Lowe's to Quit Selling Products Made with Wood From Endangered Forests
8 August 2000
ATLANTA--Lowe's Cos. plans to stop selling products from endangered forests, starting with an immediate ban on wood from areas of British Columbia, Canada.
Lowe's, the nation's second-largest home improvement retailer, is expected to announce today a wood purchasing policy that requires suppliers to prove their products come from well-managed forests.
"This is not just about 2x4s and plywood. Even though a large majority of our (wood products) is in building materials, this policy has big implications for flooring, doors and anything else made from wood," said Mark Kauffman, senior vice president of merchandising for Lowe's.
As global logging practices face increasing scrutiny, Lowe's joins a growing group of wood buyers that wants to know where the wood is coming from. Trees from endangered or "old-growth" forests typically end up in stores in the form of windows, tool handles and cabinets, for example. Those products can be hard to track because they go through so many manufacturers before landing on shelves.
Lowe's said it will give preference to suppliers that hire outside auditors to inspect forests for sustainable management practices. The Wilkesboro, N.C.-based retailer wants its suppliers to use harvesting standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council, a non-governmental group in Mexico.
One year ago, Atlanta-based Home Depot launched a similar plan, also endorsing the Forest Stewardship Council. With partners such as the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace, the council is trying to persuade companies and foresters around the world to agree on one set of standards for forest conservation and management.
Products that are certified under this plan end up in stores with a label similar to the Good Housekeeping label.
But certification is a highly complex endeavor. Although the world's forests have vanished at a dramatic rate in recent decades, little is known about the status of the remaining forests as a whole. Most research has been restricted to individual countries.
The World Resources Institute, a Washington-based policy research group, is preparing a map of forests and the risks they face. Home Depot, Lowe's and other companies endorsing the Forest Stewardship Council will use that map to guide their purchasing policies.
So far, only Canada and a few other countries have been mapped. In the meantime, the retailers are banning certain forests and wood products that are widely recognized as being at risk. Home Depot, for example, said last year it will phase out cedar, redwood and lauan, unless they are certified to comply with environmental standards.
Lowe's declared an immediate ban on products from the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. In the United States, Lowe's is concentrating on logging in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast.
Regulations and dwindling resources in the Northwest have shifted wood demand to the South in recent years. As the Southern forest industry tries to keep up with demand for wood products, pine plantations have popped up on former forest and farm land. Environmentalists generally frown on tree farms because of the lack of ecological diversity.
Another contentious issue in the move toward certification is competing schemes. Large forest products companies such as Georgia-Pacific and International Paper have endorsed the "Sustainable Forestry Initiative" designed by the American Forest and Paper Association, the industry's trade group.
The guidelines cover issues such as water protection, clear-cutting, wildlife and ecosystem function, but opponents argue that industry's standards are not independent.
Home Depot and Lowe's want suppliers to use the international standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council. The American Forest and Paper Association says its members are sticking to the industry standards.
It's unclear how that will play out with the retailers' new purchasing policies, but in the meantime Home Depot and Lowe's will have to keep doing business with the forest giants. For one thing, there isn't enough certified wood to feed demand.
Worldwide, the Forest Stewardship Council has certified only 45 million acres of forests, or an area about the size of Georgia and half of South Carolina. That's less than 1 percent of the world's forests.
That's expected to change with the recent push from retailers, though.
"We get about certification," said Hank Cauley, executive director of the Forest Stewardship Council in the U.S. "Now, with Lowe's on board, it's going to be a domino effect."
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