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3M and ForestEthics End Multi-Year Conflict Over Paper Sourcing Policy

After an often-heated six years of confrontation between activist group ForestEthics and paper and packaging giant 3M, the conflict finally came to an end yesterday as 3M announced its new paper and wood pulp sourcing policy. ForestEthics, which has been critical of the corporation’s sourcing policy, has applauded its new commitment to tracing its virgin wood fiber and ensuring it comes from renewable sources.

3M has a range of paper-based products and packaging, with its wood supply chain spanning 5,000 paper and pulp suppliers in 70 countries across the world. Working alongside ForestEthics and Greenpeace, the company has committed to reviewing all of its paper and pulp suppliers, measuring them against procurement standards to make sure it’s sourcing all of its products from sustainably logged timber. It will now hold all suppliers to one of the industry’s highest standards for both environmental sustainability and social rights.

Potentially the most important component of 3M’s new policy framework is its dropping of the Sustainability Forest Initiative (SFI) label. This must be music to ForestEthics’ ears, since the company’s use of SFI certification was the key trigger for its first confrontation with 3M, back in April 2009. In a report published earlier this year, ForestEthics compared the rigor of SFI vs. that of the industry standard Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and found SFI to fall short, with concern over transparency and thoroughness of assessment.

“Corporate customers and the public rely on forest certifications to know that the paper, fiber, and lumber they buy is responsible,” Todd Paglia, ForestEthics’ executive director, said at the time. “These labels should allow consumers to avoid products that destroy forests, poison waterways and wildlife, and violate human rights. In the case of SFI, the label is misleading.”

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The collaboration between 3M and ForestEthics first confronted 3M after its joint announcement with SFI in 2009 that Post-it Notes and Post-it Easels from US facilities would be printed on SFI-certified paper. As far as ForestEthics was concerned, this meant that 3M’s products were contributing to serious deforestation across the world.

The conflict came to a head at the Sustainable Brands 2014 conference in San Diego last June when dozens of activists protested the event for having 3M as a speaker and sponsor. Armed with 600-ft banners and pirate radio broadcasts, the protesters set up base offshore of the conference center with a two-day marine flotilla.

It therefore comes as positive news that ForestEthics is calling off its multi-year campaign after 3M announced its new sourcing policy.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding assurance that the products they buy are produced in way that protect our environment and respect human rights – the kind of transparency and leadership 3M offers in this revised policy represents an important step forward for the industry," Paglia said in Thursday’s statement. “ForestEthics appreciates 3M’s commitment to continuous improvement and looks forward to our continued collaboration.”

3M is now working closely with its paper and pulp suppliers to make sure their conditions and practices adhere with the corporation’s revised sourcing policy. The company says it has already cancelled its contract with Royal Golden Eagle Group-owned suppliers in Indonesia as a result of their unsustainable logging and below-standard human rights records, but has committed to helping them raise their standards if they want to secure a further contract with the office supplier.

“By cutting business ties with controversial forest destroyers like the Royal Golden Eagle Group, 3M is demonstrating that it is serious about turning its new policies into real-world change” said Rolf Skar, forest campaign director for Greenpeace.

3M has also notified logging company Resolute Forest Products about its concerns over the standards of fiber it receives, due to strained First Nations relationships, and sourcing from caribou habitat and High Conservation Areas. If Resolute fails to address these issues quickly, 3M plans to find alternative sourcing arrangements.

“Consumers will know that any 3M product they buy is made from forests that were responsibly managed and harvested,” said Jean Sweeney, VP of 3M’s Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability Operations. “This policy will ensure that all of the tree fiber that goes into 3M’s innovative consumer products also meets 3M’s high standards for protecting the environment.”

When asked about the trigger for a change in its sourcing policy and relations with ForestEthics, a 3M representative highlighted the company’s long-standing commitment to sustainability and positive collaboration with ForestEthics: “We have been talking with Forest Ethics for over 10 years, and have always agreed on more than we have disagreed. The policy we are announcing today is the result of a collaboration with ForestEthics and other environmental groups. Their input was invaluable. We would not be in the position we are in today without their support.

“Sustainability has always been important to us. Respect for our social and physical environment has been a long-standing (or core) value at 3M. This revised policy is a reflection of our core values and our dedication to continually pushing ourselves to be sustainability leaders. This mentality requires constant re-evaluation of best practices, newest technologies, and the status of our natural resources.”