SUNS  4343 Friday 11 December 1998


Washington, Dec. 9 (IPS/Danielle Knight) -- More than 20 major U.S. companies have announced they no longer will use or sell wood and paper products made from 'old growth' forests.

The corporations - that include such well known names as Nike, Hewlett-Packard, Mitsubishi Electric of America, and Kinko's - have agreed to conduct an internal audit in order to phase out any product that originates from these forests where trees are hundreds of years old.

"Over the next year we will audit our supply mills to ensure that, to the best of our knowledge, our products are old growth free," said Larry Rogero, a spokesman for the Kinko's store chain which retails business supplies from 900 outlets across the country.

The agreement by the companies was negotiated by the Coastal Rainforest Coalition, a network of environmental organisations in Canada and the United States - including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network.

"This is the most significant step made to date toward phasing out the use of old growth wood products," said Michael Marx, executive director of the coalition.
While specific company policies may vary 27 corporations have pledged that, in addition to phasing out purchases of old growth wood, they will use more recycled products as well as paper fibres made out of alternative "tree- free" sources - like the kenaf plant.

Marx said the companies had been asked to seek out wood certified as "environmentally friendly" by organisations like the Forest Stewardship Council, which accredits auditors around the world who in turn examine logging operations.

"These companies are sending a powerful signal to the marketplace that the future demand will not be for old growth products - it will be for recycled and tree-free fibres," said Marx.

Environmental groups originally formed the coalition several years ago out of concern over U.S. consumption of old growth forests products from Canada.

"We began by focusing on old growth redwoods, but it became evident that the problem is not any particular species but old growth in general," said Mark Westlund, communications director for the
California-based Rainforest Action Network. Only about 20 percent of the world's old-growth forests remained standing, he added.

Nike Inc., the shoe manufacturer, said it has installed a policy to not purchase any materials - including paperboard for its shoeboxes - derived from pulp or wood from old growth forests.

"We feel it is the right thing to do for our environment and is in line with our plans towards sustainable business practices overall," the company said in a statement.
Several companies participating in the effort already had such policies in place. Mitsubishi Electric of America and Mitsubishi Motor Sales, two subsidiaries of the Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Corporation, have been working with the Rainforest Action Network for several years to undertake a complete environmental review of all of their business activities.

Both companies announced earlier this year that they would phase out use of tree-based paper and packaging products by the year 2002, in favour of alternative fibres.

"Sure alternative fibres are more expensive, but as we make greater technological advancements - with the Internet for example - we use less paper," said John Savage, executive vice president of the Mitsubishi Electric of America. "The economics of it eventually work out."

Since 1990, the Levi Strauss company, the California-based clothing giant, has been recycling its scrap cloth to make the company's paper and stationary. "It's part of our desire to be environmentally responsible," said company spokesman Derek Bronkhorst.

Not all corporations appeared to jump at the chance to improve their environmental image.

Home Depot Inc., one of the country's largest retailer of hardwood products, did not join the other companies despite a nation-wide environmental campaign to pressure the store to stop dealing in lumber from the Amazon and Southeast Asia.

Home Depot did not respond to an IPS request for comment but, in the past the company declared that it was trying to limit the sale of old-growth products.
"There have been some efforts by Home Depot, but they haven't bitten on the bullet and put a policy in place," said Liz Barratt-Brown, senior attorney with the New York-based Natural Resources Defence Council.

Groups said they remained hopeful that now that other corporations have adopted environmental policies, Home Depot would do the same.

"The commitments made by these companies prove that corporate America can be a force for saving the world's last ancient forests," said Marx. "Their leadership should inspire other companies who are resisting going old-growth-free - like Home Depot."