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Home Depot retooling timber policy

The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Home Depot, under pressure from environmentalists to change its timber policy, said Thursday it is making progress in eliminating from its stores some products that come from endangered areas.

The nation's largest wood retailer said it has reduced by 70 percent purchases of Indonesian lauan, a tropical hardwood grown in rainforests that is used in door components. It said it has also focused on buying redwood from two companies committed to promoting sustainable forests.

Environmentalists have protested at Home Depot stores, pressing for the country's largest home improvement store chain to implement a socially conscious timber policy. The company sells more than $5 billion of lumber, plywood, doors and windows a year.

Of particular concern was the amount of wood it bought from cutters in Malaysia, Indonesia and Ecuador, which have seen their forests reduced by 11 percent in the past decade.

In 1999, Home Depot promised to stop selling wood products from environmentally sensitive areas and commit itself to eliminating from its shelves certain types of lauan, redwood and cedar products from endangered areas.

Thursday's report, written by a nonprofit research firm hired by Home Depot, said the company is working hard to make good on its promises. The report was sent to 20 environmental and industry groups and government agencies.

"When someone purchases a piece of wood from The Home Depot, we would like them to think of that as them placing an order for another tree to be planted somewhere in the world," said Ron Jarvis, Home Depot's vice president of merchandising.

But while Home Depot is reducing its purchases of Indonesian lauan, it does not plan to eliminate the practice entirely. Jarvis said the company believes there is a greater incentive for cutters there to promote sustainable forests if Home Depot continues to do business there.

Michael Brune of San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network said the report shows Home Depot has not kept its word.

"They're still selling lauan on their shelves," Brune said. "We could be generous and call Home Depot's strategy regarding Indonesian wood products a strategy of constructive engagement, but it wouldn't be accurate because Home Depot has no strategy."

Brune said his group halted protests of Home Depot stores after company founder Arthur Blank promised to change the timber policy. He said the protests could start again.

Jarvis said Home Depot believes it is keeping its word, because Blank said the company would stop using certain species of lauan, redwood and cedar.

"In our mind and the minds of most people we talk to we've gone a lot further than most people thought we would," Jarvis said.

Jarvis also said he told Brune and other environmentalists several months ago why the company wanted to remain in the Indonesian market to a limited degree.

"It was the consensus from the group that Home Depot stay involved in areas like that to keep the incentive out there for the forest land owners to become certified or at least promote sustainable management," he said.

Home Depot's main rival -- Wilkesboro, N.C.-based Lowe's Cos. -- said in a report it released two years ago that it, too, was working to phase out the purchase of wood from endangered forests.

"All of these companies are on a sort of a new road, so to speak, to providing wood products that give consumers the confidence that the wood they buy is coming from well-managed forests," said Roger Dower, president of the U.S. branch of the Forest Stewardship Council.

"They are ahead of the pack in terms of moving along that road," Dower said of Home Depot. "Is there further to go? I suppose there will always be further to go."

FSC, part of an international group based in Oaxaca, Mexico, has had success persuading companies like Home Depot and Lowe's to give purchasing preference to FSC-certified lumber products. FSC certification involves guidelines on environmental standards, biological diversity and cutting in a manner designed to ensure that a forest continues to thrive.

Shares in Home Depot rose 86 cents, more than 3 percent, to close at $24.88 each on the New York Stock Exchange.

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Source:The Associated Press

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