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Former timber lobbyist helps corporations green up paper supply chain
The Associated Press
PORTLAND — David Ford was on his way to becoming a top timber-industry lobbyist when he decided he'd had enough of the fighting that erupted in the 1990s over forests and the northern spotted owl.
He now heads a nonprofit called Metafore, which evolved from promoting sales of wood products from forests certified as environmentally sustainable to helping Fortune 500 companies "green up" their paper supplies.
"Some of my colleagues in the forest-products associations said, 'You've gone to the dark side, David,'" Ford said. "I learned that the conflict wasn't getting us where we wanted to be."
Improving their public image and their bottom line, major corporations are moving from using less paper to demanding that the paper they use comes from environmentally sustainable sources and letting stockholders and customers know they are doing it.
Last month, the Metafore Forest Leadership Forum drew 400 representatives from corporations such as Bank of America, Starbucks, Nike, Staples and Time to talk paper with environmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Forest Ethics and the Dogwood Alliance.
"Climate change is becoming THE issue," said David Refkin, director of sustainability for Time, the world's largest magazine publisher and largest direct buyer of coated paper in the United States. "Increasingly, businesses will look to do business with businesses that are leaders in sustainability."
Aaron Sanger, corporate-program director of Forest Ethics, which keeps a "naughty and nice" list on catalog merchandisers, sees the marketplace producing faster results than the old venues of courts, Congress and campaigns.
"I never thought our group would end up working with big companies to help them sell paper products," Sanger said. "We are realizing that if good products don't make money, then we don't win."
Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School, said the question arises whether corporations embracing sustainability is "really true or is it 'greenwash'?"
To that end, Time publishes an annual sustainability report that lists its paper suppliers and printers. It also plans to switch from using its own questionnaires to rank paper suppliers to using the Environmental Paper Assessment Tool, a computer database that Metafore is rolling out this year.
The tool considers 30 factors, including labor practices, air and water emissions of mills, recycled content, and whether virgin pulp comes from forests certified as sustainable.
With the United States using 100 million tons of paper a year, every business is in the forest business, whether it is Toyota packaging auto parts or Starbucks pouring coffee, Ford said.
"We really want to use this as a methodology to transform the market," Ford said.
Retailers signing up to use it include Wal-Mart, L.L.Bean, and Lands' End, Ford said. Paper producers Weyerhaeuser, Louisiana-Pacific and Kruger are taking part.
Bank of America has been greening up its paper chain since 1991, when it started looking for paper with more recycled fiber, said Kaj Jensen, vice president for public policy. It has boosted recycled content to 70 percent, reduced internal paper use by 32 percent and intends to do better with electronic bank statements, which already go to more than 1 million customers.
"It's driven by the economics of it and the pursuit of our environmental principles," said Robert Kee, senior vice president for document management for Bank of America, which has committed to using the new assessment tool. "Our shareholders value the reduction of expense. Our consumers seem very receptive to the environmental aspect."
Time — which buys 600,000 tons of paper a year from the United States, Canada, Finland, Scotland and Russia — was buying 25 percent of its paper from certified sustainable sources in 2002 and hopes to hit 80 percent this year, Refkin said.
"What you've seen in the last year or two is more and more leadership companies recognize that sustainability is not just about environmental and social responsibility," Refkin said. "There are also economic opportunities that are available."
If Time can push paper mills to produce a lighter grade of coated paper for magazines, fewer trees get cut for pulp and less fuel is burned for shipping, both of which are good for the environment; they also save Time money, Refkin said.
"There are two aspects to this question," said Cassie Phillips, vice president of sustainability for Weyerhaeuser.
"One is about managing your own environmental impacts from your operations. The other thing to recognize is your products can be a solution to your customers' desire to solve environmental problems."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company