Home Depot Suppliers Go Greener

April 20, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Sustainable building products and materials have been an emphasis for Home Depot for 17 years, but green products are becoming an even bigger focus for the company these days and more prominent on its store shelves.

The green movement at Home Depot, however, isn’t expected to have any impact on Universal Forest Products Inc. here in Grand Rapids, which supplies Home Depot with Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber and with decking products.

FSC-certified wood is harvested from forests known to be practicing environmentally and economically sustainable forestry. FSC certification is somewhat of a seal of approval that lets consumers know that a wood or paper product comes from forests managed in accordance with strict environmental and social standards. Currently, 21 percent of Universal’s business in the do-it-yourself market is with Home Depot.

“Universal was our first treated-lumber supplier in 1979, and it has been a great long-term partnership,” said Ron Jarvis, Home Depot’s vice president of environmental innovation. “About 99 percent of Universal Forest Product lumber comes from North America, which has some of the most sustainable, well-managed forests in the world.”

Universal spokesperson Lynn Afendoulis said 90 percent of the company’s wood panels and 94 percent of its lumber come from producers that are third-party certified as FSC, CSI or ISO.

“The small portion of our lumber that does not come from a third-party-certified producer is either because it’s an offshore source or because it’s such a small producer that the expense of certification doesn’t make sense,” Afendoulis explained. “In any of those cases, our people visit them to make sure we’re comfortable with their operation and practices.”

Universal also sells Home Depot a product known as ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary) — pressure-treated wood which has much less impact on the environment than the chromated copper arsenate pressure-treated wood it used to sell. In recent years, pressure-treated wood has received negative publicity, mainly because arsenic is used in CCA. Afendoulis said the company is now replacing the ACQ pressure-treated wood it supplies to Home Depot with its new ProWood Micro lumber product, a pressure-treated lumber that is clean in terms of handling and the environment. She said a number of Universal’s 24 treating facilities have already switched to ProWood Micro. ProWood Micro will go on Home Depot shelves as ACQ supplies are depleted.

“We have been in lots of dialogue with Universal over researching a newer category of lumber products to bring to market that have less environmental impact than even the ones they have today,” Jarvis noted. “We work with all of our different suppliers in all the different categories to research all the areas to see if there are new things they can bring to market.”

Afendoulis said the greening of Home Depot doesn’t have any impact on Universal.

“We have good processes and compatible processes and products, so we welcome it,” she remarked.

Home Depot’s green push is driven internally, not by consumer demand. The company began its environmental program after Earth Day 1990 with the goal of positively impacting the environment through products it sells. The company has an Environmental Council that’s responsible for developing long-term environmental policy and strategy, and it’s the only home center in North America with a full-time staff dedicated to environmental issues. The company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, has a number of take-back and recycling programs, and participates in voluntary, beyond-compliance programs such as Energy Star.

Jarvis said Home Depot is doing a couple of things to promote sustainable building materials and products. It’s difficult to walk into a Home Depot today and immediately identify the locations of alternative and green products that have less of an environmental impact, he explained, so the company has started drawing attention to those products by highlighting their aisle locations.

Home Depot is also helping vendors and suppliers that don’t currently have sustainable products and materials to develop and get them to market so consumers will have more choices, said Jarvis, who is also Home Depot’s merchandising vice president of lumber and building products.

Home Depot stores stock low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint, green-engineered lumber, solar lights, cleaning products with low environmental impact, and Energy Star-rated appliances, doors, windows and ceiling tiles, among other items.

“If you walk into one of our stores on Earth Day, you’ll see a pretty hard rollout of this program in terms of the products we identify,” he said. “We think there are a lot of consumers out there that, given the choice, would prefer to buy something that has less impact on the environment, whether it be FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified wood, organic gardening products, or low-VOC paints.”

Tony Wilbert, a spokesman for the company, noted that Home Depot is the world’s largest seller of products such as wood. In 1999, Home Depot established a wood-purchasing policy, pledging to give preference to wood that comes from forests managed in a responsible way and to eliminate wood purchases from endangered regions of the world by the end of 2002. In 2003, the home improvement retailer expanded its policy, saying it would only buy wood products from suppliers committed to environmentally friendly logging and lumber practices.    

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