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Cataloging Restoration Hardware's Cleanup of Its 17-Pound Delivery

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Cataloging Restoration Hardware's Cleanup of Its 17-Pound
Delivery

A well-publicized “sustainability initiative” to make Restoration
Hardware’s colossal sales catalog seem ultra-green stirs broad
criticism

By Ben Elgin
     June 20 (Bloomberg Businessweek) -- When Restoration
Hardware recently delivered to millions of doorsteps its
biggest-ever annual catalog—13 different “source books,” as it
calls them, shrink-wrapped into a 3,300-page, 17-pound bundle—the
company took pains to assure the public that the environment was
being protected, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported.
     Its one-page “sustainability initiative,” affixed atop the
delivery, detailed several ways in which the company was
minimizing environmental harm, including using “forest certified”
paper and acquiring carbon offsets to cancel out emissions from
shipping the catalogs.
     In a June 11 conference call with Wall Street analysts,
Restoration Hardware Chief Executive Officer Gary Friedman
crowed: “I don’t know of another catalog retailer of scale taking
the steps we are to minimize our impact on the environment.”
     A closer examination of Restoration Hardware’s
sustainability initiative, however, reveals a much less
flattering picture. Here are the three biggest flaws:
      1. Restoration Hardware’s paper is certified to a weaker
standard than that of many competitors.
     Restoration Hardware states that its paper comes from
sustainably managed forests certified by the Programme for the
Endorsement of Forest Certification. That program, in turn,
accepts paper from U.S. forests that have been certified by the
Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which is backed by some of the
biggest logging and paper companies.
 
Environmental groups prefer the more-stringent certification from
the Forest Stewardship Council, which severely restricts
clear-cutting, prohibits spraying toxic chemicals, and has been
known to rescind certifications for timber companies if they’re
out of compliance, according to Todd Paglia, executive director
of environmental group ForestEthics.
     Restoration Hardware’s paper certification, says Paglia, “is
like having Dick Cheney sponsor you for an environmental award.”
Paglia’s group has praised such retailers as Williams-Sonoma
and Victoria’s Secret for embracing the more stringent
certification standard. Williams-Sonoma has purchased all its
catalog paper since late 2006 from sources certified by the
Forest Stewardship Council. “It has much stricter protocols,”
explains Pat Connolly, chief marketing officer at
Williams-Sonoma.
 
Victoria’s Secret made a similar commitment to FSC paper for its
catalogs in 2010, while J. Crew reported that 97 percent of its
catalog paper was FSC-certified last year.
      2. Restoration Hardware’s catalogs are nowhere near
carbon-neutral.
 
The company says it has acquired carbon offsets to neutralize the
greenhouse-gas emissions associated with shipping the catalogs to
millions of doorsteps.
     That’s a bit like flying across the country and then buying
a carbon offset to cover the cab ride to your hotel.
     Shipping is a tiny fraction of the carbon emissions that
come from catalogs. In 2010, the American Forest and Paper
Association and the Forest Products Association of Canada
commissioned an extensive study (PDF) on the global warming
effects for the entire life cycle of various paper products.
     For catalogs, the study found “transport and use” accounted
for 1.2 percent of overall emissions. About 65 percent of the
emissions arose from heavy duty tasks performed well before
catalogs are mailed such as harvesting timber, manufacturing the
paper, and powering the printing presses. Most remaining
emissions came from disposal of catalogs, whether they were
recycled or hauled off to landfills.
      3. Many of Restoration Hardware’s sustainability claims
lack sufficient detail.
 
For instance, on the company’s one-page “sustainability
initiative,” it claims to be the “founding sponsor of the Verso
forest certification grant program.” The program, it explained,
provides start-up funding to “landowners, consulting foresters
and other stakeholders” to help expand and maintain certification
among the forests that supply Verso Paper.
 
It is almost impossible to discern the impact, if any, of
Restoration Hardware’s sponsorship. Katya Sorokko, Restoration
Hardware’s vice president of public relations and marketing,
declined to answer questions about the company’s contribution to
the Verso program. Two people listed by Verso Paper as contacts
for its grant program didn’t respond to several e-mails and phone
calls.
     The lack of sufficient information undermines the
credibility of the retailer’s claims, says John Haugen,
co-founder of Third Partners, a New York-based consulting firm
that advises companies on sustainability strategies.
     In a post on his company’s blog, Haugen sharply criticized
the company’s approach, including the lack of detail on the
grant—such as the amount given (“it could be $1,000″ he wrote),
whether this would be an annual commitment, how much acreage its
grant would support, and whether this had anything to do with the
paper used in Restoration’s massive catalogs.
     “If they don’t explain it, it leads you to believe it’s a
bunch of garbage,” Haugen said in a phone interview.
     Asked to respond to the criticisms, Restoration Hardware’s
Sorokko declined to discuss their sustainability initiative
beyond the information disclosed on the company’s website and on
its earnings call with analysts.

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