Environmental Groups Plan Protest for P&G Annual Shareholders Meeting

The Natural Resources Defense Council says P&G toilet paper brand Charmin relies on the clear-cutting of old-growth forests, contributing to climate change. The company says it is working to improve its environmental practices.

Oct 7, 2019 at 2:32 pm
P&G Headquarters - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
P&G Headquarters

Tomorrow (Oct. 8) is Cincinnati-based consumer giant Procter & Gamble's annual meeting for shareholders, and environmental groups and local activists say they'll be right outside to protest the company's Charmin brand toilet paper.

New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council has organized the protests set for 7:30 a.m. on public space outside P&G headquarters.

The group and others say that P&G uses old-growth forests and little, if any, recycled material to make Charmin. As an example, NRDC cites the Canadian boreal forest, which it says is currently being clear-cut at an alarming rate to make products like Charmin.

Scientists say the forest, one of the last intact old-growth forests in the world, helps sequester carbon, which, when released via the burning of fossil fuels and other materials, contributes greatly to the earth's ongoing climate change. Large forests like the Canadian boreal can absorb some of those emissions — as long as they're not cut down.

"Most Americans probably do not know that the toilet paper they flush away comes from ancient forests, but clear-cutting those forests is costing the planet a great deal," NRDC Canada Project Director Anthony Swift said in a statement. "Maintaining the Canadian boreal forest is vital to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.”

NRDC also highlights the impacts clear-cutting has on indigenous communities, which continue to rely on the boreal forests for sustenance. 

P&G has said it is meeting with the NRDC to come to an agreement about new environmental commitments the company can make before tomorrow's protests. The company says that it replaces each tree it cuts down with at least one new tree, has helped replant 2 million trees destroyed by the California wildfires this year, has invested heavily in research strengthening the fibers making up its toilet papers so that people can use less of them and has continued to research fibers not derived from trees and those from fast-growing varieties of trees certified by environmental organizations. 

“Our goal is to develop fibers that are consumer-preferred, sustainably sourced and can be produced at scale,” P&G spokesperson Tonia Elrod recently told the Cincinnati Business Courier. “We will work with external experts to strengthen these efforts and find disruptive solutions. We aspire to include greater than 50% of these environmentally preferred fibers in our products."

NRDC and local activists, however, say that other toilet papers don't use the virgin tree fibers made from old-growth forests, and that Charmin should follow suit. The group, along with another called Stand.earth, has released a study called "The Issue with Tissue" that outlines the problems with many toilet paper brands and rates them on their environmental impact. Charmin, along with other popular brands like Quilted Northern and Angel Soft, received "F" ratings in the report. Meanwhile, some brands using recycled elements like 365, Green Forest, Natural Value and Seventh Generation received "A" grades.

"We’re calling on Procter & Gamble, as the maker of America’s leading toilet paper brand, to stop flushing forests down the toilet," study co-author and NRDC Boreal Corporate Campaign Manager Shelley Vinyard said. "Procter & Gamble has the innovation resources to bring Charmin into the 21st century; the question is whether the company will embrace its reputation as an innovator to create sustainable products using recycled material instead of clear-cut trees.”