Home Depot: Sourcing Wood Products Like It’s 1999

The world’s largest home improvement retailer has a prime opportunity to model supply chains that are aligned with a safe and sustainable future. Instead, it’s choosing to fall further behind, risking not just our forests but also its reputation and market leadership.

Logs in the boreal

Home Depot, the ubiquitous DIY darling that prides itself on helping “doers get more done,” has, over the past 23 years, taken a decidedly hands-off approach to its forest sustainability policy. As scientists have become increasingly clear about the vital role of primary forest protection in meeting global climate and biodiversity targets, investors, companies, and policymakers have taken unprecedented action to align forest product supply chains with a safe and sustainable future. Unfortunately, while 2022 promises to be another landmark year in marketplace commitments, Home Depot’s forest policy is firmly rooted in 1999—leaving the company woefully out of step with an increasingly sustainability-focused marketplace and complicit in the destruction of some of the world’s most climate-critical forests, such as Canada’s boreal forest.

Earlier this month, Green Century Capital Management, the investment firm that filed the first-ever successful forest-related shareholder resolution against Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 2020, turned its sights on another forest laggard, international home improvement retailer The Home Depot. This new resolution, which, like the P&G filing, calls on the company to issue 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 Home Depot’s laissez-faire approach to forests and a reflection of just how far behind the science, the policy landscape, and the marketplace Home Depot has fallen.

For the vast majority of Home Depot’s wood pulp supply chains, particularly in North America, the company’s Wood Purchasing Policy is little more than a green veneer, devoid of meaningful substance that would prevent the company from sourcing from suppliers logging climate-critical primary forests or violating human rights. The crux of Home Depot’s policy rests on a commitment to “eliminate wood purchases from endangered regions of the world”—language that stems from the company’s first articulation of its policy in 1999. The language is as meaningless as it is longstanding. Home Depot has no definition of what constitutes “endangered” forests and, in fact, in an FAQ on its website, Home Depot states, “[T]here is limited scientific consensus on identifying ‘endangered regions’ of forestry,” raising the question of how, in that case, Home Depot is actually applying this term—and why they wouldn’t switch to terminology that has a clearer scientific definition.   

In addition, Home Depot lacks any commitment to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification or even to less credible certification systems in North America, eschewing even the most baseline sustainability standards for its forest product supply chains. The company also has no commitments around ensuring the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), placing its sourcing standards out of alignment with internationally recognized Indigenous rights frameworks.

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 violations of Indigenous rights in climate-critical areas like the Canadian boreal forest. The Canadian boreal, the world’s largest primary forest and most carbon-dense terrestrial ecosystem, is also one of the most threatened. Each year, the logging industry clearcuts more than a million acres of boreal forest, much of this in primary forests, driving catastrophic climate and biodiversity impacts. Nearly all of Canada’s provinces also lack FPIC protections for internationally recognized Indigenous rights, meaning that Indigenous communities are not guaranteed the right to dictate the future of their territories. Home Depot’s lack of a policy around primary forest protection and Indigenous rights implicates the company in these ongoing unsustainable and unjust practices and places the company firmly as a climate and human rights laggard.

Home Depot’s staunch adherence to its outdated policy means the company is falling increasingly behind in the broader marketplace and is now significantly lagging its closest peer company, Lowe’s. In response to an identical shareholder resolution, Lowe’s recently committed, in a withdrawal agreement with Green Century, to produce a report by the end of this year on how it can eliminate deforestation and primary forest degradation from its supply chains and is considering FPIC requirements for its suppliers. This is an essential first step for Lowe’s to address its ongoing supply chain shortcomings that still tether it to the erosion of climate-critical forests and Indigenous rights violations. 

Unlike Home Depot, Lowe’s also tracks and reports much of its wood sourcing data through CDP Forests, and 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 percent third-party certification or controlled wood sourcing of its products by 2025. While Lowe’s’ third-party certification goals fall short of ensuring supply chain sustainability, Home Depot’s policies lag behind even these insufficient efforts.

In addition, Home Depot risks falling out of compliance with a rapidly shifting regulatory landscape. On Earth Day 2022, the Governor of Colorado issued an executive order encouraging state agencies to give preference to vendors who avoid tropical or boreal deforestation or intact forest degradation and ensure FPIC. Pending laws such as New York State’s Deforestation-Free Procurement Act and a proposed European Union rule would set new market restrictions on sourcing from primary boreal forests and in violation of Indigenous rights. If passed, they would place Home Depot further out of sync with the global marketplace and have potential ramifications for the company’s supply chain.

In the last two and a half decades, the world has changed dramatically while Home Depot’s policy has remained discordantly static. The result is a severely outdated, regressive approach that fails to meet baseline forest protection and human rights standards.

Home Depot, as the world’s largest home improvement retailer, has a prime opportunity to model supply chains that are aligned with a safe and sustainable future by adopting commitments to primary forest protections and Indigenous rights. Instead, it’s choosing to fall further behind, risking not just our forests, but its reputation and market leadership. A new way of doing business is not only possible, but also both ecologically and economically essential. In a world where time is of the essence, Home Depot is remaining stubbornly—and dangerously—mired in an unsustainable past.

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