue that P&G start applying itself toward what really counts – creating products that no longer come at the expense of the world’s last remaining primary forests, and the communities and species that depend on them.