Home Depot, the ubiquitous DIY darling that prides itself on helping “people do more,” has for the past 23 years taken a decidedly hands-off approach to its forest sustainability policy. Like scientists have become increasingly clear about the vital role of protecting primary forests in achieving global climate and biodiversity goals, investors, businesses and policymakers have taken unprecedented steps to align the forest products supply chains on a secure and sustainable future. Unfortunately, while 2022 promises to be another landmark year in market commitments, Home Depot’s forestry policy is firmly entrenched in 1999, leaving the company woefully out of step with an increasingly focused market. sustainability and complicit in the destruction of some of the most climatic regions of the world. -critical forests, such as Canada’s boreal forest.
Earlier this month, Green Century Capital Management, the investment firm that filed the first successful forest-related shareholder resolution against Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 2020, turned its gaze to another forestry laggard, international home improvement retailer The Home Depot. This new resolutionwhich, like the P&G filing, asks the company to release a report assessing how it can address deforestation and the degradation of irreplaceable primary forests in its supply chains, is a long overdue indictment of the approach of Home Depot’s laissez-faire approach to forests and a reflection of the backwardness of Home Depot’s science, political landscape and market.
For the vast majority of The Home Depot’s wood pulp supply chains, particularly in North America, the company Wood purchasing policy is little more than green veneer, devoid of any meaningful substance that would prevent the company from sourcing from suppliers logging climate-critical primary forests or violating human rights. Central to Home Depot’s policy is a commitment to “eliminate purchases of wood from endangered areas of the world” – language that stems from the company’s first formulation of its politics in 1999. Language is as meaningless as it is ancient. The Home Depot does not have a definition of what constitutes “endangered” forests and, in fact, in an FAQ on its websitesays Home Depot, “[T]there is limited scientific consensus on the identification of “threatened forest regions”, raising the question of how, in this case, Home Depot actually applies this term and why they would not move to terminology with a clearer scientific definition .
Further, The Home Depot makes no commitment to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification or even less credible certification systems in North America, avoiding even the most basic sustainability standards for its forest products supply chains. The company has also failed to commit to ensuring the protection of indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), placing its sourcing standards out of alignment with recognized indigenous rights frameworks in the international scale.
The Home Depot’s failure to adopt meaningful standards for its North American supply chains implicates the company in the destruction of irreplaceable primary forests and the violation of Indigenous rights in critical climate zones like Canada’s boreal forest. Canada’s boreal forest, the world’s largest primary forest and the most carbon-dense terrestrial ecosystem, is also one of the most threatened. Each year, the logging industry clear-cuts more than one million acres of boreal forest, much of it in primary forest, catastrophic impacts on climate and biodiversity. Almost all provinces in Canada also lack FPIC protections for internationally recognized Indigenous rights, meaning Indigenous communities are not guaranteed the right to dictate the future of their territories. Home Depot’s lack of policy regarding the protection of primary forests and the rights of indigenous peoples implicates the company in these unsustainable and unjust practices and places the company firmly behind on climate and human rights.
Home Depot’s steadfast adherence to its outdated policy means the company is falling further and further behind the wider market and is now significantly behind its closest peer company, Lowe’s. In response to an identical shareholder resolution, Lowe’s rrecently hired, under a withdrawal agreement with Green Century, to produce a report by the end of this year on how it can eliminate deforestation and degradation of primary forests from its supply chains and considers the CLIP requirements for its suppliers. This is an essential first step for Lowe’s to address persistent gaps in its supply chain that still tie it to the erosion of climate-critical forests and abuses of Indigenous rights.
Unlike Home Depot, Lowe’s also tracks and reports much of its wood supply data by CDP Forestsand has made additional commitments to set science-based net-zero emissions targets for its supply chain emissions, including its forest-related emissions, and to achieve 100% third-party certification or sourcing of controlled wood of its products by 2025. While Lowe’s third-party certification goals fall short of ensuring supply chain sustainability, The Home Depot’s policies lag behind even these insufficient efforts .
In addition, Home Depot may no longer comply with a rapidly changing regulatory landscape. On Earth Day 2022, the Governor of Colorado issued a Executive Decree encourage state agencies to give preference to vendors that avoid tropical or boreal deforestation or degradation of intact forests and ensure FPIC. Pending laws such as New York State Deforestation-Free Procurement Act and a proposed European Union rule would establish new market restrictions on sourcing from primary boreal forests and in violation of Indigenous rights. If adopted, they would place Home Depot even further out of sync with the global marketplace and have potential ramifications for the company’s supply chain.
Over the past two and a half decades, the world has changed dramatically while Home Depot politics have remained divisively static. The result is a very outdated and regressive approach that fails to meet basic forest protection and human rights standards.
The Home Depot, as the world’s largest home improvement retailer, has a great opportunity to model supply chains aligned with a secure and sustainable future by adopting commitments to primary forest protection and Indigenous rights. Instead, it chooses to fall even further behind, jeopardizing not only our forests, but also its reputation and market leadership. A new way of doing business is not only possible, but also ecologically and economically essential. In a world where time is running out, Home Depot remains stubbornly – and dangerously – mired in an unsustainable past.