The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

OfficeMax Tops Forest Campaignersâ€TM List*

by Kari Lydersen

Following up on two recent successes, environmental activists have set their sites on one of the remaining major retailers selling paper made from old-growth lumber.

*A correction was appended to this news article after initial publication.

Apr. 24, 2006 – Having forced the world’s two largest office supply companies to sign agreements promising not to buy paper made from trees felled in illegally logged or endangered forests, activists are now turning up pressure on OfficeMax. But the world’s third largest office supply company has so far refused to sign a similar agreement.

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Office Depot and Staples have both committed to eschew paper from wood harvested from old-growth forests throughout the hemisphere, owing largely to a six-year-long campaign by the San Francisco-based group, ForestEthics and the Dogwood Alliance in Ashville, North Carolina. Banking on the momentum of those operations, the environmentalists have turned their sights on the next biggest suppliers of paper products in the United States.

As such, the company has a "huge global footprint," said Scott Qaranda, Dogwood Alliance’s communications director.

Last Thursday, supporters of ForestEthics and the Dogwood Alliance rallied outside the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Itasca, Illinois, demanding OfficeMax agree to environmentally sustainable practices.

"Instead of going after those [paper] companies that have no consumer-level retail, and little to lose with their image, we’re going after the retailers who interact directly with consumers," said Perrin DeJong, a Chicago-based organizer with ForestEthics. "You’ve got to have a leverage point like that."

Last Thursday, supporters of ForestEthics and the Dogwood Alliance rallied outside the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Itasca, Illinois, demanding OfficeMax agree to environmentally sustainable practices.

The primary demand of the Paper Campaign is that OfficeMax stop purchasing paper from "endangered forests," a scientifically designated term which includes old-growth forests and forests that are ecologically and regionally significant. The activists also insist that the company buy and sell only paper products containing at least 30 percent recycled content, stop buying from suppliers that turn natural forests into tree plantations, and reduce overall paper use.

The groups have created the Forests and Biodiversity Initiative to certify that companies signing the agreement do not buy paper products that come from illegal logging or the felling of endangered forests.

Staples and Office Depot have already increased their reliance on recycled paper – to at least 30 percent recycled content for their products, as opposed to as low as 3 percent previously, in Staples’ case. And Office Depot canceled its contract with Asia Pulp and Paper, notorious among environmentalists for illegal logging in Indonesian forests.

But OfficeMax still buys from producers making paper from felled trees in Canada’s boreal forest and the Southern United States’ Cumberland Plateau, both ecologically crucial forests.

DeJong said the groups are specifically targeting OfficeMax’s stock value.

"Wall Street is notoriously susceptible to psychological manipulation," he said. "You start getting these negative headlines: ‘OfficeMax is the industry leader in endangered forest destruction; it’s accelerating climate change and destroying people’s livelihoods.’ People are going to want to start pulling their money out of the company if you don’t get rid of these protests."

But even after years of environmental activism, logging continues in the planet’s most sensitive forests.

The campaign is not calling for a boycott of OfficeMax. "Instead we’re going to them and saying, ‘We’re not going to leave you alone until you meet our demands,’" said DeJong. "It’s a much different approach; it represents much more of a threat than a boycott, because the buzz we create is the threat. It’s a way to make a strong impression with relatively few resources and people."

None of the three retailers returned calls for this story.

The amount of paper recovered from recycling in 2005 set a record at 51.5 percent, compared to only 33 percent in 1990, according to the American Forest and Paper Association. That equates to an average of 346 pounds of recycled paper used by each American last year.

The nonprofit group Environmental Defense has been pressuring various major corporations to cut down their paper usage and increase their reliance on recycled paper. McDonalds, United Parcel Service and Starbucks are among the companies that have responded to the group’s requests that they change their paper-use practices.

For example, Starbucks switched to 10 percent recycled paper content in its cups, which were previously made of virgin bleached paper. The coffee retailer also started serving hot drinks in one cup with a sleeve made from mostly recycled fiber, as opposed to two nested cups.

Along with pushing recycled paper, Environmental Defense also presses companies to use non-wood fibers and discontinue using paper treated with chlorine and other destructive chemical agents.

DeJong suggested that while moving toward recycled paper is part of the solution, ultimately the industry should turn toward natural fibers that don’t come from trees at all.

"All over the corporate landscape companies are proving it is possible to be good stewards of the environment and be profitable – to be green all around," said Environmental Defense project manager Victoria Mills.    

But even after years of environmental activism, logging continues in the planet’s most sensitive forests. International Paper continues to log old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, Appalachia and Canada’s boreal forest.

The boreal is often described as one of the planet’s lungs. It is one of the largest remaining roadless forests in the world, twelve times the size of California and home to wolves, grizzly bears and caribou. It is also the nesting ground for 40 percent of the continent’s migratory birds.

The Boreal is considered important in regional climate regulation and carbon sequestration, meaning extensive logging could significantly contribute to global warming.

And while some activists’ strategy is to praise companies after successfully pressuring them into reform agreements, others don’t want to see attention diverted from North America’s ravenous appetite for consumption and the profit-driven nature of the corporations encouraging and meeting those demands.

DeJong suggested that while moving toward recycled paper is part of the solution, ultimately the industry should turn toward natural fibers that don’t come from trees at all. He noted that along with tried-and-true but under-used alternative sources for paper fiber like hemp and flax, paper can be made from corn, rice, wheat and soy waste.

"Breaking down wood takes a lot of chemicals," he said. "And even recycled paper eventually deteriorates. Hemp has been used for hundreds of years. And the technology has been developed to use residual waste from crops that are usually just burned in the fields. The whole story of how we came to rely on wood for paper is a sordid tale of complete manipulation by an industry to get rid of sensible competing sources of fiber. We need to look back to those tree-free fibers."

CORRECTION

Major Change:

The original version of this article incorrectly said the Paper Campaign had been ongoing for six months, instead of six years. The error was intruduced during editing. The original version also incorrectly stated that Canada's boreal forest is six times the size of California instead of twelve.

 | Change Posted April 27, 2006 at 19:51 PM EST

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This News Article originally appeared in the April 24, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Kari Lydersen is a contributing journalist.

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