Jan./Feb. 2001 - VOLUME 22 - NUMBER 1 & 2
W i n n i n g C a m p a i g n s
Felling the Lumbering Giants
By Jen Krill
On August 26, 1999, Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the world, with more than 1000 stores in 4 countries, $30 billion in annual sales and 10 percent of the U.S. lumber market, agreed to stop selling wood from endangered forests by the end of 2002.
Home Depot's commitment came after more than a quarter of a million people expressed their outrage about the company's complicity in old-growth forest destruction through petition signatures, postcards, faxes, phone calls and tens of thousands of children's drawings. The company was confronted with shareholder resolutions, religious community organizing and zoning permit denials for new stores, while existing stores were hit with more than 600 demonstrations involving information flyering, guerilla theater, banner hangs, civil disobedience, old growth product stickering, wood product dumps, ethical shoplifting, dead rainforest tours and intercom takeovers.
An unprecedented coalition of organizations working on forest-related issues came together for the campaign, including Rainforest Action Network (RAN), American Lands Alliance, Forest Action Network, the Coastal Rainforest Alliance, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Earth First!, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and many others. The campaigners jointly held five national days of action between 1997 and 1999.
In August 1998, Rainforest Action Network and the Action Resource Center teamed up with members of Earth First! to hang a giant banner at the Home Depot corporate headquarters in Atlanta. The banner read: "Home Depot: Stop Selling Old Growth." In the spring of 1999, both the Sierra Club and Forest Action Network launched educational bus tours explaining the importance of the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia that was being logged into two-by-fours for sale at Home Depot. In March 1999, demonstrators at more than 150 Home Depot stores demanded that Home Depot "Go Green for St. Patrick's Day."
Perhaps in response to the escalating protests, company CEO Arthur Blank listed resolving the old growth wood products issue as one of the company's top three priorities at Home Depot's May 1999 annual shareholders meeting in Atlanta.
The day before the shareholders meeting, Qwatsinas, the hereditary chief of the Nuxalk people of the Great Bear rainforest, paid a visit to Home Depot's Atlanta flagship store for an ethical shoplifting action. Qwatsinas and members of RAN turned in Western Red Cedar lumber, illegally logged from Nuxalk land, to the FBI's regional office as stolen property.
That same month, an activist from the Forest Action Network wearing a bear costume and carrying a bullhorn attached himself to the rafters above the cash register in a Toronto store adjacent to the headquarters of Home Depot Canada. He remained in his perch for several hours, before voluntarily leaving.
Annette Verschuren, the CEO of Home Depot Canada, was at the office and in the store that day. Two months later, she told representatives from RAN that she had not paid any attention to the protests until "you guys put that monkey in my store." At the same meeting, she promised Home Depot would be making a commitment within a matter of months.
The announcement to phase out endangered forests was made at the end of August.
POINT OF CONSUMPTION STRATEGY
In 1995, for instance, RAN campaigned to save California's Headwaters Forest, the largest privately owned stand of old growth redwood left in the world. The campaign's success led to the emergence of western red cedar lumber from British Columbia as the top marketplace alternative to redwood lumber.
At the same time, RAN was also campaigning to save Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia. The logging company involved, MacMillan Bloedel, agreed to set aside Clayoquot in favor of logging further north in Canada's Great Bear Rainforest. Forest activists had won a short-term campaign, but had failed to slow the pace of old growth logging. Logging companies were simply going from one pristine area to another.
By 1997, the lesson had become clear. Forest campaigners needed to look beyond regional goals and work to save all old growth forests.
Wood products from both Canada's Great Bear rainforest and the Amazon rainforest have been sold in large quantities at home improvement centers like Home Depot. This common consumption endpoint provided a new opportunity for campaigners to work in defense of the forests while also broadening the campaign beyond the forested regions.
