In October 2020, Procter & Gamble’s shareholders overwhelmingly called on the consumer goods juggernaut to address its role in driving the loss of climate-critical forests. In the two years since, the world has shifted. The international community has further solidified primary forests as a vital pillar in the fight against climate change. Policymakers have introduced legislation to align global markets with the protection of irreplaceable forests. Standards of due diligence and consumers’ expectations for corporate sustainability have become more rigorous. And nations and communities around the world have reeled under the rising tide of climate chaos.
P&G, meanwhile, has stayed stuck in another era.
In a massive failure of corporate leadership, P&G has eschewed its investors’ calls to meaningfully stem the devastating impact of its wood pulp and palm oil supply chains on forests, the climate, and human rights. Instead, the producer of Charmin toilet paper and other forest-destroying brands has provided a master class in industry spin, offering hollow announcements, disingenuous talking points, and even new forms of climate denial. Investors’ calls for P&G to disclose its forest impacts and illuminate means of addressing them instead revealed how ill-suited the company’s leadership is to shepherd the company through a changing climate and to face the realities—and the opportunities—of a shifting marketplace.
Now, NRDC, Friends of the Earth, and Rainforest Action Network are asking shareholders to hold P&G’s leadership accountable for the ecological and human rights toll still wrapped in every roll of Charmin and bottled in every tub of Tide—and the marketplace, regulatory, and reputational risk to investors from P&G’s outmoded, irresponsible approach. In a recent filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), NRDC and its partners urged P&G shareholders to vote against the reelection of three key members of the company’s Board of Directors most directly responsible for these failings: Board Chair and CEO Jon Moeller, Governance and Public Accountability Committee Chair Angela Braly, and Patricia Woertz.
As NRDC highlighted in a brief to P&G’s investors, over the past two years, the company’s response to the shareholder resolution has been largely cosmetic, failing to meaningfully remedy the impact of the company’s sourcing on climate-critical forests like the Canadian boreal.
Most notably, P&G has failed to set any time-bound commitments for ending its sourcing from never-before-logged primary forests—uniquely carbon-rich and biodiverse forests that international scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have highlighted as critical to averting catastrophic climate change and adapting to a changing world. While P&G recently articulated an ambition to reduce its primary forest impact, this falls far short of an actual commitment—and P&G has no timeline for achieving it. In fact, in the same breath, P&G seems to temper any expectations, indicating it has no pathway to even meet its more modest ambition of eliminating sourcing from Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs), a subcategory of primary forests.
P&G has also done shockingly little to prepare for delivering on this primary forest ambition. In its primary forest announcement, P&G laments the lack of comprehensive maps of Canada’s primary forests, an information gap it offers as an excuse for not providing more concrete action. However, P&G has refused to set time-bound commitments for even well-mapped regions, including critical boreal caribou habitat and IFLs. In addition, the fact P&G does not have complete primary forest mapping is due to the company’s complacency—not a gap in science. The data to create these maps exists. For a small sliver of the $115 million it spent in 2021 to advertise Charmin alone, P&G could have these maps in hand and begin setting a plan.
Instead, two years later, P&G still cannot report to its investors the scope of its impact on primary forests.
Meanwhile, the company also continues to make Charmin and other flagship tissue brands from virgin forest fiber, recklessly and needlessly sending the world’s most vital forests to a fate in customers’ toilets and trash bins.
Even where P&G has made commitments—like its pledge to end deforestation by 2020 and to ensure Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent—P&G lacks the processes to guarantee suppliers’ compliance with its policies. P&G still leans primarily on third-party certifications to ensure its adherence to its policies—a practice that opens the company up to significant risk and that due diligence standards like a recent draft OECD-FAO handbook have discouraged. This is particularly problematic for P&G since it continues to source a significant amount of wood pulp sourced from forests certified under SFI and PEFC, industry-dominated systems that do not, in fact, guarantee the standards in P&G’s sourcing policies.
P&G has enveloped its inaction in a whole new level of greenwashing, attempting to obscure, rather than fix, its forest impacts. On top of its empty ambition statements, P&G has provided misleading statistics around its actual impact on IFLs that rely on coarse extrapolations from mapping overlays, and misrepresented the requirements of third-party certifiers like SFI and PEFC which do not, contrary to P&G’s claims, guarantee Indigenous rights or a lack of degradation. P&G’s own disclosures also do not line up with its claim that it prohibits “forest degradation”—a term that, by reasonable scientific interpretations, would encompass the clearcutting of irreplaceable primary forests, including boreal caribou habitat, which P&G does not, in fact, prohibit.
P&G has even waded into a new kind of climate denial, with a company representative effectively stating, in contravention of well-established science, that industrial logging has no climate impact. In Canada, logging accounts for more than 10% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
P&G’s leadership, especially its Board Chair and CEO, Jon Moeller, and board members Angela Braly and Patricia Woertz, hold responsibility for the company’s regressive approach. These three company leaders have overseen the company’s years of inaction, entrenchment in greenwashing, and failure to capitalize on opportunities to lead a more sustainable marketplace.
Each of these board members also has their own ignominious background that puts their leadership failures in an even more sobering context. Ms. Woertz held senior positions at Chevron during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s—at the height of Chevron’s efforts to obstruct climate action (one article from 2004 dubbed her the “First Lady of Oil”)—and faced extensive criticism for her failure to address forest impacts while at Archer Daniels Midland. Ms. Braly has her own oil industry ties, serving as a board member of ExxonMobil, and has, in various roles, faced investor pressure for her inaction on climate change disclosures and managerial failings. Mr. Moeller, himself a former board member of Monsanto, has overseen P&G’s insufficient response, refusing to meet with NGOs and concerned P&G family members, and cultivating a corporate culture that enables denial, greenwashing, and complacency.
P&G’s short-sighted approach of turning investor demands into superficial rhetoric with little impact outside the bounds of an ESG portal will leave the company increasingly out of step with customers, policymakers, science, and the profound urgency of the moment. By voting out these three board members at P&G’s Annual General Meeting on October 11th, investors will have the chance to set a new course for P&G, ensuring its leadership is prepared to deliver true solutions. Investors made clear two years ago that they understand what is at stake—now P&G needs leadership that will act.