April 18, 2002

Cornellians Protest Staples Co. Over Product Origins

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In an effort to preserve national forests, over 200 groups across the nation engaged in more than 100 demonstrations in the fourth National Day of Action last Thursday against the Massachusetts based Staples office supply company.

Local Activists

Campaign activists are protesting the company’s refusal to drop paper products made with trees logged from public lands and virgin wood fiber.

The company has been targeted as a result of its leadership position in the office supply industry, commanding over $11 billion in revenue with more than 1300 stores nationwide. In the last year, organizers have organized over 400 protests at Staples stores across the country, according to the campaign’s web site.

“We were looking to engage the store manager,” said Garrett Meigs ’04, an SNRC member.

The SNRC is a consensus-based group, committed to educating the Cornell Community on forest issues at the local, national and international level.

With 15 active members and a total of 40, the group has been working on behalf of sounder environmental solutions and protection for public forested land since 1995.

Meigs said that the message communicated last Thursday was successful overall, as the Staples store has responded with more recycled products and has carried out a feasibility study due in large part to campaign demands from last year.

However, activists continue to target Staples for what it calls Staples’ irresponsible business dealings with International Paper, the company’s largest paper supplier.

“We have been working with our suppliers in an effort to both introduce recycled content products in the marketplace and are currently developing an environmental purchasing policy that will formalize our intent to ensure that our suppliers [like I.P.] continue on with sustainable forestry practices,” said Staples spokesperson Owen Davis.

According to Davis, Staples is looking to maintain its viability as a business while offering an affordable product to its customer base.

“We have had a longstanding relationship with I.P. and will maintain it in order to serve our customers,” he added.

Staples has been stocking recycled products in its stores for years as part of its commitment to the environment, according to Davis.

“We offer a thousand products with recycled content, several hundred that are paper based, from copy paper to index cards. Staples has also had energy conservation measures in place for ten years, and a progressive internal recycling program, resulting in nearly 110 tons of recycled paper that we have utilized internally in the past year,” he claimed.

Over the past year and a half, national campaign demands have included a phasing out of wood and paper products made from fiber in US public lands.

The campaign also insists that Staples commit itself to achieving 50 percent post consumer content for all paper products within two years and begin an immediate phase out of all products that are made from 100 percent virgin wood fiber.

In the fall of 2001, the company began to offer 50 percent post consumer content in all nationwide stores, meeting the activists’ requests.

This month, 90 percent post consumer waste copy paper will be offered from Living Tree in all stores across the country.

“That is basically a 0 percent virgin [wood fiber concentration], setting the precedent as Staples looks to expand its recycled product offerings and selection,” Davis said.

However, the national campaign continues to request 100 percent post consumer paper be offered on permanent shelf space in Staples stores, according to Meigs.

“They are [still not meeting] the demanded amount of recycled products,” he added.

Meanwhile, the company has been working to educate employees, customers and suppliers of paper about recycling options at their stores. “On our web site there is an [education] section that we will continue expand upon, in addition to signage in our stores, like our recycling logo at the storefront. Our catalogs often include the recycling logo next to products with recycled content as well,” Davis said.

Currently, one out of every three trees logged ends up in paper production, according to the campaign’s web site.

Overall, it is cheaper for Staples to receive their supply from International Paper and logs from private and public lands.

“Recycled content paper today is demanding a higher price point to produce. We then would have to turn around and sell paper to customers at a higher price,” Davis noted.

On the Cornell campus, Staples supplies 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper from Rochester through the brand name Badger, according to Meigs.

The SNRC is currently involved with the Tree Free Cornell Initiative, which works to convert all of Cornell University to Tree Free (100 percent post-consumer recycled) paper, according to Meigs.

“The idea came from us as students here but is also part of a huge national movement of schools taking action,” he added.

“We’ve already got Mann Library, Gannet, the [College of Agriculture and Life Sciences] dean and the [College of Arts and Sciences] deans offices … to use the paper. We feel like we’ve been very successful,” said SNRC member Jennie Heinlein ’04.

Aside from working on the Tree Free Cornell Initiative, SNRC has engaged in demonstrations with numerable protests, including the National Boise (formerly Boise-Cascade) day of action.

Steps toward assessing corporate responsibility and accountability in fair practice have gained exposure and momentum on campus through the work of the Cornell Greens, an environmental and social justice organization that attempts to make the world a more healthy place environmentally through activism, according to Greens president Lindsay Saunders ’03.

“We look at corporate responsibility and how they oftentimes are the greatest environmental perpetrators. Companies don’t even have regulations brought upon them. That is why [SNRC] targeted Staples.

They aren’t protecting our environment and thus our health,” she asserted.

“Staples has made some progress but has a long way to go before it can call itself an environmental leader in any sense of the word. Citizens will continue to work on this campaign until Staples meets these demands,” Meigs added.

The National Day of Action is sponsored by many groups, including the National Forest Protection Alliance, the Dogwood Alliance and the Student Environmental Action Coalition, among others.

Archived article by Chris Westgate