Rainforest Action Network gets Home Depot to stop buying old growth wood, USA, 1998-1999

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Timing
Time Period:  
October
1998
to
26 August
1999
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Country: 
Canada
Country: 
Chile
Location City/State/Province: 
Atlanta, Georgia
Location Description: 
Home Depot Headquarters
Goals: 
To stop Home Depot from buying or selling old growth wood products

To make Home Depot into a role model for lumber companies and others in the industry to follow

 

In October of 1998, environmental groups organized protests against Home Depot, the world’s largest do-it-yourself hardware and supply store. The protests were in response to the purchasing and selling of old-growth wood (OGW), or wood from endangered, never before forested regions. In part the impetus for this campaign was that Home Depot had not fulfilled a promise made to Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and other environmentalist groups one year prior to stop the selling of OGW. In addition, environmental groups recognized the impact Home Depot could have on others in the wood industry and hoped to pressure Home Depot into becoming the leading role model for responsible wood harvesting so that others would follow suit.

On 8 May 1997, Home Depot had announced at a meeting with environmental groups that they had stopped purchasing and selling OGW from redwood tree forests. RAN was dissatisfied by the lack of urgency in Home Depot’s actions and created a nationwide campaign to pressure Home Depot to commit fully to purchasing only certified wood. This included making green purchases of Redwoods from California, Ramin from Southeast Asia, Mahogany from the Amazon, Cedar and Douglas fir from North America, and Lauan from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Environmental groups, including RAN, American Lands, and others formally began the nationwide campaign in October of 1998 to pressure Home Depot to stop offering products made of OGW. A “day of action” on 14 October 1998 signified the launch of the nationwide campaign. Environmentalists demonstrated outside 75 of the 713 Home Depot stores in 35 states. Actions included marches, shouting, boycott proposals, and picketing. In New York, three protesters locked themselves to the merchandise. Police also arrested and charged the protesters with trespassing. Police arrested four demonstrators in Rohnert Park, north of San Francisco, for giving “Rain forest tours” to costumers which spotlighted products made from OGW forests. They also handed out pamphlets to costumers and took over the intercom announcing which aisle held OGW products. Protesters ended the day with threats to follow up with newspaper ads, frequent picketing, and civil disobedience until Home Depot agreed to change their practices.

Protesters responded again on 29 October 1998 with a banner unfurled from a crane near the Home Depot headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, that urged Home Depot to stop selling OGW products. Protesters hoped to educate consumers about what they purchased and to stress the importance of Home Depot becoming a pioneer in green building practices.

Annette Verschuren, President of Home Depot Canada base, announced on 11 March 1999 that the firm joined the Certified Forest Products Council, a non-profit organization that advocated buying forest products that were evaluated at every stage from the forest to the costumer for environment and social values. Environmental groups including the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Rainforest Action Network had started this Council, based in Bonn, Germany.

On 17 March 1999, many actions took place in various stores. Demonstrators competed with Home Depot employees, each passing out pamphlets supporting their respective positions. In another store, demonstrators chained themselves by their necks to store shelves and spent five hours protesting against products from OGW. On 25 May 1999 in British Columbia, Greenpeace installed a 10,000-square-foot mock Home Depot logo in a quarter-acre of clear-cut land to grab attention.

Home Depot started feeling the pressure when stockholders of the firm listened to the 4000 letters urging them to vote against the purchase and sale of OGW. On 29 May 1999, these stockholders made stopping the sales of OGW the main issue on their agenda. Stockholders voted 9-1 in support of Home Depots efforts to end OGW sales within two years. The company responded that it did not want to commit to “arbitrary deadlines” when this complex issue had competitive implications—they were concerned about losing business to other companies that were still purchasing OGW. However, the pressure from stockholders applied a whole new kind of stress on the company that gave the campaign a huge push toward success. On the same day, the company received negative attention after security guards blocked Native Americans of Canada’s Nuxalk tribe from entering Home Depot stores to protest.

Throughout the course of the campaign, Home Depot had received more than 250,000 faxes, e-mails, letters, and phone calls from concerned members of the public upset with Home Depot’s sales of OGW. Children sent more than 3,000 letters and drawings depicting their disappointment with Home Depot’s wood-buying policies. Even celebrities such as REM, the Dave Matthews Band, and others, openly supported the campaign’s efforts.

Finally, on 26 August 1999, Home Depot agreed to phase out sales of OGW by 2002. They joined the ranks of leading companies who agreed that the sale of OGW needed to be stopped. They found this could be an economical move if non-certified wood became stigmatized. A survey found that 75% of Americans would prefer to purchase eco-friendly products if there were no price differences between products; it was not only due to the pressure of stockholders, demonstrators, and environmental groups that Home Depot agreed to change. The company also feared that the protests might lead to a consumer backlash and sliding sales. They agreed to stop using products from endangered forests and cut logging contracts with any supplier whose practices harmed endangered forests or the environment.

After Home Depot agreed to end their purchases of OGW by 2002, they successfully became a role model in the industry as a responsible wood purchaser. This pressured other lumber stores such as Lowes, Menards, and countless others to responsibly purchase certified wood and to phase out purchasing of OGW. By 2003, Home Depot had not completely phased out OGW but more than 70% of their products were OGW-free. A representative said that they finally finished tracking the wood from the store back to the stump. Home Depot started using its influence for the better, demonstrated when in 2003, the firm used its purchasing power to stop two of Chile’s biggest loggers from buying land that was being deforested. Home Depot also began lobbying governments and loggers to stop overcutting forests from Asia and Africa to the Americas. In 2007, Home Depot started offering other eco-friendly options in place of wood.

Research Notes
Sources: 
M. Hornblower. 28 Oct. 1998. Next Stop, Home Depot. Time [0040-781X] 152 (16) pg:70 Web 11 Mar. 2013. <http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,989346-2,00.html>

J. Nesmith Patti. 28 Oct. 1998. RAIN FOREST PROTEST - Environmentalists log in on what Home Depot sells. The Atlanta Journal Constitution. JOURNAL EDITION URL. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

C. Spencer. 18 Mar. 1999. Demonstrators hand out leaflets at lumber chain. The Saginaw News. Web. 11 Mar. 2013

P. Bond. 26 May. 1999. Protest at Home Depot. The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Web 11 Mar. 2013.

P. Bond. 27 Aug. 1999. Home Depot to halt selling scarce wood. The Atlanta Journal Consitution. Web 11 Mar. 2013.

1998. Redwood-Protest. Associated Press State Wire: California. Redwood-Protest. The Associated Press. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

Additional Notes: 
After Home Depot agreed to end their purchases of OGW by 2002, they successfully became a role model in the industry as a responsible wood purchaser. This pressured other lumber stores such as Lowes, Menards, and countless others to responsibly purchase certified wood and to phase out purchasing of OGW. By 2003, Home depot did not completely phase out OGW but more than 70% of their products were OGW free. A representative said that they finally finished tracking the wood from the store back to the stump. Home Depot started using its influence for the better, demonstrated when in 2003, the firm used its purchasing power to stop two of Chile’s biggest loggers from buying land that was being deforested. Home Depot also began lobbying governments and loggers to stop overcutting forests from Asia and Africa to the Americas. In 2007, Home Depot started offering other eco-friendly options in place of wood.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Alexis Dziedziech, 10/02/2013