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Office Depot Raises the Bar

by Todd Paglia, ForestEthics BEN Newsletter - Spring 2004



On March 25, after more than a year of intense campaigning, ForestEthics declared victory in our campaign against Office Depot in response to the company's standard-setting new environmental policy. Office Depot's new policy is the strongest that we know of from a Fortune 500 company, exceeding Staples' 2002 policy and including commitments to:

Phase out all paper products coming from intact natural forests, rare and vulnerable forests, forests containing exceptional biodiversity values, forests subject to unsustainable management, and forests that have been illegally logged;

Move away from sourcing its paper from three of the world's remaining endangered forest areas, including the Southern United States, the Boreal forests of Canada and the forests of British Columbia;

Achieve an average of 30% post consumer recycled content across all paper products it sells;

Phase out products from industrial forest operations that convert naturally diverse forests to monoculture plantations.

Preliminary enforcement of the policy includes Office Depot's cancellation of its contract with Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which is responsible for egregious and illegal logging in Indonesia, as well as a recently announced commitment of $2.2 million toward the identification of endangered forests and the development of landscape conservation plans. This commitment includes a partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and NatureServe. We are cautiously optimistic about this collaboration and are of course pleased that groups of this size have taken interest in the office supply sector work that we began in 2000.

Inspiring competition within the office supply industry for the title of 'Environmental Leader' has always been a goal of our campaign and one that we are now beginning to realize. For example, we expect that Office Depot's APP contract cancellation will now ripple through the office supply sector, causing Staples to take a similar stance. Interestingly, we believe that OD's cancellation was in part compliance with their new policy and in part a snub to Staples, who they knew had not yet cancelled their Indonesia contracts despite our requests (there is a lot of bad blood between these companies). Corporate competition has rarely benefited the environment but that is starting to happen with Staples and Office Depot.

Office Depot's new environmental commitment far exceeds the sub-standard policy that the company released in April 2003 and is a powerful reminder of the potency of market campaigns. The company's initial policy was released with the expectation that we would relent on our demands and declare victory. Instead, we ramped up our campaign and insisted that the company put action and intention behind the glossy green image that it sought.

The existence of a substandard OD policy that the company was publicly supporting made our job more challenging. The negotiations have been a delicate dance of continuing to ramp up our campaign while working to ensure that the company was able to hear our constructive criticism in the right light and was encouraged, rather than discouraged, to take another look at its policy. The Paper Campaign has enjoyed strong support from the grassroots, from our partners like Dogwood Alliance, the larger national groups as well as people inside OD, and this victory would not have happened without everyone pitching in.

Of the Big Three in the office supply industry, only Office Max (now owned by Boise) remains. The company has a policy, but like Office Depot's old policy, it is not strong enough (for example, there are no measurable standards on recycled fiber). We are in discussions with the company now and have every reason to believe that we will have more good news later in the spring.


How the Citi Campaign Was Won
By Ilyse Hogue, Rainforest Action Network

Four years ago the Rainforest Action Network began a campaign spotlighting Citigroup, the largest financial institution in the world and the top funder of projects resulting in forest destruction and global warming.

And on January 22 of this year, Citigroup announced its "New Environmental Initiatives" -- an unprecedented agreement that commits the financial giant to a series of policies severely curtailing investment in endangered ecosystems, addressing the climate crisis and rampant indigenous rights violations, as well as prioritizing investments in clean energy and sustainable alternatives.

That such a campaign was necessary was unquestionable. Through the 1990s, private finance grew to dwarf public finance in funneling investment dollars to destructive development projects in the Global South.

Private banks began to move in where the public institutions feared to tread. Three Gorges Dam in China and the OCP pipeline in Ecuador are tragic examples of unaccountable banks filling the void when the World Bank refused to finance environmentally and socially disastrous projects.

When RAN's Global Finance Campaign was launched in 2000, Citigroup's name appeared on almost every project of concern in every high priority region Further, industry statistics demonstrated that Citigroup supplied more capital investment to the mining and oil industries than any other financial institution.

Still, challenging such a large corporation was a daunting task. Corporate campaigning, as a whole, is a new field of advocacy, and although the Rainforest Action Network had enjoyed great success in the home improvement retailers and the homebuilder sector, the powerful financial sector had not previously been targeted.

In order to gain traction on the campaign and stay on the radar screen of this multinational, we had to be creative in our strategies to leverage existing public opinion.

Mega banks had been operating in anonymity but many, especially Citi, looked to be uniquely vulnerable to "reputational risk." Having recently invested over $100 million in an advertising campaign advising people to "Live Richly", Citi was prioritizing building a brand image based on promoting quality of life over profit and money.

Our early efforts focused on bringing our grassroots network together with efforts to juxtapose Citi's public reputation with its activities on the ground. Days of Action around the country featuring pickets at branched were coupled with guerilla and well-placed paid media tagging Citi as "Ethically Bankrupt" using the same style as their "Live Richly" ads. Similarly, a glowing "This Is Citigroup" ad campaign launched during the Master's Golf Tournament in 2001 proved to be a fertile opportunity for launched a website depicting our vision of how Citigroup operated in the world.

