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Environmentalists Haunt Staples CEO Tom Stemberg on Halloween

by Matt Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001 at 5:37 AM 202-299-9074

On Halloween night, a group of activists dressed as the ghosts of chopped-down forests, went trick-or-treating in the neighborhood of Staples CEO Tom Stemberg. In a fun and safe action, they gave out candy and information on Staples' environmental practices throughout the neighborhood.

For pictures, visit

It was a spooky Halloween for Staples CEO Tom Stemberg this year, as his neighborhood was haunted by the ghosts of dead forests. Six activists dressed as the ghosts of trees, along with one dressed as a Staples executive and another accompanying them without a costume, gave out candy and hundreds of flyers on Staples' scary environmental practices.

The world's forests are disappearing at a dizzying pace, and the pulp and paper industry is the largest single industrial wood consumer in the US and in the world. Pulp mills in the United States consume more than 12,000 square miles of forest each year. More than half of our paper in the US comes from Southern forests, the region containing the greatest biodiversity in the continental US. Staples, in turn, is the industry leader among office-supply superstores, with over 1400 stores in several countries. Staples has no policies on whether the paper it sells contains old-growth or endangered forests. They also sell very little post-consumer recycled content--though they recently introduced a line of office paper with 50% post-consumer recycled in response to activist pressure, Staples overall office paper sales still average only about 3 to 4% post-consumer content. With all of this in mind, the tree-ghosts set out on Halloween to urge Staples to protect their surviving relatives.

The ghosts gathered around 5:00 pm outside of Park Street station, a busy subway stop. There, they began passing out flyers (on 100% post-consumer recycled paper) and candy. Many passers-by took them, and one even took a picture (no report yet on whether the ghosts showed up on film). Once all the ghosts had assembled, they moved on to the downtown Staples at 25 Court Street. After about 4 of them had entered and begun to tell shoppers about how scary Staples was, the manager, clearly frightened by this supernatural presence, kicked them out almost immediately. The ghosts remained outside for a brief time, passing out leaflets and candy. But not many people were coming to Staples at 5:45 on Halloween night, and even fewer were just walking by. Mr. Stemberg's neighborhood beckoned. The ghosts began the trek to his neighborhood, giving flyers to curious passersby.

Tom Stemberg lives in one of the older neighborhoods of Boston, where streets are narrow. Upon ariving, the ghosts found that police sawhorses blocked cars from many of the streets. Neighbors sat on their front steps giving out candy, and trick-or-treaters swarmed the sidewalks. The ghosts split into two groups and began to make their rounds,. They approached both people giving out candy and trick-or-treaters walking past, announcing, "We've got a treat for you!" in spooky, quasi-Transylvanian accents. They would give each person a piece of candy and a flyer (sometimes giving extra candy, too!). Many asked what they were dressed as or what the flyer was all about, to which the ghosts would explain who they were and tell the person that Staples was doing scary things to the forests. Some residents made sure the ghosts knew that Stemberg lived in the area--one even mentioned that Stemberg just been by that house himself!

Despite the ghosts' fears that they wouldn't be warmly received (tree ghosts need love too, after all), almost everyone was receptive to their message, or at the very least polite. Many asked further questions about the campaign. One exception was a woman who yelled that her son was a vice-president (presumably of Staples). The ghosts hope that he will take their message to heart and help to make Staples a leader in defending the earth.

In the interest of avoiding unnecessary confrontation, the ghosts did not actually go to Mr. Stemberg's home. However, they visited almost every other home on his street and in surrounding streets, bringing their message about the spooky things Staples was doing to the world's forests. By the end of the night, all the flyers were gone, and the candy was down to Lifesaver mints. While it's not clear exactly how many flyers went out (the copier blew out while making them), particpants estimate that they distributed somewhere between 400 and 600 half-size sheets. With that, the ghosts retired for the evening, satisfied with a successful haunting.

Until Staples changes its ways and puts our planet before profit, however, this work will not end. In one week, on October 13, people across the country will mobilize for a national day of action against Staples. In March, on the last Day of Action, there were over 100 events--this day looks likely to be similar in size. In the meantime, organizations are signing on to letters urging Staples to change their practices, and people are taking different kinds of action every day. To get involved, contact Forest Ethics by writing to or calling 202-299-9074. Ghosts may come out on Halloween, but they won't settle down until Staples meets activists' demands!

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