What do you do when your number one educational program and fundraiser comes under attack by the same girls you are trying to support? That's the challenge Girl Scouts of the USA faced when two teenage members called for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies because the most popular cookie, Thin Mints, contained palm oil. The production of palm oil has long been associated with the destruction of Malaysian forest land which is the home of the orangutan. With the support from global environmental groups, the girls hit the airways with an aggressive traditional and social media campaign that gained instant interest from national media.
Through extensive research with Girl Scout-licensed bakers and experts in the field, the Padilla team discovered that there were no alternatives to palm oil except for oils that would return trans fats to the product – which was declared an unacceptable alternative. We knew immediately that a strategy was needed to engage with the girls and their selected partners. We needed to help the Girl Scouts calm the call for a broad boycott while working through alternatives to palm oil.
To demonstrate a commitment to take the issue seriously, the Girl Scouts joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a trade group comprised of industry players, government officials, environmental groups and suppliers focused on developing a sustainable marketplace for palm oil. We connected the girls with other environmental groups working on the issue to help explain the complexities of the problem. After a careful analysis of the options, and steps Girl Scouts could take to address concerns, we implemented a program that included a commitment by Girl Scout bakers to use sustainably produced palm oil by 2015.
Padilla's efforts not only helped the Girl Scouts maintain a very positive relationship with the girls and their followers, but we silenced calls for a boycott of the cookies and quickly quieted media interest in the story.