Part of the success on this campaign revolved around capitalizing on external opportunities. As soon as Citi was implicated in the Enron scandal, we ramped up campaign activities in a successful effort to expand the current debate on the definition of corporate responsibility and place ourselves on the list of issues CEO Sandy Weill must address in order to dispel the controversy.

At every step in the campaign, RAN was careful to never lose sight of who the decision makers were within the company and place these issues at the door of Weill while also keeping the spotlight on the solution. From an ad in the International Herald Tribune concurrent with the World Summit on Sustianable Development to an alumni address at Cornell University, Wall Street Legend Sandy Weill was forced to confront the tough questions around what type of legacy he was choosing to leave the world.

The fact that these questions and demands were coming from multiple directions, including sources close to his heart, compelled this historic financial leader to educate himself about new issues and examine what it meant to make a long-term investment in the future.

As grassroots pressure on Citigroup escalated, the bank approached RAN in the spring of 2003 to ask for a campaign "cease fire." After the nearly nine months of intensive negotiations that followed, the company in January 2004 released "Citigroup and the Environment," the most progressive set of environmental commitments in the entire banking industry.

The victory over Citigroup shows that citizen activism is a powerful force that is transforming the global financial system, but there is much more to do! Real change in the global economy will only be sustained when all of Citigroup competitors adopt similar standards and the flow of capital to destructive projects is shut off completely.


Computer Recycling Victories
By Ted Smith, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition

The Computer TakeBack Campaign (CTBC) has recently enjoyed several key victories in its efforts to bring social and environmental accountability to the high-tech industry.

On June 27, 2003, the CTBC issued a case study entitled Corporate Strategies for Electronics Recycling: A Tale of Two Systems which contrasts Dell's use of prison labor with Hewlett-Packard's state of the art recycling program. Following the release of the report, Dell announced that it would drop its prison labor program and contract with two commercial recycling contractors. Both recyclers have signed the Campaign's Pledge of True Stewardship, in which they promise to adhere to high environmental standards and refrain from exporting hazardous e-waste and using prison labor. One of them also declared that his company would create 100 jobs as a result of the new contract with Dell. Both the report and the subsequent decision by Dell to drop prison labor received extensive media coverage in the New York Times and through Associated Press wire stories. Over 160 newspapers (and countless electronic media) gave Dell's "high-tech chain gang" national and international coverage.

As part of the CTBC build-up to the Dell annual meeting, the Campaign launched the "Hard Drive Across the West" to focus attention on Dell as an environmental laggard. Campaign activists on this truck tour collected obsolete Dell computers, held press conferences in seven cities (Seattle, Portland, Denver, San Francisco, LA, Dallas and Austin) and presented the contents of the truck to Michael Dell at the Dell annual meeting. Dell felt compelled to accept the truckload of e-waste and transferred it to the company's new e-waste contractor, which has just signed the CTBC pledge.

CTBC partner Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) organized a letter signed by leading Austin clergy calling on Michael Dell to take personal leadership of his company's environmental efforts. Working with our communications consultants, Lincoln Crow, we published the letter as a full-page newspaper ad that ran the day before the shareholders meeting. That night, the Campaign arranged a town hall meeting on electronics recycling, hosted by Texas legislators and special guest Jim Hightower. The well-attended event featured national and international experts on electronics manufacturing, toxic wastes, and recycling.

Our strategy of differentiating the market leader (H-P) from the market laggard (Dell) in a high-profile report had the additional impact of encouraging H-P to be more aggressive in promoting its environmental leadership. A July 29 New York Times column on advertising unveiled a new H-P ad campaign to promote its computer recycling efforts and gave credit to the CTBC for bringing these issues to light. The next day H-P ran its first full-page ad in the New York Times promoting its recycling program.

The Campaign's efforts received another important boost when the State of California recently decided that it, too, would drop the use of prison labor in its e-waste program. The decision was reported in a prominent article in the Los Angeles Times on August 6, 2003.

To find out more about the Campaign visit our website at www.computertakeback.com.


McDonald's Antibiotics Victory
By Michael Khoo, Union of Concerned Scientists

Fast-food companies are not often the subjects of good news but in June 2003, McDonald's took a first step toward reducing the huge quantities of antibiotics used by its meat suppliers. The company was responding to a two year campaign by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and other members of a broad coalition called Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW) as well as to a separate initiative by Environmental Defense working directly with McDonald's.

McDonald's announced a new antibiotic-use policy that was far short of the groups' campaign goal, but it was still important. A shift by the largest fast-food company in the world legitimized the issue to legislative targets, motivated activists, and sent a strong message to the campaign's primary targets-meat producers-that we have some indirect power over their production practices.

McDonald's policy will require its poultry producers to eliminate all medically important antibiotics for growth promotion purposes by 2005, which, by McDonald's estimate, amounts to 10 or 15 percent of drug uses in poultry The company also plans to institute a system of data collection to ensure poultry producers comply with its new policy. For pork and beef producers, McDonald's will not mandate reductions; however, it will consider antibiotic use as a factor in its purchasing decisions.

