Going Green: NPR on Environmentally Friendly Corporations
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
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
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
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