Nailing Down Staples' Forest Commitments(A)
Last month marked the three-year anniversary of major new environmental commitments Staples made to reduce its impacts on forests around the world, including a pledge to triple the amount of postconsumer recycled paper it sells and to phase out the sale of products coming from endangered forests. Having played a role in gaining these important commitments, Trillium Asset Management has monitored the company’s progress in meeting those goals. Based on our latest conversations with both the company and some of the leading environmental groups that pressed the company to act on forest protection, we see tremendous progress in many areas. There are also some continuing challenges in figuring out how Staples can work systematically to protect endangered forests around the world.
Staples has made dramatic progress in meeting a target it set to have an average of 30 percent post-consumer recycled content across all the paper products it sells. The company has boosted the average of post-consumer content by weight of its overall sale of paper products from about 9 percent when it made its commitment three years ago to 20 percent last year and 28.5 percent now, and hopes to soon meet and surpass its 30 percent goal. The company now makes many Staples brand products available only with recycled content, with no non-recycled alternatives available.
The company has also engaged in a number of innovative pilot projects to protect endangered forests around the world, from Indonesia to the forests of the Southern United States. At the same time, Trillium Asset Management and some environmental groups are encouraging the company to work more systematically to meet its endangered forest commitment.
“When we identified a source of Staples products from endangered forests in Canada’s Boreal region, the company took action in its supply chain to address the problem,” said Aaron Sanger, Director of the Corporate Action Program at environmental group ForestEthics. “To phase out of all products from endangered forests, Staples will have to develop a comprehensive system that identifies all of its sources for these products.”
Kelly Sheehan, Campaign Director with Dogwood Alliance, told us, “We applaud the progress Staples has made to reach an average of 30 percent post-consumer recycled content for all the paper products it sells. We are expecting to see similar progress soon on the company’s commitment to phase out of all products from endangered areas such as the Cumberland Plateau in the U.S. South.” While encouraging the company to do more, these groups generally praised Staples’ leadership in its sector, noting that competitor OfficeMax has yet to adopt an environmental procurement policy to address forest protection.
The company has been tackling lots of other environmental issues in addition to forest issues, such as electronics recycling and energy conservation. Staples has made significant efforts to reduce its impact on climate change through energy conservation and using more renewable energy. Staples was an early member of the Green Power Market Development Group, a coalition of companies working to boost demand for renewable power through purchasing commitments. Currently, ten percent of the electricity Staples buys meets the Green E certification standard for renewable energy. As pilot projects, the company has also installed solar cells and even experimental wind turbines on a few of its stores to generate power. Overall, the company has committed to reducing its total greenhouse gas emissions from its power use, fleet vehicles, and business travel to seven percent below 2001 levels by 2010, even as it opens new stores and its business grows.
We’ll continue to watch Staples’ progress on these and other environmental initiatives, push for improvements when needed, and encourage other companies to demonstrate similar environmental leadership.