Last week Home Depot promised to phase out sales of products made from ‘old growth’ timber by the end of 2002. Old growth timber is defined by environmental groups as forests that have never been commercially logged. In the past, Home Depot prevaricated about the defintion of old growth, and said it couldn’t identify such products in its stores because of the volume of items it sells. But last week CEO Arthur Blank pledged “that Home Depot will stop selling wood products from environmentally sensitive areas” (no definition). Home Depot said eventually it would like to sell products only made from “certified lumber”, which the company defined as material tracked throughout the production process to assure a balance of social, economic and environmental factors. Today, only 1% of lumber sold worldwide is “certified”. If this pledge sounds familiar — it should. According Ben Cassinerio, owner of Diablo Timber in Napa, CA, Home Depot made a remarkably similar pledge back in May of 1997. The company said then it would stop selling old growth redwood. Today, Home Depot’s major redwood supplier is Mendocino Redwood, owned by the Fisher family, who also own the Gap stores. “Mendocino Redwood continues to log redwood forests,” Cassinerio says. “These are not selective harvest plans, and ‘certification’ does not even address the issue of whether the timber is old growth”. Cassinerio says certification deals mainly with sustained yield forestry and eco-management. “But the old growth trees are still coming down, and the lumber produced is still on the racks at Home Depot.” Using redwood as an example, Home Depot reportedly has only one ‘certified’ producer of redwood, but this company, based in Branscomb, CA, can only produce 3% of the volume needed to supply Home Depot for a year. Home Depot was careful to say that it would give “preference” to certified wood. Cassinerio adds that it is very hard — even for the lumber professional — to spot old growth wood once it has been processed into lumber. “What does a preference for certified wood have to do with old growth?” Cassinerio wonders. “If the Depot sell redwood at all, it is contributing to the harvest of old growth timber.”
Home Depot’s main supplier of redwood, Mendocino Redwood, recently failed to gain “certification” status from a private evaluator. The 1999 Home Depot pledge has been hailed by environmental groups and industry analysts as a “bold move”, but for others, it looks like deja vu all over again, and nothing more than the company’s 1997 pledge sawed and cut for media consumption. Blank was quick to point out that this “new” commitment to avoid old growth “is not in response to…any extreme group.” More cynical observers say the move was in response to increasing pressure from Home Depot’s stockholders, and that the old growth pledge may go the way of similar old promises from the company that now sells 10% of all the lumber sold in the world.