The Green Scene

Office Max goes “green”

Office Max, one of the nation’s largest office-supply companies, announced a new environmental policy Feb. 19 in the wake of negotiations with The Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville-based nonprofit. The company has agreed to avoid purchasing from paper suppliers that log endangered areas or convert natural forests to industrial pine plantations, and to give preference to suppliers that use certified sustainable logging practices. Office Max also committed to using 30 percent post-consumer fiber in their paper products.

The nonprofit launched its Office Max campaign in October of 2005, when they joined with a host of volunteer-based environmental groups to write letters, stage protests outside Office Max stores and even appear at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting to quiz the board of directors on their policies’ environmental impacts.

“We got to the table surprisingly quick,” says campaign director Scot Quaranda. The fact that competitors Office Depot and Staples had already issued similar policies in response to Dogwood campaigns made it easier to persuade Office Max to do the same, he says, noting, “Of the big three, they were the ones struggling the most financially.”

Dogwood staffer Eva Hernandez believes the office-supply industry is transforming in response to public concerns. But the logging practices of International Paper, the world’s largest paper supplier, still threaten endangered areas like the forests of the Cumberland Plateau, she says. “Because there’s been a shift in the office-supply sector … we’re starting to see International Paper shift their production to the packaging industry,” says Hernandez.

No coincidence, then, that the packaging industry is the target of The Dogwood Alliance’s latest campaign. “Now that we have policies from all three of the biggest office-supply retailers, we want to focus on excessive paper packaging—the No. 1 use of our Southern forests,” says Quaranda.

Thinking inside the box

A volunteer-based community group has partnered with Progress Energy to make its energy-conservation program happen. Jonah Butcher, board chair of the Clean Air Community Trust, is heading up the Energy in a Box program, which came out of last summer’s Design Science Lab.

The idea, says Butcher, was to assemble a basic tool kit that could help people save energy. “We’re looking at things like, if you walked into someone’s home and had an hour, what’s the best thing you could do to save energy? In other words, the really low-hanging fruit,” Butcher explains. Though the group had sufficient interest and volunteer support to implement the program, they lacked funds for materials. Then a light bulb lit up, so to speak, at Progress Energy’s open house on the proposed Woodfin power plant last month.

Margie Meares, another Clean Air Community Trust board member, was discussing demand-side management with a company representative when he presented her with one of Progress Energy’s own energy-saving kits. Each box contains three compact-fluorescent light bulbs, tape for sealing leaky doorways, low-flow faucet aerators to reduce hot water usage, and a list of conservation tips. After meeting with the group, the utility agreed to provide 60 kits and teach volunteers how to use them.

“It was one of those rare moments where preparation and opportunity come together,” says Progress Energy spokesperson Ken Maxwell. “We’re very excited about this project—and that we’re able to roll it out here in Asheville. There’s obviously tremendous interest in the area.” This is one of 12 conservation measures the company plans to test, he says, and it could eventually become an official program to benefit low-income ratepayers and reduce demand.

For now, though, it’s still in a pilot phase. A host of volunteers from local universities, environmental and faith-based groups will target folks who stand to benefit the most from Energy in a Box and work with them to actually use the kits. The overall energy savings from the program will be “just a drop in the bucket,” says Meares. “But there’s no doubt that low-income households pay disproportionately high costs for energy in their homes, and we’ll be helping those individuals. It also helps with overall education about energy conservation.”


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