Home Depot’s Endangered Forest Policy: The View From Five Years Later(A)
This summer marks the five-year anniversary of a major victory for shareholder advocates, environmental groups, and endangered forests around the globe. In August 1999, The Home Depot’s then-CEO Arthur Blank announced at the company’s 20th anniversary dinner that by the end of 2002, Home Depot would no longer sell wood from “endangered areas” and would give preference to wood products certified as sustainably harvested. The announcement came after more than a year of grassroots protests at Home Depot stores led by Rainforest Action Network. It came three months after the company’s annual general meeting, where a shareholder resolution filed by Trillium Asset Management and the As You Sow Foundation calling on Home Depot to phase out old growth wood sales received 11 percent support. We meet annually with senior Home Depot managers in charge of the company’s Wood Purchasing Policy for updates on its implementation. As the five-year anniversary of the endangered forest commitment approaches, here’s our assessments of the highlights of The Home Depot’s progress and some challenges that remain.
First, Home Depot deserves special praise for its role in fostering agreements to protect some of the world’s most endangered forested areas. Home Depot brokered six months of negotiations between Chilean logging companies and environmental groups from the U.S. to negotiate major new protections for rare temperate rainforests in Chile threatened with logging. Under the agreement, companies agreed to stop logging in native forests and to certify their plantations under the rigorous standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Todd Paglia, Executive Director of U.S.-based environmental group Forest Ethics, recently told The Progressive Investor, “Home Depot played a key role and used its leverage very effectively. That an American corporation helped to force corporations from another country to raise their standards in order to continue selling to this market is groundbreaking.” Pressure from Home Depot and other companies also helped foster an agreement between logging companies and environmental groups to protect nearly 4 million acres of the temperate rainforest along British Columbia’s central coast, known to environmental advocates as the Great Bear Rainforest. Environmental groups are still pressuring the government of Indonesia to crack down on widespread illegal and unsustainable logging there and some advocates have called on companies to boycott wood from Indonesia. In response to these concerns, Home Depot has cut its purchases of wood from Indonesia by more than 85 percent. Its remaining purchases there come from a supplier that is working diligently to receive FSC certification and has a chain-of-custody system in place to ensure that it is not using any illegally cut wood.
After years of effort, Home Depot now has a tracking system in place to identify the origin and species of all the wood products they sell, including not just lumber but also wood components in products like brooms, ceiling fans, and hammers. Under its endangered forest policy, Home Depot won’t accept any products made from the 40 suspect tree species listed by the World Conservation Monitoring Center as potentially endangered species (unless the supplier can provide a legal export permit) and won’t purchase uncertified wood products from the 10 most vulnerable forest eco-regions identified by the World Wildlife Fund. Environmental groups have struggled for years to develop consensus definitions and maps of other endangered forest areas and we’ve pressed Home Depot to follow these efforts and incorporate into their policy implementation any consensus that does emerge.
Finally, Home Depot continues to express a preference for FSC certified products, despite pressure from major forest products companies to extend that preference to the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), a certification system developed by industry. Under pressure from Home Depot and others, industry has strengthened the provisions of SFI over the years, although it remains less credible than FSC to many environmental advocates. The company has dramatically increased its sales of FSC certified wood products since 1999. Still a lack of supply of FSC certified product and very limited consumer demand for certified products have held back progress in this area.
To learn more, Home Depot has some further details on its implementation progress on its Wood Purchasing Policy web page. We continue to encourage Home Depot to enhance its reporting on its Wood Purchasing Policy and to ensure it meets its commitment to not sell wood products from endangered areas. We’ll keep you posted on further developments or new concerns that arise along the way.