Environmental Group Accused of Hypocrisy in Fight for

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Environmental Group Accused of Hypocrisy in Fight for Tree-Free Paper

April 15, 2002

Jason Pierce

CNSNews.com - A California man is out to expose what he calls the hypocrisy of a prominent environmental group. John Campbell, a Los Angeles-based Republican fundraiser, says the Rainforest Action Network sent out letters asking for financial help to "compensate for the extra costs of using tree-free paper," but actually used regular wood-pulp paper to print the letters.
Campbell says he had the paper independently tested, and that the results may prompt him to sue the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).

"Here's an organization that is purporting to want to save forests all over the planet, then they put out this letter basically saying that we are being good stewards of the environment, but they are not," Campbell said. "Why would they do that? It seems very hypocritical."

A lawsuit would likely charge that the San Francisco-based RAN is guilty of unfair and deceptive practices, including violations of California laws against false advertising, Campbell said.

Campbell said his decision to sue would be based on whether RAN informs recipients of the type of paper used in the fundraising letter and whether RAN returns the contributions.

Sara Brown Riggs, a spokeswoman for RAN, admitted that the group receives its paper supply from the Living Tree Paper Company in Eugene, Ore. Riggs said RAN is conducting its own tests to make sure the supplier is keeping its word and providing tree-free paper.

Carolyn Moran, president and founder of Living Tree Paper Co., said her firm has done nothing wrong and is dedicated to producing paper from materials other than living trees.

"We stand behind our product and I don't think there is a problem," Moran said. "It seems to be an issue about semantics above all else.

"I think this whole thing is overblown, to tell you the truth," she said.

Moran said there has been a long running debate over what qualifies as tree-free; Living Tree Paper Co. considers paper tree-free if it's made from recycled materials or materials other than live trees

"We use tree-free and recycled; we don't use 100 percent tree-free paper. There are no new trees in our product, you aren't cutting new trees to make it," Moran said. "Even in the industry, it is considered to be in the tree-free sort of ... papers."

Nevertheless, Riggs said, "We are doing our own tests on that paper to make sure there were no mistakes somewhere in the chain of custody, because this addresses the core of our mission."

Campbell said his own experiences with fundraising made him suspicious about the integrity of the RAN mailing.

"I was a little skeptical myself, because I have done a lot of direct mail in the past, and I would think that you are always trying to save money when you send these mailings out, because postage has gotten so high, this that and the other," Campbell said.

"I would imagine that printing these things on this kind of paper would probably up the cost of direct mail, so I decided to test it," he added.

Campbell says he took the paper to the Integrated Paper Service, which concluded that the RAN fundraising letter was printed on paper that was "five percent recycled, the rest, virgin forest."

Campbell then mailed the results to RAN, pointed out that the paper did not match up with the group's claims in soliciting the donations. He heard no response.

After receiving a subsequent fundraising letter from RAN containing the same claim that the environmental group was using "tree-free" paper, Campbell sought legal advice and discovered he could file a citizen lawsuit against RAN under California's Unfair Competition Act.

"It's just amazing to me that they are saying this, because I sent them copies of the report," Campbell said. "It's just amazing that they are continuing to stick by their story, which just isn't true."

Riggs said the lawsuit threat is nothing more than a "smear campaign."

"It is another in a long list of attacks by our critics," Riggs said. "It is just another in a series of attacks to scare away our funders."
 


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