Fueling the chain saws: how Home Depot supports old growth forest destruction

Huge lumber retailer stalls on its promise to stop selling old growth wood.

provided by Rainforest Action Network

ust as our culture has moved beyond barbaric practices like slaughtering elephants for ivory, it is time that we move beyond the practice of destroying the oldest, largest, and tallest living things on earth: virgin old growth forests.

Every day, thousands of acres of old growth forests are cut down and turned into products ranging from plywood and paneling to pulp and paper. Many of these products such as decking material, 2x4's, cedar posts, and shingles are sold in lumber yards and home improvement stores around the world stores like The Home Depot. Home Depot is the world's largest retailer of products that come from old growth forests. With over 700 stores selling products from endangered forests, Home Depot is also a major force in the destruction of the world's remaining old growth forests.

Home Depot is the largest do-it-yourself home improvement retail chain in the world. It controls over 30 percent of the home improvement market, and boasts annual sales of over $24 billion. It has expanded from North America into Chile and Brazil, and expects to nearly double its store-count to over 1,300 stores by the end of the year 2001. As a powerful leader in its industry, Home Depot should be setting the standard for responsible business practices. Yet despite overwhelming evidence of ancient forest destruction worldwide, Home Depot has failed to take action when it comes to discontinuing its sale of old growth wood.

Home Depot's role in the destruction of old growth forests is particularly flagrant since it markets itself as a lumber store with an environmental conscience. In 1992, in an effort to preserve its environmentally-friendly image, Home Depot pledged to phase out all unsustainably harvested wood products. Six years later, Home Depot continues to sell lumber and other products made from old growth wood.

Home Depot does not own logging operations, but it fuels the destruction of ancient forests by selling products made from old growth wood. Home Depot buys from several suppliers that are cutting down some of the most endangered forests on Earth. Among them are Georgia Pacific, which imports timber from endangered tropical rainforests; International Forest Products and Western Forest Products, two of the greatest threats to British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest; and Universal Forest Products, one of the world's largest dealers in old growth wood. Home Depot is an important link in this chain, and could greatly reduce the pressure on our remaining old growth forests by getting out of the trade in old growth wood.


No time to lose

  It is no secret that our old growth forests are rapidly disappearing. In British Columbia, where Home Depot buys cedar and hemlock, only 68 out of an original 353 pristine watersheds have escaped industrial logging, and nearly every one of the remaining 68 valleys is slated to be logged within the next ten years. One acre of forest in British Columbia is clear-cut every 66 seconds. This picture of devastation is being repeated on almost every continent.

In the Amazon, where Home Depot buys mahogany, an area of rainforest nearly the size of Belgium is destroyed each year. In Southeast Asia, where Home Depot buys lauan and ramin, the demand for wood is so high that at current logging rates all of the region's old growth forests (outside of parks) will be destroyed by 2010.

Eventually, stores like The Home Depot will have to phase out old growth wood products because there are only a finite number of old growth forests on Earth, and their numbers are rapidly dwindling. The question is, will this phase out take place now, while we still have old growth forests standing, or will we continue to sell old growth products until we have logged every last old growth tree on the planet?


The changing tide

  There are many alternatives to old growth wood, including reclaimed or recycled lumber, composite lumber, and lumber that is certified as sustainably harvested. There are also many non-wood construction alternatives such as earth architecture (adobe and rammed earth building techniques). With all the alternatives available, there is absolutely no reason why old growth forest destruction should continue.
  In Europe, major home improvement retailers such as B&Q, Do-it-All, and Sainsbury Home Base have canceled their contracts with suppliers that sell products from old growth forests. Industry leaders such as Kinko's, 3M, Levi Strauss, Mitsubishi Motor Sales America, Mitsubishi Electric America, Andersen Windows (the largest US manufacturer of window frames), and many others have adopted strict policies prohibiting the purchase of old growth pulp, paper, and lumber. It is time for Home Depot to join these corporations and take a strong stand to protect our remaining old growth forests.


So close, yet so far

  For the past six years, Home Depot has failed to act on its commitment to environmental responsibility and go old-growth-free. They have attempted to evade the old growth issue by publicizing their experiments in selling lumber that is environmentally certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Environmental experts support these trials, but it is important to recognize that they are only trials. Home Depot has not been environmentally certified as a company, and the small volume of certified timber that they sell is dwarfed by their sales of old growth wood and old growth wood products. Home Depot should be encouraged to expand its certified wood program, but selling token amounts of certified wood while continuing to destroy old growth forests around the world is unacceptable.
  Tragically, every minute that Home Depot continues to sell old growth wood has dire consequences for the world's forests. Since Home Depot made its original commitment to phase out unsustainably harvested wood products, 32 watersheds in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest have been clear-cut, the Amazon has lost over 20 million acres of rainforest, and Southeast Asia has lost nearly 2 million acres of rainforest. How many more acres of old growth forest will we lose before Home Depot takes decisive action?


Promises, promises


"We have begun a de facto phaseout of products that cannot be proven to be forested on a sustainable basis and in fact have recently speeded up this process."  -- The Home Depot, 1992

"We have aggressively pursued and are continuing to pursue alternatives to rainforest and other endangered wood."  -- The Home Depot, 1992

"We are committed to the environment But we have 5,000 suppliers and over 50,000 products. It doesn't happen overnight."  -- The Home Depot, 1998



  Home Depot has studied this issue for years, but continues each day to sell products from old growth forests. Available at a Home Depot near you:
  • Cedar from the temperate rainforests of North America (planking, shingles, shims, trellises)
  • Douglas Fir from the temperate rainforests of North America (doors, 2x4's)
  • Lauan from the forests of Southeast Asia (rakes, shovels, plywood, doors, paneling)
  • Mahogany from the Amazon rainforest (doors)
  • Ramin from the forests of Southeast Asia (door paneling, dowels, tool handles)


Calling on Home Depot to do the Right Thing

"R.E.M. is joining the campaign against the old growth wood trade As you must be acutely aware, the Home Depot will inevitably be caught up in this issue as either our hero or the 'villain' of the old growth controversy. We hope to stand in support of you as you take the roles of heroes."

-- letter from R.E.M. to Home Depot, March 1998

"Cutting the world's old growth forests irreparably damages the earth's climate, biodiversity, and evolutionary chain. Decisive action on the part of leading corporations, such as Home Depot, is the key to marked changes in saving what's left of these pristine areas."

-- letter from Oliver Stone to Home Depot, June 1998

For more info contact Rainforest Action Network, 221 Pine St. Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94101; www.ran.org.

You can write to the Home Depot, too: 2455 Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA, 30339-4024.