3M Co. will take a much harder look at where its paper and pulp products originate after reaching a hard-fought agreement with longtime environmental critic ForestEthics.
For the first time, the Maplewood-based conglomerate is requiring suppliers to trace and report the original “forest sources” of the wood, paper and pulp it sells to 3M. The company will then assess those sources against its new policy and refuse to buy any materials from threatened forests.
In a move aimed at protecting human rights, 3M adopted another new standard requiring loggers and other paper suppliers to get the informed consent of indigenous people before logging begins on any traditional lands.
The maker of Post-it notes and masking tape buys millions of tons of pulp and paper each year, and the new policy will affect at least 5,000 pulp and paper suppliers in 70 countries, the company said. The tougher standards also will cost 3M more time and money — it is hiring staff to assist in the oversight of the new program.
3M’s revised sustainability policy significantly strengthens sourcing policies that began in the 1970s.
“We are taking responsibility for making sure our pulp and paper suppliers meet the requirements of the policy and help them to raise their performance if necessary,” said Jean Sweeney, vice president of 3M environmental, health, safety and sustainability operations.
The idea was to clearly communicate 3M’s values and requirements to suppliers, she said.
“The hope is that this will have a ripple effect in driving positive change beyond 3M’s fiber supply, leading to widespread market demand for protection of forests and respect for workers’ and indigenous people’s rights,” she said.
The revised policy wins a truce between 3M and California-based ForestEthics, the environmental group that gained notoriety for its fanciful protests and publicity stunts.
In 2013, ForestEthics unfurled a giant banner off a Minneapolis bridge, attacking 3M’s supply-chain policies. In May 2014, it protested 3M’s annual meeting in Texas, performing sidewalk skits in which costumed environmentalists played the part of frightened caribou being chased by giant foam chain saws bearing the 3M logo.
In July, ForestEthics hired an airplane to fly a banner over Target Field and downtown Minneapolis during a packed Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The banner read, “3M do the right thing for forests.”
The protests were part of ForestEthics’ multiyear campaign that objected to 3M’s supply relationships with companies that allegedly harmed forests. Greenpeace joined the campaign in 2014.
ForestEthics said it is ending its attack campaign. Group officials applauded 3M’s new policy during a joint news conference with the company on Thursday.
“The kind of transparency and leadership 3M offers in this revised policy represents an important step forward for the industry,” ForestEthics Executive Director Todd Paglia said in an interview. “This is a huge shift for 3M and really drives 3M’s values through their entire supply chain. We have not seen that happen with any company like a 3M before. Ever.”
3M and ForestEthics officials began meeting months ago to discuss ways that the global manufacturer and mega purchaser could be a more effective leader in the sustainability industry.
Paglia said he was impressed with several of 3M’s actions.
3M pledged to issue semiannual updates on how the policy is being implemented. It has teamed up with the Forest Trust and Dovetail Partners to learn more about the threats facing forests.
Paglia also cheered 3M’s recent decision to end a contract with an Indonesian supplier accused of harmful logging practices. In another case, 3M issued a letter upbraiding a Canadian supplier for allegedly logging in caribou habitat and for straining relationships with local Indian tribes.
In a copy of the letter obtained by the Star Tribune, 3M told the supplier that it would search for an alternative supplier unless changes were made.
3M also agreed to stop using the Sustainability Forestry Initiative certification, which California-based ForestEthics argued had no teeth because it did not engage in thorough supply chain investigations.