Going Green: NPR on Environmentally Friendly Corporations

News- economics and investments

Environmental Investing

Bruce Fenton, president of Atlantic Financial Inc.
Making Paper More Environmentally Friendly (Posted: 15-Sep-04)

From National Public Radio, Detroit, by Celeste Headlee
DETROIT (2004-09-02) Officials in Michigan want to prove they're not damaging or harming the state forests. The Department of Natural Resources is spending thousands of dollars to earn a piece of paper that says it's managing the forests in a sustainable way. Once the forests are certified, the state can sell more timber to companies that are increasingly concerned about the impacts of industry on the nation's ecology. In the second of two reports on corporations and the environment, Detroit Public Radio's Celeste Headlee reports on the push to earn forest certification and what it means to the average consumer:

It's lunchtime and employees on break from Compuware in downtown Detroit are browsing through the magazine racks at Borders. There are rows and rows of glossy photos on the covers John Kerry smiling and waving in front of a flag, Lance Armstrong crossing the finish line on the Champs Elysee. Melody Kranz says she reads three different magazines every month. She says she is an avid recycler and an impassioned environmentalist, but never considered what kind of paper was going into her magazines. I don't know why I haven't thought about it, I just haven't. I will now. Because I'm a gardening nut, I love to garden. So yeah, I just haven't really thought about it.

But executive David Refkin is betting that Franz and others like her would think twice before picking up Time Magazine if they thought it was made from a 200-year-old oak out of the Amazon rainforest. Refkin is the Director of Sustainable Development for Time Incorporated. He says he's noticed a strong surge in environmental awareness over the past two or three years.
DAVID REFKIN I think many of us are starting to see more consumers be more interested in labeling and in looking at what they're putting into their bodies and the products that they and their children are utilizing.

Refkin says his company wants to take action now before consumer groups decide to boycott its magazines over ecological issues. Time Warner has formed a Paper Working Group with companies like Nike, Starbucks and Toyota. The coalition is asking suppliers to provide environmentally friendly paper.

DAVID REFKIN We don't want people looking at a magazine and feeling guilty that a stream has been damaged and the fish are dying in there or that habitats aren't being protected because people are practicing bad forestry practices.
Time is the largest direct supplier of coated paper in the U-S. The company is asking that 80 percent of all paper products Time buys be certified by 2006. To the average consumer, that may not seem like big news. But for paper producers and foresters, it's earth shattering.

Larry Pedersen is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Pedersen says getting certified is expensive and difficult, but necessary.
PEDERSEN A number of wood and paper-using companies brought it to our attention that they needed to have certified products because their customers were demanding those. And with us having four million acres of state forestlands, we saw the writing on the wall that we needed to jump on this.

State forests in the Great Lakes state bring in 30 million dollars in revenue annually. Earlier this year, Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that all state forests will be certified by January 1st of 2006.
Andrew Shalit, with the environmental activist group Ecopledge, says he's glad Time Warner is encouraging paper companies and state governments to get certified. But he says that doesn't necessarily mean the paper is produced in an environmentally friendly way.

ANDREW SHALIT It's great to say that they're going to get all of their paper from certified forests. The question is, who is certifying? And in the case of Time Warner, a lot of the forests are certified by a group called SFI, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and their standards are so weak as to be almost meaningless.
There's a heated debate over just what certification means. There are currently two groups that certify forests in the U-S. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative or SFI was originally founded by the timber industry but is now an independent body.
The Forest Stewardship Council or FSC came out of the environmental movement or more specifically, out of the effort to protect South American rainforests. Shalit says he doesn't think SFI certification is as rigorous or as comprehensive as FSC.

ANDREW SHALIT It really is a problem for the consumer because you see something in the store and it has a little green label on it with a picture of a tree and it says sustainably certified, and you think you're buying something good. It's hard for the individual to keep up with that.
Shalit says several states, like Michigan, have solved the dilemma of rival certification programs by getting dual certification. He says although the system has flaws, it will improve if consumers demand more stringent forestry regulations.
Michael Brune is the president of the Rainforest Action Network, a grassroots environmental group based in California. He says consumer activists have won some important victories in recent years because they've bypassed Washington and taken their complaints directly to corporations.

MICHAEL BRUNE The basic American values are being lost in the political process today. But there is a movement of consumer democracy that is able to hold companies much more accountable than we're seeing from our elected officials.
In 2002, the office supply chain Staples decided to begin selling recycled paper after consumers picketed outside of more than 600 stores nationwide and sent thousands of letters to company executives. And Michael Dell, founder of the Texas-based computer giant, changed Dell's policy on the use of hazardous materials and recycling computers this year. Dell was responding to thousands of letters from college students in all 50 states.
Bruce Fenton is president of Atlantic Financial, an investment firm that specializes in socially responsible investing. He says one consumer can't change environmental policy, but there are now thousands of Americans that are choosing how to spend and invest their money based on ecological issues.

BRUCE FENTON There's a lot of huge pools of money, a lot of colleges and universities and pension plans that invest responsibly and then a lot of regular individuals that invest responsibly. And it sends a message to the companies that that kind of investing will be rewarded on the stock market side.

Fenton says it's not only consumers who are more concerned about clean water and air many corporate executives are, too. He says CEOs are concerned with profits, but they are also more aware of ecological issues than their parents were.

BRUCE FENTON Look at the list Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Ted Turner, Craig McCaw, Michael Dell the list goes on and on. Baby boomers are in the power positions today and baby boomers had a very different childhood than their parents' generation did, and far more environmental education.

Ted Turner and his fellow executives at Time, Inc., are leading the push for forest certification in the US, and environmentalists say consumers can expect other companies to follow suit.
Michigan's state forests should be certified by January of 2006. I'm Celeste Headlee.