Back to School Supplies: Which Retailers Make the Green Grade?

forestethicsadSept. 6, 2009 You’ve all seen that Staples ad with the prancing papa gleefully sending his offspring back to school, right?

Well, now it’s time to see if Staples is one of the big box retailers that ‘made the grade’ in Forest Ethics’ annual 2009 green grades report card, evaluating the multi-billion dollar office supply sector.

Not everyone has a ‘mobile app’ to make informed consumer decisions on the fly, so these cool little downloadable freebie pocket guides come in handy as a cheat sheet to shop for a better world and use your purchase power to pick wisely.

I’m thankful that Forest Ethics has done their homework so I don’t have to…

Forest Ethics looked at SIX forest-related environmental criteria to evaluate paper practices, including chain of custody (responsible sourcing, avoiding selling paper from Endangered Forests and other controversial sources) eco-certifications for well-managed forests and recycling and reduction of the fiber and process itself.

Sheesh, I’d say they get an A+ for educational insight, as I altered my course as a Costco Queen to beeline to their top tier picks AND learned a bit about their stringent methods and all the acronym gobbledygook in the process…

green grades

I’m one of those that waits ‘til the last minute to sift through our recycle drawer, repurpose old stuff, see what’s too frayed or battered, and only THEN do I use the long holiday weekend for a mad dash of back to school mandates in a scramble to ‘get ‘er done’ once and for all leaving the rest of September for settling in…(even though this year we started in mid-August, argh)

As I wrote in the Teens Turning Green posts here and here, I wish we could all come up with a universal way to ‘certify’ goods and services as healthier choices for the environment without the consumer having to be a detective on the fib-o-meter, on the lookout for greenwashing.

I mentioned I use “Sins of and their annual report from TerraChoice, and I’m always amused by EnviroMedia’s Greenwashing Index where people vote for best/worst offenders. It’s imperative we support analysis of those that do some deep diving into eco-claims, product specifics and larger corporate citizenship.

Especially when ‘green’ labels mislead kids & ‘sound’ worthy…

Alas, it’s a long haul, but ForestEthics is the closest I’ve come to reading a thorough 6-pager that tackles bogus claims and spinmeister verbiage in a well-reasoned report with full transparency.

They tell you WHY the paper practices earned the grade, what they need to improve it, and hold hope that if they lean hard enough even the big boxes will fall in line toward ‘repackaging’ their green message with meaningful, purposeful outcomes NOT just fake-n-flake bandwagoning to sell stuff!


So far so good, as they’ve been putting pressure on wholesalers, retailers, and supply chains since 2007 and in just a very short while, made some serious headway, already securing over 65 million acres with success stories that inspire, daily.

The release for 2009 summed:

“This year’s report card also finds the sector moving away from bad actors including International Paper, a company notorious for reckless forest conversion and Endangered Forest logging in the Southern US, and also Asia Pulp & Paper, a company that continuously courts controversy for destroying endangered wildlife habitat and indigenous communities in Indonesia.

Additionally, several companies have made efforts to avoid paper sourced from important caribou habitat in the Canadian Boreal Forest, the world’s largest terrestrial ecosystem, including forests logged by Abitibi-Bowater.”


“Companies like FedEx Office, Unisource, Office Depot, United Stationers, and Target have used their purchasing power to stop the purchase of paper from some of the world’s most destructive companies; unfortunately, some like Xpedx and continue to fund forest destruction,” said Daniel Hall of ForestEthics.

You have to read the full 6-pager to get the thoroughness of it all, but suffice it to say, they had me at ‘hello’ when they mentioned that paper production is one of the largest causes of climate change. AND that the paper and forest product industry’s energy consumption is the third largest in the world, only behind the petroleum and chemical industries. Yowza.

That’s a lot of school supplies, kiddies.

Toss in the greenhouse gases from intact forests and you begin to want to send lil’ Johnny to school with a white board and a marker or a Magnadoodle, ya know? (lifehack: use ‘em for Pictionary or any visual/scorekeeping game; no need to waste paper)

ForestEthics also unearthed some of the eco-labeling practices I’d fallen prey to myself, so I’d urge any media literacy/label lingo educator to pay heed.

FSCFor example, do you know the difference between FSC (Forest Stewardship Council shown at left) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative)?

I sure as heck didn’t; but FSC is the one you WANT to use as a benchmark, according to ForestEthics.

They nailed SFI as a less than credible source going as far as to say, “SFI’s reputation for crafting certifications to fit a destructive industry status quo has increasingly called into question its viability as a symbol of sustainability.” Ouch.

I was about to print some postcards to post at schools and colleges seeking Shaping Youth interns interested in media and marketing, so I immediately dashed to my printer to run the eco-claims through this ‘six-step’ process, and see which logo and brandmark was on the promo.

Yes, I try to pay close attention to using purchase power wisely, but face it, we’re all busy, and when it ‘looks’ green and sounds green, we often default to that ‘quacks like a duck’ adage and call it a day.

Who made the 2009 Green Grades Report Card Honor Roll?

Download the full guide, or carry your pocket version…I love ‘em.

I also use my Seafood Watch pocket picks by REGION across the country, and my EWG shopper’s guide to pesticides comes with me to the Farmer’s Market to choose organic fruit (yep, there’s a mobile app for each) and my TTG ‘dirty thirty’ from the Safe Cosmetics list of ingredients…I’m a sucker for good branding and design, so always need to arm myself with reliable data.

What about you? When do you REALLY focus on purchasing power versus giving it a cursory glance? Statistics say it’s mostly with kids items and toxicity issues…Should it be easier to greenlight the green picks and redlight the harm? By industry? Ingredients? Interests? Safety?

Should there be a universal system for ‘healthy for you, healthy for the planet’ types of products or do we all need to brush up on label lingo and what constitutes a con?

Meanwhile, enjoy ‘the most wonderful time of the year’

Here’s hoping you spend most of the Labor Day holiday weekend outside enjoying the trees rather than inside shopping for products made from them. 😉 I’m heading out on the water…



  1. Great research, Amy – So grateful you are providing this insight. (I am personally struggling with my own paper addiction)

  2. paper addiction, eh? Now there’s a new one! 😉

    These old eyes often tire of the screen too, and I tend to use/reuse both sides when I have to print out a longer doc, but I know whatcha mean. My hot button is being duped, because I’m such a ‘wanna do the right thing’ kinda gal. So I liked how these folks drilled into the nuances to save me time/trouble of which ‘logos to look for’…not that we can distill it to that, but at least it helps consumers who are TRYING so hard!

    Transparency, honesty, candor…will pay off. I’d love to sing the praises of these corps that have made changes from the rooftops to inspire others to do the same, so when you hear of great CSR (not just crowing & PR) send ’em my way for a closer look, ‘k?

    The more we champion change, the more incentive there will be to make it, ya know? (I know YOU know, miss collective knowledge Engelbart queen!)

    Folks, if you don’t know Eileen from, she is also co-author of Doug Engelbart’s latest book w/Valerie Landau, titled The Engelbart Hypothesis…A worthwhile conversation indeed:

    Check it out:

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