As summer draws to a close, Home Depot stores across the nation are flooded with eager customers loading their carts with lumber, tile, and paint as they rush to complete home improvement projects. It is a far different scene than that of the late 1990s when angry protesters picketed hundreds of stores belonging to the world’s largest lumber retailer, accusing the company of endangering native forests.
Fearing a consumer backlash that could lead to sliding sales, executives agreed to stop using products from endangered forests and to speed the transition to more environmentally friendly practices. Overseeing these new policies was Roland Jarvis who was given the title of environmental global project manager. It is a big name for a big job, as Jarvis has the authority to sever logging contracts with any supplier whose practices harm endangered forests or otherwise hurt the environment.
Indonesian suppliers were some of the first to feel the effects of Home Depot’s new green policies. Jarvis asked the loggers to stop using slash-and-burn methods to raze large swaths of rain forest, but the practice continued. In response Jarvis cut 90 percent of Home Depot’s purchases of Indonesian lumber. In Gabon, slash-and-burn methods were being used in habitat occupied by the endangered lowland gorilla. When Jarvis demanded changes from the company’s suppliers and didn’t get them, he looked elsewhere, transferring contracts to tree plantations in Brazil and Central America.
Jarvis admits that cutting ties with Indonesia and Gabon posed no threat to the company’s bottom line as 95 percent of its wood comes from North America. And while harmful logging practices may not have changed significantly in some countries where Home Depot did business, pressure from the giant U.S. corporation has had an impact. In Chile, Jarvis brokered a deal that will discourage landowners from converting native forests to tree farms, even though the company depends on tree farms for supply.
Even though Home Depot’s success has been limited at times, environmentalists are encouraged by the impact of markets in bringing about environmental improvements. It appears that corporations can produce environmental benefits more quickly and effectively than either governmental legislation or the courts.