Staples Plans Move to Recycled Paper

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - In what could mark the beginning of a shift in how the paper industry does business, office supply giant Staples, Inc. today committed to bold steps aimed at reducing its consumption of paper products made from endangered forests. The company's new environmental paper procurement policy has won the endorsement of conservation groups that have spent years drawing attention to Staples' impact on the world's surviving virgin forests.

Under the new policy, Staples, an $11 billion retailer of office supplies and business services, pledged to phase out purchases of paper products from endangered forests, and achieve an average of 30 percent post consumer recycled content across all paper products sold by the company.


Staples will set an industry standard through its voluntary move toward recycled and environmentally friendly paper purchases. (Photo Staples)
Staples will also provide annual public reports on its progress toward reaching these goals, aggressively market and promote recycled paper products, and create an environmental affairs division headed by a senior executive reporting to the Staples CEO.

"This is a significant moment for Staples and our commitment to environmental stewardship," said Staples' vice chair Joseph Vassalluzzo. "We are proud of our solid history of dedication to the environment that has brought us to this important milestone. We now embrace the work ahead toward realizing our environmental goals."

Representatives of groups that have been some of Staples' staunchest foes joined the company in announcing the new environmental policy today.

"Today is a milestone for forest protection and recycled paper," said Todd Paglia, campaign director at the San Francisco, California conservation group ForestEthics. "Staples has put itself way ahead of the pack."

Paglia said the agreement is the culmination of a two year effort by The Paper Campaign, a coalition of dozens of citizen groups dedicated to moving the marketplace towards recycled paper. The coalition is led by ForestEthics and the Dogwood Alliance, which seeks to protect southern U.S. forests from their largest consumer, the pulp and paper industry.

After Staples' announcement today of its new environmental procurement policy, The Paper Campaign has called off its two year old campaign targeting the company.


For two years, Staples was the target of forest conservation activists. (Photo courtesy Dogwood Alliance)
The grassroots campaign has included more than 600 demonstrations, almost 35 banners dropped on storefronts, 21 arrests in acts of civil disobedience, street theater, more than 15,000 postcards, thousands of phone calls to the corporate headquarters and regional offices, hundreds of letters from concerned citizens, coverage in national and local media outlets, a shareholder's resolution, and flying the CEO over clearcuts on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.

"Staples' new policy is the beginning of the end of the practice of destroying endangered forests to make disposable paper products," said Paglia. "Staples' huge purchasing power will now become a force to protect endangered forests and increase the availability of recycled paper products. This is good news for consumers and businesses too, since the quality and price of recycled paper have never been better."

Defining Endangered

Staples' vice chair Vassalluzzo was vague about some of the details of the nascent purchasing policy at a press conference today. The company has yet to defined which forest areas it will seek to project by barring purchases of paper from those trees, for example.


Staples' vice chair Joseph Vassalluzzo (Photo Staples)
"The process of identifying and mapping those forests around the world is underway," Vassalluzzo said, adding that the company will seek input from conservation groups, scientific experts and others in determining which forests should be defined as endangered.

A new webpage regarding the purchasing policy notes that, "Though there is much debate on the definition of endangered forests, we include those forests with high conservation value."

In the meantime, Staples plans to rely on certification to ensure that the products it buys come from well managed forests.

"By the end of 2006, we will offer only certified paper products or as many such products as possible within the constraints of market conditions, consumer demand and cost factors," the company website states.

The company has not set a deadline for meeting its self imposed goal of selling an average of 30 percent post consumer recycled content across all paper products carried by the company. Today, the company estimates that the percentage of post consumer waste paper in its product line "is in the single digit range," said Vassalluzzo.

To boost those numbers, the company plans to work with its suppliers to increase the availability of recycled paper products, and to provide incentives for consumers to choose recycled content paper. Staples plans to educate customers about the benefits of recycling and the use of products made from recycled resources, which currently are priced a bit higher than those made from virgin wood.

One means of reducing the price of recycled paper is to increase consumer demand, Vassalluzzo noted. Staples will have help in this task from conservation groups that already work to educate their members about the benefits of buying recycled products.

The Paper Campaign has already received commitments from a number of companies, including market giants like Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft, to phase out their use of virgin paper, and phase in post consumer recycled products.

"We will encourage them to go to Staples and request high post consumer content," said Paglia of ForestEthics.


Staples already sells a variety of recycled paper products, including a tree free paper that contains 90 percent post consumer content, and 10 percent hemp fibers. (Photo Staples)
Staples now offers about 1,000 recycled content products, from copy paper to corrugated storage boxes to remanufactured ink cartridges. The company's latest consumer effort is a week long ink jet cartridge recycling program to celebrate America Recycles Day on November 15.

"Customers who turn in empty ink jet cartridges at Staples stores through November 16 will be rewarded with a free ream of Staples brand 30 percent recycled copy paper," explained Vassalluzzo.

Saving The Forests for the Trees

Conservation groups said the new Staples' policy is likely to reduce the timbering pressures on southern U.S. forests, the most biologically diverse forests in North America, which produce 25 percent of the world's paper products and two-thirds of the paper made in the U.S. International Paper and Georgia Pacific, the two primary loggers of southern forests, are major suppliers to Staples.


Boreal forests like this one in Saskatchwan, Canada, could gain protection from Staples' action to reduce its purchases of virgin paper products. (Photo courtesy Boreal Forest Watch)
"Staples' new policy is a big win for America's heritage forests in the southern U.S., where paper production is destroying millions of acres of forests a year," said Danna Smith, director of The Paper Campaign for Dogwood Alliance. "Staples' announcement today creates a mandate from the marketplace for large paper producers like International Paper to rely more on recycled fiber and less on destroying Southern forests."

Areas of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest also continue to be logged for the paper industry, and the Bush administration has proposed increasing logging in all national forests in the name of reducing the danger of wildfires.

"Staples' shift toward greener pastures reflects a positive trend that will lead to less logging in our endangered U.S. national forests," said Andrew George, campaign coordinator for the National Forest Protection Alliance. "At a time when Congress and the Bush administration are taking U.S. National Forest policy in a dangerous direction, it is good to see an enlightened market shift away from the outdated dependence on public forests."

Environmentalists also hope that Staples' move will help protect the boreal forests of Canada, breeding ground of 40 percent of North America's waterfowl and billions of migratory songbirds and hundreds of species including caribou, wolves and bears. Some of Staples' major suppliers, including Domtar, Xerox and Weyerhaeuser are involved in logging Canada's boreal forest.


A pulp mill at Port Angeles Harbor in Washington state. (Photo courtesy Washington Department of Ecology)
With recycled paper now becoming comparable to virgin fiber in quality and price, The Paper Campaign is hoping that other office supply companies will begin moving away from cutting trees for paper. The campaign has called off a national day of action against Staples, planned for months to take place this Wednesday, and now plans to shift its attention to Staples' competitors Office Depot, Office Max and Corporate Express.

"One day we're going to look back in disbelief that paper was ever produced by destroying endangered forests," said the Dogwood Alliance's Smith.