Office Depot Raises the Bar
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
• 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
• 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.