Greenpeace challenges Costco, protects endangered seafood, 2011

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Time Period:  
30 June
24 February
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Issaquah, Washington
Location Description: 
site of Costco's corporate headquarters, actions and mobilization took place at Costco stores across the United States
"Greenpeace urges Costco to implement a sustainable seafood policy, offer transparency in its seafood labeling, and stop selling red list seafood – starting immediately with orange roughy and Chilean sea bass. We want to see Costco become a champion for the oceans by supporting positive environmental change." - (2011)

On 20 June 2010 Greenpeace kicked off their campaign targeting Costco wholesale super market’s seafood policies by floating a blimp with the words “Costco: Wholesale Ocean Destruction” over the company’s corporate headquarters in Issaquah, Washington. According to Greenpeace, Costco was selling 15 out of 22 “red-listed” seafood species, including critically threatened orange roughy and Chilean sea bass. Greenpeace demanded that Costco: immediately stop selling these two fish; implement a policy refusing to sell any red list seafood; offer transparency with its seafood labeling; and implement a sustainable seafood policy.

With the launching of the balloon Greenpeace also launched their online campaign presence via website This website provided opportunity to sign a pledge or download an “activist toolkit.” The toolkit was intended to provide concerned consumers with messaging and educational literature to distribute at their local Costco stores during peak hours.

Documentation of these local flyering and education actions is hard to come by, but Greenpeace records claim that local actions proliferated from July 2010 to December 2010.

Then, in January 2011, a directed phone and letter writing campaign targeted Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and called for a change in Costco seafood policy. According to Greenpeace records, on one day 12,000 people sent emails asking the company to “protect the oceans.” This surge added to the total online presence of the campaign, and final tallies indicated that almost 100,000 emails were sent to Costco during the course of the campaign.

This added pressure, combined with continued local flyering actions, seemed to reach Costco’s leadership. On 24 February 2011 the company announced that they would:

“Eliminate 12 red list species, which will not return unless the company can find an MSC-certified option. The species are: Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass, Greenland halibut, Grouper, Monkfish, Orange roughy, Redfish, Shark, Skates and rays, Swordfish, Bluefin tuna.

-- Pledge to play more of a leadership role within aquaculture;

-- Partner with World Wildlife Fund to examine their remaining wild-caught species and determine how to best transition to the most sustainable alternative; and

-- Acknowledge the role that the canned tuna industry plays within the global sustainable seafood movement and is in the process of shifting to more sustainable tuna sources in all sectors (fresh, frozen, and canned).”

Greenpeace claimed victory, and called on the activists mobilized against Costco to watch out for their “Supermarket Scorecard” in order to begin the next targeted campaign.

Research Notes

Influenced by previous Greenpeace corporate change campaigns mobilized through online consumer awareness and local actions. For example, Greenpeace's 2004-2009 campaign against Kimberly-Clark's wood pulp sourcing practices (1).

2013, Greenpeace USA. "Aerial Message for Costco." Flickr. Greenpeace, 30 June 2010. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <>.

"Activist Toolkit." OH-NO-COSTCO. Greenpeace, 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <>.

"The COSTCO Way." OH-NO-COSTCO. Greenpeace, 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <>.

Frey, Michelle. "In Just One Day 12,000 People Flood Costco CEO's Email Box." Greenpeace. Greenpeace, 7 Jan. 2011. Web. 1 Apr. 2013. <>.

"In the Warehouse." OH-NO-COSTCO. Greenpeace, 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <>.

"No Longer Wholesale Ocean Destruction." OH-NO-COSTCO. Greenpeace, 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <>.

"Take the Pledge." OH-NO-COSTCO. Greenpeace, 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <>.

Trenor, Casson. "Costco Improves Seafood Policies in a Stunning Win for the Oceans." Greenpeace. Greenpeace, 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 1 Apr. 2013. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Pauline Blount, 03/04/2013