In fact, the Home Depot victory signaled that the marketplace could be the weakest link in the chain of global forest destruction. Immediately following Home Depot's announcement, activists contacted the company's 10 largest competitors. Home Depot's largest competitor, Lowe's Companies, with nearly 700 stores, sent RAN a letter committing to a stronger and faster policy within two months of Home Depot's announcement, before a single demonstration was organized against the company.
Grassroots activists targeted retailers who did not respond to letters and phone calls just as they had Home Depot. To date, six more of the top 10 do-it-yourself retailers have agreed to meet demands to phase out wood procured from endangered forests: HomeBase, Menards, 84 Lumber, Lanoga, Wickes Lumber and Payless Cashways.
In February 2000, the activist coalition shifted its focus to the home building industry. A national day of action was set for April 1 against the two largest home builders, Centex Homes and Kaufman & Broad. Just one week before the demonstrations were set to begin, both companies committed to meeting the demands. Ryland Homes has since joined them.
Lumber makes up only half of all wood products sold in the United States; the other half is paper, and the largest paper retailer is Staples. So Staples has recently become another target of the campaign.
All told, the companies committed to phasing out endangered forest products sell over 20 percent of the wood sold in the United States.
Implementing these commitments has already translated into changes in logging practices in key old growth areas. In the Great Bear rainforest, for instance, some of the largest logging companies have agreed with the Sierra Club and RAN to implement a moratorium on logging in areas considered the most critical for conservation.
The gains have begun to impact the global market as well. Home Depot has placed no new orders of products made of Southeast Asia's lauan wood, and Lowe's canceled its contract for tropical timber dowels (small peg fasteners), relying instead on domestic birch. The commitments by Home Depot and Lowe's have rippled through the media in Indonesia, Africa, Russia and Eastern Canada.
But ensuring an adequate supply of FSC-certified wood continues to be an obstacle for the large retailers, since FSC certification is only granted to logging companies that voluntarily agree to undergo evaluation and comply with all requirements. FSC certification of large timber suppliers is only just beginning in North America, mostly because the dominant logging companies have strongly resisted FSC's performance-based standards for ecological, social and economic responsibility.
Activists view Boise Cascade, the largest logger on public lands and the largest old growth logger in the United States, as well as the largest distributor of old growth wood from the Great Bear rainforest, as the dinosaur of the logging industry. Until Boise and other big U.S. suppliers change their ways, retailers seeking FSC-certified wood will have to look elsewhere, making for a tight supply chain.
While European wood markets have been demanding FSC-certified products for years due to activist pressure there, the Home Depot commitment suddenly jump-started the market incentive for North American logging companies to become certified. Now that a large sector of wood products retailers is looking for eco-labeled forest products, activists are concerned that retailers may try to use a shortfall in supply as an excuse to continue sourcing from endangered forests.
In addition, activists are concerned that some retailers may try to redefine "endangered" in such a way that it wouldn't apply to any of their major timber supply areas. At-risk areas include the Great Bear rainforest of British Columbia, and the rapidly-disappearing intact rainforests of Chile, Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia and Cameroon. Activists are already concerned that companies such as Wickes Lumber and Lanoga are claiming that the Great Bear rainforest is not endangered.
The forest products industry has also attempted to bypass the market-based campaigns by creating its own "certification" systems like the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) of the American Forests and Paper Association, or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
Neither SFI or CSA's standards nor their procedures are sufficient for credible certification programs, according to forest activists. In the case of SFI, because the standards are voluntary and set by American Forest and Paper Association members themselves, members are automatically considered in compliance. Not surprisingly, the SFI standards themselves fail to include measures of silvicultural sustainability and key ecological protections.
The limitations of the SFI system are so transparent that many, but not all, retailers with endangered forests commitments have not sought SFI "certification." Centex Homes and 84 Lumber, however, are still publicly listing SFI and CSA as being just as valid as FSC.
Companies which fail to keep their promises will inevitably find activists reopening campaigns against them. RAN and others are monitoring any attempts by the companies to "greenwash" or back out of responsible wood-buying policies.