By JIM CARLTON Staff Reporter
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
September 3, 2003
Boise Cascade Corp. agreed to stop buying wood products from the world's endangered forests, bowing to the kind of intense pressure from customers and environmental activists that is increasingly leading forest-products purveyors to adopt greener practices.
In a statement expected to be released Wednesday, the Boise, Idaho, timber concern said it will end purchases of wood from endangered forests in places like Chile, Indonesia and Canada as such areas are mapped. Next year, Boise Cascade said, it will stop cutting timber from virgin forests in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the company said it will also start pressuring its suppliers to follow its lead, such as by giving purchasing preference to ones that provide paper and wood products from forests that are independently certified as being under healthy management. To help enforce the new policy, Boise said it will start tracking the origins of paper and wood products it receives.
The forest-protection policy is similar to those adopted in recent years by many retailers in the building-products industry. But it is the first, according to environmentalists, to be endorsed in such a large-scale way by a leading North American timber manufacturer. Boise's move comes as the money- losing timber producer is seeking to acquire the OfficeMax Inc. superstore chain for about $1.15 billion in cash and stock. Boise officials said the timing of the new policy is a coincidence.
Boise may have been losing business because of its previous refusal to avoid all endangered forests. For example, as many as two dozen corporate and academic customers dropped contracts with the company over the past two years, including copy company Kinko's Inc., activists estimate. "I think they know their consumer brand won't survive if it's attached to old-forest destruction," said Jennifer Krill, an organizer for the Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco environmental group that led an activists' campaign that included calls for customer boycotts of Boise.
A Kinko's official confirmed that Boise's forestry practices didn't mesh with Kinko's recent policy of avoiding paper products from endangered forests, and that this was one reason the company switched to another supplier last year. Another big customer, Lowe's Cos. of Wilkesboro, N.C., said it "encouraged" Boise to negotiate an accord with the Rainforest Action Network to comply with its 2000 policy of phasing out wood from endangered forests.
"Market forces have been the most important factor in getting Boise to change their policies," said Lisa Leff, a portfolio manager for Trillium Assets Management Corp., a Boston-based investor in so-called socially responsible stocks, which until last year was a Boise shareholder. "And when you get companies like Kinko's dropping out, that speaks very loudly.
"Boise officials played down the loss of contracts, saying the customer base is often in a state of flux. But that so many of Boise's customers were adopting forest-protection policies, Boise officials said, prompted Boise to review what more it could do beyond a number of internal green initiatives they say the company has undertaken over the past decade. "We decided we ought to make sure what we are doing is aligned with what our customers are doing," said John Bender, Boise's senior vice president of building solutions.
The Rainforest Action Network targeted Boise shortly after helping pressure Home Depot Inc., the home-improvement retailer, into adopting a policy in 1999 of avoiding using products from endangered forests. Many other retailers followed suit. "We told them we thought this issue was settled in the marketplace," said Michael Brune, the group's executive director.
But when Boise declined to negotiate further, Mr. Brune said, his activists launched a series of campaigns to embarrass the company, such as when it flew a 120-foot-tall dinosaur-shaped hot-air balloon over Boise's headquarters. Boise officials called the tactics "a nuisance."
Then the activists began pressuring Boise's customers to cancel contracts with the company. Although Boise officials said no customers ever called to say such pressure was leading them to end a contract, officials at Lowe's said that beginning about eight months ago they pushed for the timber company to meet with the activists and heed some of their demands. Boise subsequently met several times with the environmental group, and is set to issue a joint press statement with the group Wednesday.
Write to Jim Carlton at email@example.com