Not too long ago, toilet paper took over the news cycle. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw shocking images of shelves of the bathroom product being emptied by marauding hordes of hoarders. At the time, it was clear that the last thing on anyone’s mind was whether the product they were buying in extreme bulk was sustainable, or even where the fibers that make up toilet paper came from.
Fast forward to last Tuesday and toilet paper made the news once again, but this time for a very different reason.
At Procter & Gamble’s annual general meeting, the makers of Charmin toilet paper, Bounty paper towels, Puffs facial tissue and a whole host of other consumer goods were put on the hot seat. During the meeting, 67 percent of the giant multinational company’s shareholders bucked the corporation’s board of directors’ recommendation and voted for a shareholder proposal to address P&G’s impacts on forests.
Specifically, the proposal calls for the company to assess and report on how it could “increase the scale, pace and rigor of its efforts to eliminate deforestation and the degradation of intact forests in its supply chains.” The resolution is non-binding, so the company will ultimately decide how it wants to address its investors, but the vote strongly demonstrates the will of shareholders: Protecting forests is something they expect the company to take very seriously.
The vote’s result proves that a large amount of people do in fact care about what goes into toilet paper, especially if it’s being sourced from incredibly important forests. One of the core issues that the proposal seeks to address is that Procter & Gamble’s tissue products are putting immense pressure on the Canadian boreal forest.
The boreal forest is the largest intact forest ecosystem in the world; it’s the permanent home to caribou, lynx, wood bison, moose and wolves, and it’s the summer nesting grounds for billions of migratory birds. All told, the boreal covers 1.2 billion acres of woodland stretching across most of Canada and covering roughly half of the country’s total land area.
Each year, 1 million acres of boreal forest is cut in Canada, partly driven by sourcing for tissue products made out of virgin forest fiber. This unnecessary action — see alternatives below — not only threatens the wildlife that call the forest home, but it also puts incredible pressure on our changing climate. Logging in the Canadian boreal takes long-stored carbon from soil, roots, trunks and branches and releases it into the atmosphere. It also eliminates the carbon capturing potential of felled trees and erodes the carbon intake capabilities of the fractured forest around it.
The climate implications of logging in the boreal forest are likely a large factor in what drove larger institutional investors, such as BlackRock, to vote for the shareholder proposal. BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, and the second-largest holder of P&G stock, has recently made efforts to support climate friendly shareholder proposals after receiving well-deserved criticism for its voting record in the past.
Whatever the reason, an incredible amount of investors felt compelled to call on P&G to consider how it can reduce the forest impacts of their supply chain seriously.
This shouldn’t be too difficult for P&G, because thankfully, there is a relatively easy way for it to reduce the impacts that its tissue products have on the boreal forest. The company simply needs to do what many of its competitors are already doing, which is to incorporate recycled or alternative forest-free fibers into its products and thus reduce the logging done in the boreal and elsewhere for toilet paper.
For instance, using bamboo, recycled office paper or even wheat straw to create a product with less impact on intact forests will make a difference. Procter & Gamble has indicated that they are “committed to reducing demand on the world’s forests” and so we are calling on them to wait no longer and make the necessary changes to protect the boreal forest.
The exciting result of the shareholder vote has the potential to go a long way to protecting our forests. It shows the power shareholders can wield in holding companies accountable for the impacts they make on the world’s forests and on our climate.
Now, we hope Procter & Gamble will heed the advice of its shareholders and take the necessary steps to protect the boreal.
Photo sources: River Jordan for NRDC, pixabay and pixabay.