Antibiotics campaign chronology

The KAW campaign started in December 2001-not with a focus on fast-food companies, but with an introductory letter to the top 30 poultry companies asking them to stop the non-therapeutic use (for disease prevention and growth promotion) of antibiotics. Perdue, one of the top companies, immediately sent UCS a letter stating that it shared our concerns and was working to address the problem. Shortly after UCS gave Perdue's letter to the New York Times, Perdue and 5 other top poultry companies issued statements that they no longer used non-therapeutic antibiotics. While these letters were good for momentum and showed real engagement, we were not able to verify their authenticity.

Next we sent letters to the top fast-food industry companies asking them to purchase only from those companies that had issued positive statements about antibiotic use. The statements from fast-food companies responding to our inquiry helped confirm that poultry companies had actually made the reductions that they claimed they had made.

At this point, McDonald's was chosen as our campaign target-in part because it is one of the largest and most visible purchasers of meat. We also knew that Environmental Defense had a strong relationship with McDonald's and was talking to the company about reducing antibiotic use by its suppliers-a dialogue that had begun independently in summer 2001.

There were two components to the McDonald's policy success. Environmental Defense worked directly with the company on the inside and separately, UCS/KAW organized the outside pressure. The campaign had only a small budget but did have significant staff time contributed by KAW organizations.

McDonald's was initially receptive to working on this issue and formed a multi-stakeholder committee with Environmental Defense and food industry representatives to meet on a regular basis to help develop the policy. McDonald's also communicated directly with KAW coalition partners and brought several vice presidents, including the director of worldwide supply chain management, to a meeting with UCS.

Despite its apparent interest in the issue, McDonald's was slow to take any concrete action. By fall 2002, McDonald's lack of a policy contrasted with other big name companies such as KFC, Hardee's, Domino's, and Subway, which had issued policies about their suppliers' antibiotic-use policies. UCS drafted a press release stating that McDonald's was falling behind its competitors and prepared to issue it on October 1. A coalition partner then informed McDonald's of our plan and the company called UCS to ask us to cancel the release. McDonald's claimed that its future policy would have more substance than other companies' statements and the release was unjustified. After UCS went ahead with the release, McDonald's warned that the criticism was threatening the policy development process.

UCS and KAW continued to apply outside pressure on the company for the next 8 months. We generated 27,000 letters to the company, delivering them to its DC offices and to its heaquarters in Chicago. UCS also developed photogenic props featuring an oversized hamburger with the patty replaced by an antibiotic pill and, from April to June, held a few demonstrations outside McDonald's stores that garnered significant local media attention. We did not have the resources to do demonstrations across the country at the time but we hoped that the threat of that possibility would put additional pressure on the company.

McDonald's announced its policy in a joint press release on June 19, 2003, with Environmental Defense and meat industry representatives from Tyson and Cargill. The company briefed UCS on the policy two days before the event

Problems with the "victory"

McDonald's decision was a welcome first step, but there are significant problems with the policy. First, by making it mandatory only for poultry suppliers, McDonald's lets pork and beef producers off the hook. Pork producers are important because they use far more human-use antibiotics than the chicken producers. Second, the policy covers only antibiotics used for growth promotion and does not include the much larger quantities of antibiotics used for disease prevention. Third, McDonald's data collection system does not include third-party verification. The company could cancel the policy-as it did with its highly publicized initiative to reduce trans-fatty acids in French fries-and the public might not find out.

One consequence of having two different organizations employ separate approaches was that our media messages after the announcement were not consistent. Environmental Defense praised McDonald's for its leadership but did not criticize the areas where it felt the policy could have been strengthened UCS's press statement reflected the "continuous improvement" approach discussed at the Bolinas ECBN meeting and had three elements: thank McDonald's for its leadership, name the next target company, and criticize the policy's shortcomings. Environmental Defense's quotes received the most coverage and, as a result, more than half the press stories gave the impression that the problem had been solved. David Letterman best represented the inaccuracy of the media accounts on late-night TV when he said, "Here's some good news McDonald's is phasing out their beef made with antibiotics. I didn't know this but apparently before you got your burger they'd inject it with some antibiotics. So the good thing now is that you can get your Big Mac without a prescription." Aside from the humors inaccuracies, the main message was that the issue had been resolved.

Next steps for the campaign

The McDonald's decision is still significant-the company buys 2.5 billion pounds of meat each year-and it shows that our campaign is practical and credible. We are attempting to use the momentum generated by the announcement to pressure competitors to change their practices. However, the coalition believes that voluntary initiatives are no substitute for laws that apply to all companies and are properly enforced. Even if McDonald's met 100 percent of our demands, our coalition would still want legislation to ensure that companies in all sectors made the same reductions. The corporate campaign has provided momentum by giving our campaign interim victories, but it could also blunt our long-term momentum by making it appear as though the issue has been resolved.

The KAW coalition supports a bill called The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act that would phaseout all nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in pork, beef, and chicken. The bill was introduced by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and, in addition to the phaseout, would require producers of agricultural antibiotics to report data on usage and would encourage research to aid in the transition away from routine antibiotic use.

The coalition is currently assessing future targets for its corporate campaign.