Lowe’s Company – Pesticide Products Linked to Pollinator Decline (2015)
Outcome: Successfully withdrawn after the company announced that it will phase out neonicotinoids (“neonics”) as suitable alternatives become available, redouble existing integrated pest management practices for suppliers and provide additional material educating customers about pollinator health.
Lowe’s Policy on Sustainability includes commitments to “Provide customers with environmentally-responsible products; Establish sustainability goals and objectives; Review and communicate progress made toward achieving established goals and objectives; and Engage on public policy issues related to sustainability.”
Lowe’s currently sells a variety of products containing neonicotinoids (“neonics”), a class of systemic pesticide linked to dangerous declines in pollinators and other beneficial organisms, and negative impacts to land and water (International Union for Conservation of Nature; United States Geological Survey). Lowe’s also sells plants whose seeds have been pre-coated with neonics.
Multi-year double digit declines in pollinators in the United States and Europe pose significant risks to our food systems. “Bee-pollinated commodities account for $20 billion in annual United States agricultural production and $217 billion worldwide.” (United States Department of Agriculture)
Scientists believe key factors in these pollinator population declines include widescale use of neonics and disappearing foraging areas for pollinators. An analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, a group of global, independent scientists, concluded that neonicotinoids pose a serious risk of harm to pollinators including honeybees and butterflies. Birds and earthworms are also at risk.
In December 2013, the European Union enacted a two year ban on three neonics. In June 2014, the White House established a “Pollinator Health Task Force” charged with “understanding, preventing and recovering from pollinator losses.” In July 2014, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to restrict neonic use across the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Backyard gardens maintained by Lowe’s customers may provide important safe havens for pollinators. Proponents believe the typical gardener shopping at Lowe’s would want a garden that is healthy for songbirds and pollinators, including honeybees. These customers may choose to shop elsewhere:
• Home Depot requires suppliers to label all plants treated with neonics, and is working with its suppliers to eliminate neonics in plant production. Home Depot is also providing its customers with a list of neonic-free alternatives for home application.
• BJ’s Wholesale Club is working to provide plants free of neonics or with warning labels by the end of 2014.
• At least 10 other smaller retailers plan to limit or eliminate neonics.
Lowe’s, however, has not disclosed any information about its response to this important public controversy, and has faced negative media publicity and public protests.
RESOLVED: Shareholders request that by September 1, 2015, the Governance Committee of the Board of Directors conduct a risk assessment of Lowe’s environmental protection policies and practices to determine whether Lowe’s current practices regarding the sale of neonicotinoid-containing products are in the best interests of the company, its consumers and its shareholders, and to recommend any changes to policy or practice the Committee deems to be appropriate. The results of this assessment should be published in Lowe’s next Social Responsibility report, at reasonable expense and omitting proprietary information.