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News ::
Calling for Forest Protection - the campaign against Staples
20 Feb 2002
Staples refuses to commit to paper products which are less draining on forrests, making it a target of Boston activists
On February 5th, students and consumers held a nationwide day of action against Staples, the office superstore, as a follow-up to a National Day of Action last November, with demonstrations at over 200 Staples stores. In Boston, students from six local universities came together to demonstrate outside the Harvard Square Staples store with the goal of making Ron Sargent, the new CEO of Staples, aware of consumer concerns.

Activists view the changeover of leadership at Staples as an opportunity to press Staples to embrace modification of its current policies towards more environmental awareness and forest protection. "As Staples? leadership changes this week, Staples has an incredible opportunity to make clear their desire to be the environmental leader and stop destroying our forests by increasing the recycled content in all their paper products," said Lauren Whitley, an Ecopledge organizer, a group that targets environmentally negligent corporations through consumer, investor, and job boycotts.

Activists are concerned that forests are being threatened as they are cut down for paper products. Scientists estimate that by 2040 over 200 million acres of forest will be cut down to make disposable paper products.

Staples is the largest and fastest growing office supply store in the world. It is also a local business with its headquarters located in Framingham, Massachusetts. Currently, protesters estimate that 97% of Staple?s office paper comes from endangered forests. Paper products sold by Staples are driving the paper industry?s destruction of forest worldwide including U.S. National forests, Southern forests, and old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Over five million acres of Southern U.S. forests are cut down by the paper industry each year.

Environmentalists say that the pitch for recycled products is unlikely to harm Staples financially as recycled paper is the same quality as virgin fiber paper and is cost-competitive.

Forest Ethics, the Dogwood Alliance, and Ecopledge are the three major organizations working to change Staples? environmental practices. The groups have launched a three-pronged campaign with the help of Free the Planet and Earth First.

The first facet of the effort is an outreach to local businesses. The groups try to encourage small, local businesses-as current or potential Staples customers-to sign a letter of support as "concerned consumers" encouraging Staples to sell more recycled products.

In August 2001, more than 150 religious leaders signed a similar letter urging Staples to end the sale of products that destroy forests.

The second aspect of the campaign, coordinated by Ecopledge, is a job boycott aimed at getting students to pledge not to work for the Staples Corporation until Staples changes its practices.

In the third aspect of the campaign, organizers are taking using an interesting alternative to a traditional boycott of Staples? products. Instead, they are trying to work with the company through consumer pressure. This tactic involves call-ins to district managers, letter writing to individual store managers and to the new CEO Ron Sargent, as well as days of action with protests outside Staples stores.

"This [type of] campaign targets corporations directly. It targets image and brand name-it is constant pressure," said Kathleen Sullivan, an Ecopledge organizer.

Organizations campaigning against Staples? current practices have put forward five main demands of Staples management, including phasing out all virgin fiber tree-based products. In addition, protesters are calling for Staples to begin selling 100% post-consumer recycled paper and non-tree based products in order to maintain at least an average of 50% post-consumer recycled products in their stores. Activists also hope that Staples will educate their employers, customers, and suppliers about the benefits of recycled paper and the availability of alternative fibers.

The Staples campaign tactics are comparable to those of the recent Home Depot campaign. Instead of targeting the paper companies, organizers are targeting the stores that sell the paper products. The Home Depot campaign was so successful in ending the sale of old growth wood that Kinko?s and Lowe?s quickly followed suit. As the world?s largest office supply store, Staples could potentially have a tremendous influence on the practices of office suppliers and on the protection of forests.

Some organizers feel that Staples has made progress in meeting protesters? demands and that they only need a final push. However, although Staples stores are beginning to advertise recycled products, environmentalists are warning consumers to be cautious of greenwashing; Staples may advertise that they sell many recycled products, but in reality only 12% of all paper products currently offered in their stores contain any post-consumer recycled content.

Because experts expect that worldwide paper and other tree-based product consumption will increase 90% from 1993 levels by 2010, environmentalists feel that the time for Staples to act is now. "I?m interested in buying recycled products," Whitley asserted, "If consumers want it, [recycled] products should be available. Staples should be environmentally responsible as a large corporation. They have a great opportunity to lead the way for environmental practices."


(This article originally appeared in The Student Underground)
See also:
www.thestudentunderground.org
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