Paper Supplier Not Green Enough for Staples

Discussion
Feb 08, 2008

By George Anderson

Staples has been very public about its commitment to go green and the retailer has now made a very emphatic statement to that effect with the cancellation of its contract with Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) over that company’s alleged environmental misdeeds.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Staples cut off APP after it determined the company was not taking appropriate action to protect rainforests in Indonesia and other parts of Asia where it has operations.

The office supplies retailer joined others including Office Depot in choosing to no longer do business with APP. Until recently, Staples had sourced roughly nine percent of its paper supply from the Singapore-based company.

Mark Buckley, vice president for environmental issues at Staples, told the Journal that it decided that its relationship with APP was putting the retailer’s brand at “great peril.” He said the company decided to end its contract because, “We haven’t seen any indication that APP has been making any positive strides” in changing its approach to the environment.

The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has been one of the harshest critics of APP. Last month the environmental organization issued a scathing report against the company and its affiliates claiming they were cutting “an enormous swath through one of Sumatra’s last remaining large forest blocks, home to two tribes of indigenous people and endangered elephants, tigers and orangutans.”

Adam Tomasek, director of WWF’s Borneo and Sumatra Program, said, “APP shows a total disregard for the ecosystem in their quest for cheap sources of raw materials.”

The Journal reported that APP’s practices have come under greater scrutiny as new data has placed Indonesia at number three on the list of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide. Groups such as the WFF claim that fires set to clear forests and peat swamps that have been logged are a major source of the pollution.

Discussion Questions: If the accusations against APP are true, were its environmentally unfriendly actions putting the Staples brand at “great peril?” What learning is there for other retailers in this case?

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9 Comments on "Paper Supplier Not Green Enough for Staples"


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Sean Slattery
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Sean Slattery
14 years 3 months ago

Staples did the right thing. They compared their values with APP’s and saw they did not match. They ended the contract. A previous writer said this was for publicity: the average Staples customer is not going to hear of this action.

Also, cpgman, Staples, through its actions, did not say selling paper is inherently wrong. It said the ways APP went about acquiring their paper and their apparent refusals to change at Staples’ requests was not consistent with Staples’ beliefs.

Retailers can make huge differences. Some changes are painful, many are incredibly simple, but companies that are creative will win. This challenges created from choosing to be environmentally conscious are not different than any other challenges companies face.

Brad Attig
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Brad Attig
14 years 3 months ago
It’s nice that Staples has a “green” mentality, but I question whether it is occurring because of a true commitment or just that it’s popular to talk about it and easy to add a green background to the company marketing materials. The Staples web site points out that in 2005 their commitment saved almost 5600 acres of timber. Some sources estimate 200,000 acres of rainforest is burned every day. Staples 2006 Soul Report states that their own corporate use of paper was over 50,000 tons in 2006 and says that in 2004 the paper was 28% post-consumer recycled content and with their “green” effort, they have moved that to 30% post-consumer recycled content. Sorry for the cynicism but they don’t seem to have moved the needle much. Anyone here in retail would accept those results? Companies like Staples claim all this “Greening” in their marketing but consumers can quickly Google the facts and uncover the truth. They run the risk of looking like hypocrites. Staples points out that the average office worker uses 12,000 pages… Read more »
James Tenser
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14 years 3 months ago
Even this cynic feels Staples should get a bit of credit for its act of environmental “bravery”. Really bad actors like Asia Pulp and Paper should be punished in the pocketbook, the court of public opinion, and probably the karmic wheel. But Staples should take care – the greenwash brush can paint both black and red. In our inter(con)netted world, self-serving corporate acts are certain to be exposed, ridiculed and responded to. Doing one very right thing cannot eradicate or absolve the negative consequences of 100 wrong things – in fact, it may only serve to highlight how wrong the wrong things are. Now that Staples has taken public steps to correct what arguably may be the most egregious offense in its supplier community, it must internalize the heightened responsibility that this implies. Working its way down the list, it (and all corporations, truly) must systematically identify and improve or correct activities that cause the worst environmental impact. This will take time, so it’s important to begin now. Being “green” is a journey, not a… Read more »
Ken Yee
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Ken Yee
14 years 3 months ago

Interesting step by Staples, but really a rouse. A good portion of the company’s sales come from selling paper, stationery, the printing/photocopying station, and lots more paper products throughout the store…maps, memo pads, magazines, binder tabs etc….

Last time I visited Staples, they literally had an entire wall of those big boxes of 5,000 reams from tons of brands and brightness. And another aisle or two of strictly paper types and colours.

A feel-good gesture to get some publicity, but nothing more.

Gene Hoffman
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Gene Hoffman
14 years 3 months ago

The power of a protective environmental position when practiced universally and consistently by the retail world can produce better results than governmental nick-nacking, i.e. regulations.

Perhaps Staples has started something truly Green. Let’s hope Wal-Mart as well as APP are both listening.

Ken Kuschei
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Ken Kuschei
14 years 3 months ago

I’d like to think that retailers can make a difference, but ultimately it will be consumers and voters who drive any change that is meaningful. Retailers and governments respond to consumer and voter demand. This leads into the question of what will it take to change consumer and voter views and preferences. Historically it’s been personal experiences, heavy doses of education (supported by unbiased scientific fact) and a strong economy…did I mention that the process is slow?

Asking people to pay more when they are struggling to buy food is less likely to occur than asking someone to change when the change is easy. I commend Staples and Office Depot for their initiative, but if the consumer just looks for cheap product elsewhere, all that will have occurred is a shift in the supply chain. I like to think that I’m a long term thinker, as such I’ll support Staples and other retailers who take the high road, but I suspect I’m in the minority on this.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

I could be wrong, but I think it was a Wal-Mart exec who said something along the lines of “The order blank is the most powerful tool in the world.” The context was a discussion of setting environmentally-friendly specifications, requiring vendors to live up to certain criteria. Doesn’t matter who said it. I believe it is true. And a whole lot better than governmental regulation, if retailers can get behind this with critical mass. Of course, doing this often means the product costs more. But if the big dogs like Wal-Mart (and even Staples) will climb on board with their buying clout, it can help change how suppliers operate, since they all want those big contracts.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
14 years 3 months ago
This is an interesting situation because if you can cancel a purchasing agreement because you don’t like something the supplier is doing, what good is the contract? I can only assume that no such agreement existed or that the lawyers figured this all out. The challenge will be in future negotiations because the suppliers may not be so quick to guarantee prices if they are not assured a buyer. From the environmental perspective, many of these issues are difficult to associate with a particular cause. It is only when the behavior becomes so egregious that it is indisputable, that others will finally take action. This seems to be what has happened in this case. But until someone figures out a way to change the score keeping system from merely wealth gains and losses to something more holistic that encompasses the environment and social issues, the best we can hope for is that some responsible companies will look beyond the single measurement and consider the total impact of their actions. Kudos to Staples.
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Staples got great publicity for dumping Asia Pulp and Paper. Every intelligent retailer would love that kind of publicity. Being on the side of the endangered species! Defending the forests! This is the way to enhance any brand.

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