Lumber Liquidators Publishes New Forest Goals, but Questions Remain
by Daniel Brindis
October 3, 2014
© Marizilda Cruppe / Greenpeace
Months after a Greenpeace protest at Lumber Liquidators shareholder meeting last May, the company took a step forward this morning by publishing a new sustainability wood buying policy. The Lumber Liquidators policy lays out a new framework for increased scrutiny over legality of wood product purchases, but the environmental and social criteria for future wood purchases need to be more specific so that the company can use benchmarks to sort the responsible wood from the irresponsible wood. More and more companies are requiring suppliers to produce forest products with Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of local communities and Indigenous Peoples. And, priority forests areas — like High Conservation Value Forests need to be defined before they can be conserved. Introducing clear requirements for sourcing enables purchasers to minimize their impact on the health of the worlds forests.
Greenpeace urges Lumber Liquidators to further strengthen its new sustainability policy with more specific actions, definitions, and criteria so that effectiveness can be measured. Companies need to not only follow U.S. law and ensure that wood purchased and sold is legal, but also ensure that the forest products they buy are not causing irreparable harm to the worlds forests and those that call the forests home.
What This May Mean for the Amazon
When Greenpeace published its two-year investigation last May, we identified several instances in which Lumber Liquidators was buying from suppliers with ties to illegal logging in the Amazon. At that time Lumber Liquidators did not have anything that Greenpeace would recognize as a global forest policy. The Brazilian system for verifying legality of timber from the Amazon is fundamentally flawed and on its own still does not offer assurances of legality, let alone sustainability. Both government investigations in Brazil and Greenpeaces own investigation demonstrated that the official paperwork is easily used to launder illegal timber in Brazil. In Brazils largest timber producing and exporting state, Pará, an estimated 78 percent of all logging is done illegally.
The Lumber Liquidators policy forecasts a phasing out of South American wood in the near future and a movement from high-risk to lower-risk regions. Greenpeace urges the company to provide more information on how it intends ensure safe sourcing in the interim from Brazil since authorities have yet to fix a broken timber control system. There are still many officially approved logging plans in the Amazon that have yet to be reviewed by authorities and could be laundering illegal timber.
Progress, but Not Out of the Woods Quite Yet
Although the policy and recent actions on the part of the company will be mostly constructive for the future, questions about the company’s past record still remain. A federal investigation and possible pending charges for violations of the U.S. Lacey Act against the company are still unresolved to date. If there were any violations in the past the company still needs to pay the penalties. The sale of any illegal timber products not only finances criminal activity and unrestricted forest destruction but also economically harms businesses following the law.
Ultimately, this is not just about Lumber Liquidators, North Americas largest hardwood flooring retailer, but rather the forests themselves. The company has a role to play in setting the standard for how major customers of wood products source wood and impacting what actually happens in the forest in places like the Amazon and the Russian Far East.