14 May Killing Industry, One Company at a Time
May 14, 2002
By Peyton Knight
Another year, another day, another hour, another environmental attack on industry. It’s a perpetual cycle that grows more vicious with each company’s capitulation.
The latest victim of the eco-extremists’ onslaught is the popular office-supply chain, Staples. The attackers are the usual array of anti-capitalist, ‘60s rejects: Free the Planet, Rainforest Action Network, Earth First!, and the National Forest Protection Alliance. Their demands are familiar. Staples must start doing things THEIR way, or the long-hairs in the parking lot with their little signs will never leave. They will frighten customers and drive away business until their demands are met.
Specifically, the eco-extremists want Staples to stop selling wood and paper products that are made from old-growth trees. The irony is that this is contradictory to forest health. Trees are a renewable resource. Everyone uses wood products every day. Old-growth trees are thinned from the forest, paving the way for new-growth to take place. There’s no net loss of timber. In fact, ignoring old-growth trees completely is bad forest management and is unhealthy for the environment. These trees die and become infested with disease and insects. They become fuel for catastrophic wildfires.
Staples makes its living selling wood-based office products to the public at affordable prices. Their entire well-being and future success is reliant on healthy forests that supply them with timber. Why on earth would they spoil the very fountain of their existence? Market-based incentive tells us that they would do the exact opposite. It’s in Staples best interest to promote good stewardship of forestland, and that’s what they do.
The so-called environmentalists, on the other hand, have zero incentive to promote forest health. Their incentive lies in their power to shakedown corporations and force them to their knees. Their concern has less to do with the environment, and more to do with coercing companies to buy their chosen recycled products and only use wood products that are certified by their organizations. It’s not eco-awareness, it’s eco-extortion.
Staples, like so many other companies before them, finds itself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, if they dig in and fight the attackers they risk losing customers in the short run, due to all the protesting and ruckus-raising that will take place outside their doors. On the other hand, if they give in to the bullies, they will be making expensive concessions that will be passed on to their customers, thus curtailing sales and slowly killing their business over the long run. What’s more is that capitulation won’t rid themselves of the bullies. It will only invite more, similar attacks, because once these eco-tyrants taste blood, they can’t get enough.
The campaign against Staples is similar to the one waged against fellow timber-product companies: Home Depot, Centex Homes, and Lowe’s. Home Depot fended off attacks and vandalism for two years before eventually caving to the demands of the extremists. Centex Homes capitulated as well. Lowe’s committed the cardinal sin of giving in to the protesters before the protests even began—hoping to win brownie points with their enemies and use the environmental PR to edge out their competitors. As if they won’t feel the repercussions of this cowardly underhandedness down the road.
Hopefully, Staples will choose to fight back. The industrial graveyard is littered with the remains of companies who sought to appease their green tormenters. There is no such thing as appeasement, only more attacks. The goal of these environmental groups is not a cleaner environment, but the death of industry. The victims of this tyranny are not limited to the fat cats heading up the Staples chain. The American consumer is a victim, for he relies on the readily available products that Staples provides. The store’s employees are victims, as they may face lay-offs due to shrinking profit margins. And the environment falls victim, as forests suffer from negligence and lack of proper maintenance. Meanwhile, the greens sit back and rejoice in all the misery they cause.