The Home Depot and Patagonia Dams: The Excuses Grow Thin


Atlanta, Georgia, is the corporate headquarters of The Home Depot, the second largest retailer in the United States.

Home Depot is also the company that continues to traffic in wood products manufactured by Chilean economic interests that promote the damming of pristine river ecosystems in Chile’s Patagonia.

Last week the annual shareholders meeting of The Home Depot took place in Atlanta, and International Rivers was in attendance.  After more than a year without a reasonable response to our communications concerning The Home Depot’s connection to the Patagonia Dam controversy, we decided that it was time to visit the company in Atlanta.

Atlanta is a beautiful forested city. The team of people we connected with in Atlanta was sincere and dedicated to helping us realize a peaceful, positive, and fun action. We had technical action support from the Ruckus Society, and great coordination with colleagues in Chile.

What ensued was but one element of a great season of classic shareholder activism. The day before the shareholders meeting 2 activists from the Earth First! Roadshow were arrested in Glendale, Colorado for hanging a banner at a Home Depot outlet that read “Dam Home Depot, NOT Patagonia!” (Please go past the Earth First! Roadshow donation page link to make a donation to help these grassroots activists manage costs and stay on the road.) What The Home Depot has had to recognize is that everyone has given the Patagonia Campaign incredible national support at small actions across the country, helping create anticipation for our presence at the shareholders meeting in Atlanta.

At the meeting itself, we were successful in negotiating with the local authorities the public space necessary to fly our jovial balloon banner, while several of us quietly entered the meeting. Ultimately, one of our affinity group was able to display a banner on stage during the “state of the business” (i.e. sales are down) speech of Home Depot CEO Frank Blake, before being rapidly escorted from the meeting. This was a lively moment in an otherwise remarkably undemocratic morning of corporate process—every single shareholder resolution was resisted by the company or the board of directors, and ultimately voted down, the room awash in the according shade of orange.

At one point, early in the meeting, one senior shareholder questioned the CEO as to whether the company even cares about the opinions of the shareholders. Though the issues raised by shareholders were interesting and important, having to do with energy efficiency, employee rights, and even the ongoing sale of glue traps, a particularly nefarious way to manage rodent pests, CEO Blake facilitated a meeting that was fast and resolute in shutting down shareholder concerns.  That is, until Randeep took the stage, and succeeded in changing the tone of the meeting.

During the question and answer period the Patagonia Dam issue was raised again, thanks to our colleagues at Trillium Asset Management, providing our campaign a live and professional opportunity to refute the misinformation that The Home Depot continues to propagate in an attempt to distance their company from the controversy. In this instance, CEO Blake was caught red handed repeating the false line that the Home Depot suppliers in question, the Matte Group, have a distant relation to the Patagonia Dams project.

As Patagonia Campaign Coordinator at International Rivers, I had waited politely for my turn to speak, providing me the perfect opportunity of correcting Mr. Blake myself by reminding him of the Matte Group’s control of both the CMPC (forestry sector) and Colbún (energy sector) companies, the resultant direct economic connection that The Home Depot has to the Patagonia Dam controversy, and the contradictions that this causes with their stated environmental commitments.

The Excuses Grow Thin

There is no question that The Home Depot is relying heavily on their public relations machinery to attempt to distance the company from the controversy. In a previous blog I provided an analysis of the misconceptions that The Home Depot has been distributing in emails and on their website to confuse the public and to try to escape from responsibility in this issue.

While wanting to avoid an immature “tit for tat” with a corporate PR department that dresses in orange, here is another brief debunking of some The Home Depot’s thin excuses, and our campaign clarifications:

  • The Home Depot speaks of “the hydro dam,” when in actuality the HidroAysén project is a proposal of 5 dams on 2 rivers, with more than 1500 miles of transmission lines. This is similar to the PR tactic used in Chile to falsely minimize the scope of the project, the impacts, and the controversy.
  • The Home Depot states that their wood products are harvested more than 1000 miles away from the dam project, completely ignoring the 1500 miles of transmission lines that will literally bridge the distance of which they speak, as well as demonstrating ignorance about the Matte Group facilitating the rapid expansion of the exotic tree species plantation forestry sector into the very region in which the dams are being proposed.
  • The Home Depot speaks of support from Chilean environmental groups, but it has been several years since the Chilean environmental community has provided any implicit endorsement of Home Depot wood purchasing policy. The Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia is a coalition of Chilean and international groups that are working with many different strategies to defend the rivers of Patagonia from indiscriminate hydroelectric development.  These groups have all expressed dismay at the hypocrisy inherent in The Home Depot painting itself as a green company while doing business with Chilean economic interests that are intent on destroying pristine rivers and rare forest ecosystems found nowhere else on Earth.
  • The Home Depot states that they do not have the expertise to speak about large-scale hydroelectric development, yet one of the reasons why they claim they are environmentally responsible is that they are attentive to energy efficiency potential in their stores (2006 Energy Star Partner of the Year!). If The Home Depot cannot speak with expertise about energy issues, including the importance of energy efficiency in developing integral and sustainable alternatives to dirty energy projects, how can we take seriously their claim to be a green business on energy use? Perhaps The Home Depot would be better off asking for expert help on these issues—exactly the kind of help that International Rivers has offered to private sector and multi-lateral institutions since the founding of the organization!

Balloon Banner Outside of 2009 Annual Meeting of The Home Depot
Balloon Banner Outside of 2009 Annual Meeting of The Home Depot
The ongoing refusal of The Home Depot to take proactive steps on the Patagonia Dam issue is definitely resulting in damage to the company’s brand.

We are going to be employing diverse tactics in the next months to advance the Patagonia campaign, but as defenders of wild rivers let’s keep up the pressure on The Home Depot!  Keep spreading the word about our online actions, and let folks know that we will no longer shop at The Home Depot unless they take action to sever their relationship with the Matte Group, or use their influence to help protect the rivers of Patagonia.

Dam Home Depot, Save Patagonia’s Rivers!

Please let’s thank our friends in Atlanta for stepping up when they were needed! From Patagonia to Atlanta the call of the wild rivers went out and was heard and respected!

Viva Patagonia!