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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Bay Area groups take on heavyweight Staples in fight to save old forests

Bay Area groups take on heavyweight Staples in fight to save old forests

Date : 4th November 2002, Source : Newsgroup

Sunday San Fran Chron.

Bay Area groups take on heavyweight Staples in fight to save old forests

Robert Collier (Sunday, November 3, 2002)

In their fight to protect ancient forests around the world, Bay Area environmentalists are on a roll.

In the past three years, they have played major roles in campaigns that saved a vast swath of British Columbia rain forest and persuaded home- improvement giants Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Companies Inc. to forswear the use of most old-growth lumber.

Now, San Francisco groups ForestEthics and Rainforest Action Network are squaring off against the largest U.S. office-supply company in a fight that could change the paper used in countless offices in the Bay Area and around the country.

The environmentalists are pressuring Staples Inc. to increase the share of recycled products among its total inventory to 50 percent and to cease purchasing products derived from old-growth forests.

Arguing his case, Todd Paglia, director of the ForestEthics paper campaign, rattles off statistics: 14 percent of all printing and writing paper made in the United States is from old growth; nearly 80 percent of the world's original old-growth forests has been logged already, while in the United States the figure is 95 percent; globally, 40 percent of all logging goes into making paper.

"It's completely feasible to increase the use of recycled paper and stop using pulp from endangered forests," Paglia said. "If it's feasible, why not just do it?"

In fact, Staples, headquartered in Framingham, Mass., is far from being the worst offender. The firm, which has $11 billion in annual revenue and more than 1,300 stores, carries more than 400 recycled-content paper products -- more than 10 percent of the company's total inventory, and more than any other major office-supply retailer.

But the company partially botched its own defense. Earlier this year, for example, Staples claimed that it was not using any old-growth wood in its paper products. Then in August, ForestEthics issued a detailed report showing that old growth was the dominant source for Staples' suppliers in Indonesia and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The company quickly backed off its claim.

"We can't verify that we have no old-growth sourcing," Staples spokesman Owen Davis told The Chronicle. "So we're developing our policy, working collaboratively with our stakeholders -- environmental groups and our suppliers -- to identify (old-growth) fiber where it exists. We're working collaboratively with them to start phasing it out."

Davis also said Staples will announce a new policy later this fall that sets tougher standards for its suppliers and increases the amount of recycled products in Staples stores.

In Indonesia, environmentalists say the Bay Area groups' pressure is a crucial brake to rapacious practices of firms such as Asia Pulp and Paper, a Singapore-based giant -- and Staples supplier -- that has been desperately speeding up its clear-cut logging of remote jungles to help stave off bankruptcy.

"U.S. consumers and companies need to make sure the paper they buy comes from sustainable forest-management systems," said David Kaimowitz, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research, a think tank in Jakarta. Kaimowitz said the lack of environmental oversight by companies that buy from Asia Pulp and Paper mirrors the "failure of corporate governance" by the American and other foreign banks and pension funds that hold the firm's $13.9 billion in defaulted loans and bonds.

The environmentalists are hoping their past victories will benefit the paper campaign.

Last year, British Columbia signed a historic agreement to ban logging in 3. 8 million acres of the so-called Great Bear Rainforest along the province's Pacific coast. And in 1999, retailers Home Depot and Lowe Companies promised to do without products made with old-growth lumber.

The bandwagon effect has drawn in other firms, such as Golden State Lumber Inc. of Petaluma, the largest construction supplier in Northern California.

Working with ForestEthics, the firm has drawn up strict rules for its suppliers -- for example, a ban on most products from Chile, where old-growth forests are under threat, and it has added products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international group that verifies environmentally sensitive logging techniques.

But real success depends on consumer interest in environmentally friendly wood products -- which, so far, seems scant.

"It's a little bit of a struggle, because there's not the demand we'd like to see, and there's not the production we'd like to see," said Rick Zaslove, Golden State Lumber's vice president. Prices for FSC-certified lumber average 25 percent higher than regular lumber, which scares off many sympathetic consumers, he said.

But Zaslove believes his company's pro-environmental policies are a good business decision in the long run. He predicts that consumer demand for FSC- certified products will pick up, and the company wants to be poised to dominate that market.

"Being environmentally responsible actually costs me money," he said. "But in the long run, . . . developers will be demanding it because home buyers will be demanding it. We've always been the leaders in this industry, and we want to stay that way."

Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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