Blogs & Comment

Greenpeace: The social media guru at 40

The face of environmentalism has always relied on staged shock tactics to inspire action. Forty years later, it continues to do so on the web.


In 1971, a group of volunteers and journalists  sailed into Alaska to protest nuclear testing, a small ship their only platform. Now 40 (as of Sept. 15), that group has 2.8 million supporters worldwide and many platforms to choose from. And though it has kept that first iconic boat, the Rainbow Warrior, it has also done an admiral job adapting to social media. Known for going to shocking lengths (climbing Mount Rushmore to hang a banner against global warning, forcing the closure of Esso stations across the U.K. and dressing up as rubber chickens in McDonald’s), the organization has produced some equally successful and jarring multimedia campaigns any company could learn from.

Here’s a look at the most noteworthy:

In 2010 Greenpeace attacked Nestlé in a controversial video for using palm oil from companies trashing Indonesian rain forests. Nestlé has since agreed to a no deforestation footprint.

In June this year, Greenpeace launched a campaign called Barbie, It’s Over!, posting videos of Ken finding out about his girlfriend’s nasty deforestation habit (followed by the organization draping actual banners from the Mattel building). Several days later the company released a statement saying it would stop buying supplies from the conglomerate Asia Pulp and Paper and develop a policy on toy packaging.

In April, Greenpeace launched a campaign against Facebook’s choice to run a coal-powered data centre in Oregon. The campaign, run over Facebook, asked the company to “unfriend coal” and “love renewable energy.” It set a world record for the most comments—80,000—on a Facebook post in a single day. (Facebook issued a lengthy statement denying the centre is technically coal-powered. It opened in April).

Love it or hate it, Greenpeace knows its way around the web. For an organization founded by hippies on a boat, its power to adapt is worth celebrating.