March April 2005




Politically Correct Wood

By Tom Straka, Professor of Forestry and Natural Resources, Clemson University

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1999 shoppers at dozens of Home Depot stores across the country heard peculiar intercom announcements. One said, “Attention shoppers, on aisle seven you’ll find mahogany ripped from the heart of the Amazon.” Activists from an environmental group had obtained intercom access codes and decided these announcements would make a great intimidation tactic. They were right. Home Depot is now marching to the environmentalist’s drum and tries to buy only “approved” wood. Greenpeace has made it personal. It publishes an Ancient Forests Friendly Tissue Products Guide that lets you know which tissues use approved wood. If you buy off the Red or Avoid list (like Charmin or Cottonelle and not good old Econochoice brand) you will end up in the ninth circle of Hell. Greenpeace also targets publishers with a Book Campaign.

TimberWest had better be published on recycled or approved fiber paper, or else! This tactic relies on forest or green certification. If the environmental movement has its way, all forestland will be managed under green certification. The wood or fiber in that roll of Charmin, ream of paper, book, or 2x4 board had better have the green seal of approval on it, or else. The oldest forest certification system is the American Tree Farm System, established in 1941. It certifies 33 million acres, is voluntary, and has minimal costs. In 1995 the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was established by the American Forest and Paper Association. It now certifies 136 million acres of forest industry lands in North America.

Both have standards and objectives that require sustainability and protection of resources. But the environmentalists have their own preferred certifier: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). While Tree Farm and SFI are sustainability and resource protection-oriented, FSC has a broad set of social and environmental goals. It was begot from a 1990 meeting in California of “timber users, traders, and representatives of environmental and human-rights organizations.” FSC, founded in 1993, is now based in Bonn, Germany, with a mission “to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.” FSC has forest management standards based on ten principles and 56 sub-principles that address things like international treaties, indigenous peoples, worker rights, damage to social groups, biological diversity, ecological function, “chain of custody” (tracing fiber or wood back to approved harvesting), and preference for natural stands over plantations.

FSC has a goal of market control and gains power through intimidation using environmental groups. It is working? It sure is! After being targeted by environmentalists Home Depot established its wood purchasing policy in 1999. It brags, “We sell more FSC certified wood than any retailer in America and at the same time we have transitioned more vendors to FSC certified wood than any other retailer in America.” Transitioned? Lowes gives preferences to forest products from certified forests and says, “The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is recognized as having the highest certification standards available today and will be given preference over other certification systems.”

The Paper Campaign, championed by groups like ForestEthics, Cascadia Forest Alliance, and EarthFirst!, demanded office supply stores sell environmentallyfriendly paper and educate employees, customers, and suppliers about the benefits of recycled paper and healthy forest resources. Staples was the first target. On America Recycles Day, November 15, 2000, the campaign targeted over 75 Staples stores with demonstrations.

On November 13, 2001 it was 200 demonstrations. Guess what? On November 12, 2002 Staples announced their new paper procurement policy in a joint press conference with the Dogwood Alliance, who bragged, “Collectively we generated over 600 demonstrations, 15,000 postcards, thousands of phone calls to the corporate headquarters and regional offices, thousands of letters from concerned citizens, coverage in more than 10 national media outlets, and over 50 local media outlets, introduced a shareholders resolution, generated a letter to the CEO signed by over 150 religious leaders, and produced a public service announcement with the rock band R.E.M.” Office Depot and Office Max got the same treatment and soon fell into lock step. Forest certification is not a bad idea.

Tree Farm System and SFI are examples of voluntary programs with a strong natural resources management foundation. The problems arise when social goals become part of the equation. There are over 100 FSC certified forests in the United States and over 500 FSC chain of custody companies. FSC is growing! CNN reported small forest owners in Washington banding together to get FSC certification that should cost about $1,000 each for a five-year contract. Certification costs money for audits, record keeping and changes in forest management. If FSC forest management becomes the norm in this country, forest productivity would take a huge hit.

Growing wood would be more expensive and the consumer would pay more for lumber and paper products. A certified 2x4 board can cost 10 percent more than a non-certified one. More importantly, control over forest policy would move to the certifiers’ hands. The FSC logo is a tree with a check mark forming its left side; “FSC” is below the tree. Be aware of what it really means. Thomas J. Straka can be reached at TW


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, April 19, 2005