In many instances, litigation has been the tool of choice for environmentalists seeking to halt everything from logging to subdivisions. But times are changing and more battles are moving from public to private lands. In these cases, environmental crusaders are choosing to wage their skirmishes in corporate boardrooms armed with PowerPoint presentations. They call their new approach “market-based environmentalism” in which they push companies to do well for their shareholders while also doing good for the environment.
Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, is on the front lines as he pushes timber companies and their large corporate customers to protect the Southern Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains and the surrounding plateau. As timber production from national forests in the West has fallen dramatically during the last twenty years, private timber lands in the South have taken up the slack. The result is a booming timber industry that many biologists believe is a threat to the diverse ecosystem of the Cumberland Plateau.
The plateau and surrounding mountains encompass an area of 19.4 million acres, which is home to 230 species of fish, 65 types of crayfish, and 50 species of salamanders. Its hardwood forests of oak, hickory, black gum, and red maple shelter extensive rivers and streams, and the canopy provides habitat for many local birds as well as migratory neotropical species. As the forests are converted to fast-growing pine, the tree preferred for timber plantations, habitat essential to the survival of these diverse species is lost.
To counter these possible ill effects, environmental groups have worked with Staples, Office Depot, Warner Music Group, and even the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles. They have asked these corporate customers to scrutinize how they buy paper products, many of which come from the Southeast. Environmentalists are encouraging these corporate giants to reduce paper use and select suppliers who do not contribute to the degradation of the Cumberland Plateau. They are betting that the publicity gained from being good corporate citizens will increase the bottom line for these businesses and encourage environmentally friendly practices.