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Gibson’s environmental reputation survives controversy over wood

Gibson Guitar Corp.’s environmental record may be sullied, but its reputation hasn’t been permanently marked yet. Wednesday, August 20, 2010 Following revelations of federal authorities seizing what they say is illegal ebony wood from Madagascar, several prominent environmental groups are withholding judgment. Questions remain about the issue and its impact on the company’s reputation — but for now, Gibson’s long track record is paying dividends. Read more: Gibson’s environmental reputation survives controversy over wood - Nashville Business Journal

20th August 2010

Gibson Guitar Corp.’s environmental record may be sullied, but its reputation hasn’t been permanently marked yet.

Following revelations of federal authorities seizing what they say is illegal ebony wood from Madagascar, several prominent environmental groups are withholding judgment. Questions remain about the issue and its impact on the company’s reputation — but for now, Gibson’s long track record is paying dividends.

“I think that the first statement on all of this is that Gibson has shown an awful lot of leadership historically on environmental issues,” said Scott Paul, director of forest campaigns for Greenpeace USA.

Greenpeace, which worked with Gibson on finding sustainable spruce, is among a handful of environmental groups that have partnered with the company now under fire from authorities.

The Business Journal first reported Aug. 11 that agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service seized six guitars made of ebony and other forms of the rare wood considered illegal under a 2008 expansion of the federal Lacey Act. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Middle Tennessee is seeking official forfeiture of the items in a civil suit that revealed for the first time what agents found in their November 2009 raid.

There are no known criminal charges against Gibson or its executives, though the company is the first known corporate target of the law’s new reach. Court documents make two clear accusations: that Gibson was notified what sort of wood would be illegal, then still imported the ebony. What’s more, just two companies made up the supply chain, according to the affidavit.

Several attempts to reach representatives of Gibson for comment have been unsuccessful. But on the company’s Internet message boards, general counsel Bruce Mitchell said in July that any wood Gibson purchased from Madagascar was legal and that suppliers “provided assurances” as such.

“Gibson affirmatively believes that any wood we have obtained from Madagascar is in fact from legal sourcing,” Mitchell said.

While most environmental groups were slow to condemn Gibson, at least one, the Environmental Investigation Agency, has trumpeted the case as an example of what the Lacey Act can accomplish.

Andrea Johnson, director of forest campaigns for the group that investigates illegal tree harvesting worldwide, said it’s important to let the legal process reveal what happened, but she doubted Gibson could have mistakenly possessed illegal wood.

“(The Lacey Act) doesn’t leave much room to interpret that wood as legal,” she said.

Other environmental groups aren’t yet ready to doubt Gibson. Richard Donovan, vice president of forestry for the Rainforest Alliance, declined to judge Gibson’s actions.

The group, which provided Forest Stewardship Council certification of other wood Gibson has used, said the company has committed to eventually using 100 percent FSC-certified wood.

Global Green USA, meanwhile, was “disturbed and disappointed” by the raid’s details, but declined to judge Gibson without additional information. Spokesperson Ruben Aronin said that based on the company’s track record “we anticipate that Gibson would take corrective action and redouble their efforts” if accusations are true.

Whatever their position, environmental groups decry the illegal wood trade. Concerns include habitat destruction, exacerbation of political unrest, support of a market that saps a resource from locals without adequate compensation and unfair competition for U.S. lumber producers.

Exactly how the accusations will impact Gibson is unclear. Some within the musical instrument industry consider the Lacey Act’s requirements unreasonable, while marketing professionals say customers want positive action.

Nashville professional musician Jerry McPherson, for one, doesn’t think he’d stop buying Gibson guitars if the accusations are true. But he wouldn’t want to own an instrument of questionable origins, either.

“It might make me think twice,” he said.


Read more: Gibson’s environmental reputation survives controversy over wood - Nashville Business Journal 

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