Is Greenpeace helping to drive change?


Lisa Duchene, SeafoodSource contributing editor

Published on
April 28, 2010

In Greenpeace’s latest scorecard of supermarkets and their sustainable seafood profiles, released on Wednesday, the environmental NGO ranked Target, which in January stopped selling all farmed salmon, at the top of the 20-company list and gave Trader Joe’s a passing score for its recent commitments around sustainable seafood.

Greenpeace claimed victory in an eight-month campaign to humiliate Trader Joe’s, which included calling it “Traitor Joe’s,” for a lack of a sustainable seafood policy and for carrying orange roughy and red snapper.

The top 5 also included Wegmans, Whole Foods, Safeway and Ahold. The bottom five retailers were Giant Eagle, Publix, Winn-Dixie, Meijer and H.E.B.

While Greenpeace is publicizing Trader Joe’s change of heart, making an example of the company, A&P actually wins the “most improved” award, as its score jumped by 3.2 points since last year, the largest single jump by any of the 20 companies. While A&P does not yet have a sustainable seafood policy, its species assortment indicates a strong, future policy, wrote Greenpeace. “A&P has leveraged its buying power to move its suppliers toward a more sustainable sourcing system,” said the report.

The Greenpeace scorecard, first released in June 2008 and now updated for the third time since, scores a retailer from 1-10 based on whether it has a sustainable seafood policy, what initiatives it has taken around sustainable seafood, the accuracy of its seafood labeling and whether it sells any of 22 species Greenpeace defines as “red-list” species, including Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sea scallops, hoki, orange roughy and Alaska pollock and farmed shrimp.

Some of these species undoubtedly spur debate — Atlantic sea scallops, for example, are not listed as overfished by the U.S. government and are considered by many to be a management success story due to the use of area closures, but are red-listed by Greenpeace due to the frequency of dredging the sea floor.

Nonetheless, what’s clear is that Greenpeace is playing a role and helping to drive U.S. supermarkets to be more environmentally responsible in seafood purchases. Nearly two years ago, when Greenpeace first scored the 20 supermarket companies, not one of them passed. Now, 10 have passed (with a score of 4-6) and 10 have failed (a score of below 4).

Coincidence? Um, I don’t think so — though I can already hear the grumbling.

Greenpeace took Trader Joe’s to task last August for having no sustainable seafood policy, labeling practices it described as misleading and for carrying non-sustainable fish. Now, Greenpeace said Trader Joe’s is eyeing a partnership with a third-party, presumably an NGO, to help guide seafood decisions, is crafting a sustainable seafood policy, and has stopped selling orange roughy and red snapper.

In a March 23 letter to customers on its Web site, Trader Joe’s announced a goal for all of its seafood purchases to shift to sustainable sources by the end of 2012.

Coincidence? Um, I don’t think so.

Tens of thousands of activists confronted Trader Joe’s — some apparently dressed up as orange roughy — in in-store demonstrations, letters, e-mails and phone calls. There is an ongoing debate about whether consumers really give a hoot about sustainable seafood. The current conventional wisdom is that most don’t, that buyers who’ve realized that crashing fish stocks and global supply declines threaten their business are driving the purchasing of environmentally responsible seafood — and thus the improvements on the water to meet that demand.

But consumers don’t have to get this issue. The stream of announcements about sustainable seafood policies goes to show that it doesn’t take a sea change among most Americans to drive improvements in the environmental responsibility of seafood purchasing. Buyers get it.

And for those who don’t — or work for companies that don’t — there is the powerful threat to brand equity posed by thousands of vocal activists, so devout to their cause that they are willing to show up at their local supermarket in a fish costume.

“In 2010, we find ourselves on the cusp of major change,” said the report, written by Casson Trenor, Greenpeace’s senior markets campaigner. “A handful of visionary companies have begun to use sustainability and environmental responsibility to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Unsustainable species like orange roughy and shark are disappearing from seafood sections at a steady clip. Over half of the top 20 seafood retailers in the United States have crafted seafood policies that have, to some degree, reigned in unsustainable sourcing practices.”

Of course, Trenor wrote in the report, there is a long way to go.

Indeed. But it sure is nice to see signs of progress — especially in the eyes of one of the seafood trade’s biggest, most vocal critics.

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