PR Scorecard: Greenpeace 1, Industry 1
Greenpeace never does anything quietly, so it was no surprise when the group's report on sustainable seafood programs at U.S. supermarkets was debuted with lots of advance buzz this week. The activist NGO (non-governmental organization) played its cards right by alerting the industry when the report would be out. By the time "Carting Away the Oceans: How Grocery Stores are Emptying the Seas" was unveiled yesterday at the Food Marketing Institute's Sustainability Summit in Minneapolis, most large retailers and their seafood suppliers knew about it already. In this PR game, the industry and Greenpeace are tied at 1 point apiece.
Score 1 point for the National Fisheries Institute, which appropriately alerted its membership that the list was coming out and offered good pointers on how to deal with Greenpeace and any negative feedback from retail customers about the campaign.
While some will say this is pandering to what has been called an eco-terrorist group, score 1 point for Greenpeace for bringing retail sustainability programs to the forefront. Some retailers may not move forward on developing a sustainable seafood program, or even publicizing one that may already exist, unless they're held accountable. Several large foodservice companies have unveiled purchasing programs geared toward sustainable seafood, but where have the large supermarket chains been? Aside from Wal-Mart, the retail arena has remained relatively quiet on the topic. If that job of accountability has to be at least started by Greenpeace, so be it.
Having said this, I do not agree with Greenpeace's alarmist tactics that endanger the lives of others. Releasing a report (or whatever stunt is sure to transpire later this week) or handcuffing yourself to a booth at a seafood trade show may garner momentary attention, but it's not a long-term solution to a debate that's constantly evolving.
Developing a sustainable seafood program is a constant work in progress that can't accurately be summed up by a Greenpeace "red list." Retailers who have started down the path to defining what sustainability means to their company and their seafood department have a story to tell this week. But for those who haven't, let this Greenpeace report be a gentle nudge in the right direction. The PR game may be tied, but sustainability is not a sport. It should be a process driven by an internal demand to ensure a seafood supply for the future.
Editor in Chief