January 2, 2003
SAVING THE TREES
Home Depot Is Expected
To Deliver Report on Timber
Nation's Largest Wood Retailer Is Reviewing
Progress on Using Sustainable Timber Sources
By DAN MORSE
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
ATLANTA -- Home Depot Inc. is expected to deliver a report Thursday to
than 20 environmental and government entities detailing the company's
to support responsible timber practices.
In recent years, environmental groups have been pressuring retailers
wood products to help conserve forests. Home Depot is the nation's
retailer, selling more than $5 billion of lumber, plywood, doors and
In 1999, Home Depot vowed it would quit selling wood from
sensitive forests by the start of this year.
The new report is expected to review the company's changes in
policies, issues it has raised with vendors, and commitments to sell
products with environmental backing.
"Overall, we give them a solid B," said Michael Brune, who has been
Home Depot's efforts for the Rainforest Action, the San Francisco-based
that led protests at Home Depot stores three years ago that included --
other stunts -- taking over intercom systems and announcing: "Attention
shoppers, on aisle seven you'll find mahogany ripped from the heart of
The debate is a sticky one for big home-improvement retailers, which
everything from simple two-by-fours to expensive front doors laminated
fine hardwoods. Home Depot first had to ask its vendors where they got
wood, which meant the vendors, in turn, often had to ask their
Home Depot says, it knows the wood source of 8,900 different products --
to the blades on ceiling fans. "They get great marks for tracking wood,"
The next big challenge involved vendors getting wood via
methods -- that is, without much replanting or in large tracts of clear-
cutting. Home Depot said it is reducing its wood purchases harvested
rainforests; less than 0.15% of the company's wood products come from
around the Brazilian Amazon Basin, for example.
But Home Depot acknowledged it revisited exactly what it meant by
areas of growth. Thus, it will continue buying certain wood products
originating from current nonsustainable areas, as long as authorities
businesses in those areas show a commitment to improve.
"We want to go in and keep the lure of that purchase order out there,"
Jarvis, merchandising vice president for lumber and building materials.
proved that by staying in the game ... that's an incentive to keep the
sustainable forest movement growing."
Tavia McCuean, director of the Georgia unit of the Nature Conservancy, a
preservation group in Arlington, Va., agreed, saying in certain
areas where the native population depends on the forest for livelihood,
got to have a balanced approach. It isn't as black and white as you wish
could be. It may mean there's a phased approach that has to happen."
At the Rainforest Action Network, however, Mr. Brune wants to see a more
aggressive strategy: "The biggest challenge ahead for Home Depot is to
their top suppliers out of the old-growth wood trade."
While some environmentalists want Home Depot to go further, they also
company's moves as significant. Changes at a company such as Home Depot,
according to environmentalists, can prompt others to modify their
"You just don't write off Home Depot," said Roger Dower, president of
office of the Forest Stewardship Council, an accrediting organization
blesses wood harvested in well-managed forests.
Two months ago, Staples Inc., Framingham, Mass. -- under pressure from
environmental activists -- said it would aim to more than triple the
material in paper products sold in its office-supply stores.
Home Depot, which has about 1,450 big orange stores, also has been
sell more wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Consumers
for "green" lumber can spot it bearing an "FSC" logo. In 2002, Home
$250 million of FSC lumber, up from only $15 million in 1999, making it
largest retailer of FSC wood in the U.S., according to Home Depot.
Still, at $250 million, the total remains well under 10% of all wood
Home Depot stores. The FSC certification process for forests is
young and takes time; most of the world's harvested forests aren't
certified. "From the evidence we've seen, for their product lines,
buying everything they can," Mr. Dower said.
Home Depot's principal rival -- Lowe's Cos., based in Wilkesboro, N.C.,
has about 825 stores nationwide -- released its own wood procurement
mid-2000, which sought to "aggressively phase out" the purchase of wood
endangered forests. The company said last week that it isn't certain
of its wood products originate. But it added that it has been trying to
gaps between environmentalists and big timber producers. Mr. Brune noted
improved forest practices in British Columbia, a source of some of
wood. "You can see the industry moving," he said.
Write to Dan Morse at firstname.lastname@example.org
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