Home Depot Throws Green Image Out the Window with Environmentally Destructive Project

The company is associated with a project that would result in the world's longest clearcut through globally rare forests and massive dam building.

Tomorrow shareholders attending The Home Depot's Annual Meeting will be confronted with protesters declaring "Dam The Home Depot, Save Patagonia's Rivers." The action is the latest in a series of events that aim to highlight the connection between The Home Depot and proposals to build a series of dams on the wild rivers of Chile's Patagonia.

Hidden away at the southern tail of South America, Chile's Patagonia is a place where the mountains meet the sea, where forests give way to wind-swept steppe, and where the local people still remember the stories of their pioneering grandparents. Patagonia is one of the world's few regions where big rivers can still rumble freely down rainforest-draped canyons, spilling glacier-fed waters over spectacular waterfalls that few humans have ever seen.

It in this spectacular wilderness that Chilean and European multinational corporations are planning a series of 5 big dams on two rivers, and more than 1500 miles worth of transmission lines to connect the dams to Chile's industrial centers in the north. The transmission lines would require the world's longest clearcut through globally rare forests and roadless wilderness. The dams would wreak havoc on the region's ecosystems and destroy a delicate web of life. The project faces fierce opposition from local communities, and from national and international environmental organizations.

Patagonia may be a long way from Atlanta, the corporate headquarters of The Home Depot, but the two are intimately connected through The Home Depot's supply chain. Every year, the Matte Group, considered the "de facto" owner of the Chilean energy company involved in the dam scheme, sells 50 million dollars of wood products to The Home Depot.

This economic relationship ties customers of The Home Depot to the proposal to destroy rivers and forests in Chile's Patagonia, and is clearly contrary to The Home Depot's stated commitment to help their customers be environmentally conscious shoppers.

A fundamental element to being an environmentally conscious shopper is to know where the consumer dollar is going -- and in this case the money that Home Depot customers are spending on wood products from their Chilean suppliers is going to corporate coffers that are working to destroy rivers and flood forests found nowhere else on the planet.

The conflict first came home for The Home Depot in spring of 2008, when environmental groups began a letter writing campaign asking The Home Depot to take a stand on the issue. In the past year thousands of consumers have written to The Home Depot telling them that they will not shop there until The Home Depot takes steps to distance itself from the controversy.

Several major US environmental organizations have communicated to The Home Depot the need for the company to take action. In addition, leading Socially Responsible Investment firms have insisted that The Home Depot respond, citing the risk that the controversy presents to the company's "green" reputation.

The demand for action is clear -- The Home Depot should either sever its relationship with suppliers who are promoting the dam projects, or use their influence to get these interests to stop promoting dirty development.

It is not as though alternatives do not exist. For instance, Chile, due to its diverse geography, has massive solar, geothermal, and wind energy potential. A significant portion of the dirty energy from building dams on Patagonia's rivers could be replaced by energy efficiency efforts alone, demonstrating that damming wild rivers in Patagonia is clearly not necessary.

The Home Depot has alternatives as well, as the wood products provided by the Chilean suppliers in question are available from other manufacturers.

The US consumer knows that it isn't always easy being green, but we also know that we don't want to spend hard earned dollars on river and forest destruction.

The Patagonia Dam controversy presents an opportunity for The Home Depot to demonstrate that its environmental commitments are more than just PR rhetoric, and to seal their reputation as an environmentally responsible company.

Yet, unless The Home Depot takes a responsible stand on this issue, a growing number of their customers will shop elsewhere for their building and home improvement materials. If The Home Depot is not pro-active, the Patagonia Dam controversy will turn their river of green promises into a flood of lost sales and lost reputation.

To find out more, visit International Rivers.

Gary Hughes is Patagonia Campaign Coordinator with International Rivers, an international environmental and human rights organization headquartered in Berkeley, California.
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