Nation's Top Homebuilders Vow to End Endangered Wood Use

Heralding a major shift in the conscience of the U.S. construction industry, two of the nation's largest homebuilders-Centex Homes and Kaufman & Broad - this week agreed to stop using wood from endangered old growth forests in new home construction, making them the first in the nation to do so.

"These agreements signal a trend that is irreversible" declared Michael Brune, Old Growth Campaign director for Rainforest Action Network (RAN). "A new ethic is emerging in which old growth logging is no longer acceptable. The entire home construction industry will be compelled to meet or beat this new market standard."

The revolutionary promises by Centex and Kaufman & Broad - made in letters dated March 30 and March 29 respectively-are the result of lengthy negotiations and pressure from RAN, the Coastal Rainforest Coalition, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups. Nationwide protests against the two builders had been scheduled for April 1, but were called off after the companies' last-minute capitulations.

"Loggers operating in endangered forests-from British Columbia to the Southeastern U.S. and from Alaska to Indonesia - will be forced to transform their logging practices or they will find their markets will quickly disappear," said Brune. Centex Homes pulls in some $5 billion in annual sales and boasts more than 400 developments nationwide, and Kaufman & Broad builds some 22,000 homes annually, making the two the largest volume homebuilders in the nation.

The U.S. homebuilding industry is the country's largest user of wood products, using a whopping 72 percent of the lumber consumed nationwide to build an estimated 1.2 million new homes annually. The average new home in the U.S. uses well over 16,000 board feet of lumber.

Most homes built today contain dozens of wood components that originate in the world's last remaining old growth forests: Cedar for tongue-and-groove planking and shingles; Douglas Fir for dimensional lumber; Hemlock for molding and trim; Lauan/Meranti for hollow-core doors, plywood and paneling; Mahogany for decorative exterior doors.

Old growth forests are home to some of the planet's oldest and largest trees, some as old as 4,000 years. These forests are also home to more than 200 million indigenous people worldwide, provide habitat for a majority of the Earth's plant and animal species and are critical to moderating the effects of climate change. In the U.S., less than 4 percent of our original ancient forests are still standing, and worldwide, logging and other causes of deforestation have fragmented all but 20 percent.

The announcements from Centex and Kaufman & Broad are the latest in a wave of corporate commitments against the use of old growth wood. RAN worked with a coalition of grassroots groups, including American Lands Alliance, Free-The-Planet, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Sierra Student Coalition, Rainforest Relief, Earth Culture, Action Resource Center, and dozens of other organizations in a two-year campaign to convince retail giant Home Depot to phase out endangered forest products. Following Home Depot's compliance last August, other major retailers, from Ikea to Wickes Lumber, have followed suit.

Building on that success, RAN launched its campaign with homebuilders Jan. 14 at the National Association of Homebuilders convention in Dallas, Texas, where activists inflated a giant balloon shaped like a chainsaw during opening remarks by Newt Gingrich, hung two giant banners from convention center rafters and projected giant slide messages onto the sides of buildings.

"Just as Home Depot shook the foundations of the home improvement industry by vowing to eliminate products from endangered forests last summer, this commitment by Centex and Kaufman & Broad brings us one step closer to a permanent end for old growth logging," Brune said.


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