Complicated history between 3M, enviro group comes to head before ASG


Tuesday night's All-Star game unexpectedly brought out the best of the environmental movement, with one protestor memorably draping a sign reading "Love Water Not Oil" over the Target Field video board - an apparent reference to the Native American environmental group Honor The Earth, headed by two members of the Indigo Girls.

But if you gazed up at the sky over the Target Field stands before the game, you would have seen the work of another organization. There, zipping across the sky, was an airplane, with a banner containing a seemingly odd message behind it: "3M DO THE RIGHT THING FOR FORESTS."

See also: Protester risks death to place Love Water Not Oil" Banner over Target Field video board

It turns out that the message was from a different organization, ForestEthics, an environmental advocacy group that's been specifically targeting 3M over where it gets the material for its products like masking tape, sandpaper, and Post-It Notes. ForestEthics has made a whole lot of noise over the issue in recent months, even releasing a report in April accusing 3M of relying on fiber from places like Canada's Boreal Forests, which contain endangered animals.

The act may seem like a stunt at first, but ForestEthics hasn't simply been yelling into the wind when it comes to 3M. In fact, ForestEthics and 3M have had a somewhat complicated relationship in the past, with the two entities actually meeting for almost a half-decade before things dissolved to the point they're at now.

The meetings started in 2009, and they initially revolved around a "Sustainable Forestry Initiative" certification that 3M has received on its products, a title basically saying that 3M was receiving the material for its supplies from "sustainable" forests - those that preserve water quality and diversity, among others.

While 3M holds the SFI certification as a title of pride, ForestEthics says the certification is virtually worthless, citing the Sustainable Forestry Initiative's close ties to the industry and relaxed standards compared to other labels. About five years ago, ForestEthics started talking to 3M to try to convince them to move to another, more environmentally stringent label. And 3M was open to listening, at least initially.

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"We spent years talking to 3M about SFI and the problems with SFI certification and what it means for communities, forests, wildlife. Literally years," says Jim Ace, a senior campaigner with ForestEthics. "We flew out there twice. Dozens of emails. Dozens of phone calls, conference calls. We worked really hard to get 3M to understand what it really means for forests and for wildlife."

For some time, the meeting were productive, with the two able to reach a few small compromises, but nothing major. ForestEthics wanted changes, and while 3M listened, it didn't see anything wrong with the labels it had already.

We reached out to 3M to get their side of the negotiations and didn't hear anything back, but 3M spokesperson Sarah Williams did talk to the Star-Tribune, saying the company seemed to see the whole affair as simply a difference of opinion, explaining that ForestEthics "believe in one certification and we, like others, believe that there are other certifications that are equally as valid. We use several."

That amiable communication fell apart in early 2013, says ForestEthics chief Todd Paglia. It was at that point that 3M released its new policy on what sort of forests it would receive its paper from. Once that was released, Paglia says, 3M stopped answering his group's calls, forcing the group to resort to efforts like the airplane banner to get heard.

"We have had disagreements with many, many companies," Paglia says. "We prefer to work collaboratively. But if a company refuses to change, then we do a campaign. During the campaign, we'll still talk with them, but we will also educate their shareholders and consumers, which leads to a real conversation. With 3M, they just left the building. Just nothing."

Interestingly, however, 3M has seemed to respond to the latest effort with a somewhat open attitude. In the Star-Tribune piece, 3M spokesperson Williams suggested that the two organizations may be able to find some common ground.

"Business has a responsibility to operate in a sustainable manner and that includes responsible forestry," Williams says in the piece. "And I know that is a deep interest of ForestEthics." Needless to say, Paglia is still skeptical.

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.