Activists attack sustainability claim

ENVIRONMENTALISTS have made corporate Australia their number one target as they ramp up pressure on the producers of the top paper brand Reflex to stop using timber logged from native forests.

The battle between the Wilderness Society and Australian Paper has spilled into cyberspace: last week the company convinced Google to stop showing advertisements for the environmental organisation’s ”ethical paper” campaign.

Wilderness Society activists are planning to target Reflex stockists, including Wesfarmers’ subsidiaries Officeworks and Coles and new US entrant Staples, which took over Corporate Express last year.

The organisation is also considering legal action against Australian Paper under the Trade Practices Act because a company website appears to endorse allegedly misleading fact sheets created by the Victorian government-owned logger, VicForests.

Luke Chamberlain, the Wilderness Society’s Victorian forest campaigner, said woodchips from state-owned native forests received a government subsidy worth hundreds of millions of dollars, creating an unfair price advantage over plantation-sourced chips.

”It’s not an even playing field here – this is corporate socialism whereby VicForests is acting as a middleman handing over a public asset for private profit,” he said.

”The question to Australian Paper is why do we continue to rip out a public resource, extinguish a public asset, when [there are] perfectly good alternatives?”

He said the Wilderness Society had sent letters to corporate social responsibility officers at 2500 leading companies, and on Thursday began a phone campaign to follow up with the top 400 companies.

Fund managers will be the campaign’s next targets, and the organisation is considering a print media advertising campaign.

Feedback from corporates so far had been ”incredibly positive”, Mr Chamberlain said. ”Obviously we’re dealing with some of the major distributors of Australian Paper,” he said. ”They don’t want to have environment groups on their back – they spruik their environmental credentials and I think their branding is potentially at risk if we target them.”

Wesfarmers, Australia’s eighth biggest company, already bears the scars of an earlier battle with the Wilderness Society. After a long campaign that included embarrassing protests outside its Bunnings hardware stores, the chain switched from native forest timber to plantation wood.

Mr Chamberlain said the Wilderness Society had been talking with Australian Paper about moving away from native forests for ”probably five to six years”.

”So far Australian Paper has buried its head in the sand,” he said. The stoush flared up online last week with Google pulling down Wilderness Society advertisements that appeared above search results for Reflex, after a complaint from Australian Paper. The company, a subsidiary of Japan’s Nippon Paper Group, has hit back with a website entitled ”Ethical paper – the facts” that mimics features of the Wilderness Society’s ethical paper campaign site.

On that website, its says more than half its total fibre needs come from plantation timber and recycled paper. ”The remainder is sourced through VicForests which is a Victorian government enterprise responsible for the sustainable harvest and commercial sale of wood from state forests,” the company said.

In a separate statement issued on Friday, Australian Paper said it ”welcomes open discussion from all stakeholders about our performance”. It said it employed about 1200 people and the industry had been hit by the closure of two Tasmanian mills last year at a cost of 300 jobs.

”Our plight is not unlike that of Kimberly-Clark whose Millicent tissue mill in South Australia faces closure and the loss of 170 jobs in May,” the company said. ”Our statements and claims are independently checked and comply with Australian Competition and Consumer Commission guidelines.”

Mr Chamberlain said VicForests fact sheets on the company’s ethical paper – the facts website were ”mythology and propaganda”.

”We’ll be taking that up now with the ACCC as part of this campaign.” He said it was practical for Australian Paper to use only recycled paper and plantation-sourced timber.

”We’re looking for Australian paper to show leadership in true sustainability and create a much greater recycled paper industry.”

Ben Butler
January 31, 2011


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