Telesis Shareholders Reject Plan To Stop Using Old-Growth Paper
May. 02, 1996
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Environmentalists appeared to lose big when Pacific Telesis shareholders on Thursday rejected their measure intended to discourage clear-cutting of old-growth rain forests to make phone books.
So why were they smiling after the 91 percent to 9 percent vote at the phone company's annual meeting?
``Nine percent is huge,'' said Randall Hayes, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, who had expected 5 percent approval at best. ``Three percent is all we needed to bring this issue back again.''
His organization, an investment company and a religious order _ all owners of PacTel stock _ proposed ending the company's use of paper from clear-cut ``ancient'' rain forests in British Columbia for its phone books.
PacTel, based in San Francisco, agreed on the principle but urged stockholders to reject the non-binding resolution. It argued that the proposal would make it ``impossible'' to print its Pacific Bell phone books.
Shareholders apparently agreed with PacTel _ but warmly applauded Hayes and others who favored the plan. Supporters said the vote could pressure PacTel to take a closer look at the issue.
``It shows that environmental issues have a profound effect on shareholder value,'' said Tom Van Dyck, vice-president of Progressive Assets Management Inc., an Oakland, Calif., company that sponsored the resolution with the Rainforest Action Network and the Sisters of Mercy of Detroit.
The vote followed a demonstration in San Francisco that slowed morning commute traffic. Environmentalists climbed a clock tower near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and unfurled a four-story sign reading ``Pac Bell Destroys B.C.'s Rainforests.''
Sign-holding protesters, some wearing fish or animal headpieces, also greeted shareholders, a handful at each of several street corners leading to the Masonic auditorium where the meeting was held.
Philip J. Quigley, PacTel's chairman and chief executive officer, told about 500 stockholders that the company shared the environmentalists' concerns.
``I have very little, if any, disagreement on the principles ... that you shared on this important topic,'' Quigley said. The company also pointed to its recycling efforts and attempts to find alternative sources of paper.
But PacTel, after studying the issue, has concluded that the practices of its supplier, MacMillan Bloedel, are environmentally sound and that the Canadian government properly regulates timber cutting, Quigley said.
PacTel, in a response to the measure in its proxy statement, also said the grade of paper it uses for its phone books is in short supply and that no suitable replacement is available.
But proponents of the shareholder proposal disagreed.
Van Dyck said the plan would not commit PacTel to a timetable but would give it time to find other sources. He also said other regional phone companies _ including PacTel's intended merger partner, Texas-based SBC _ don't use paper from clear-cut rain forests.
``If SBC can find a way, so can we. And now is the time to commit,'' he said.
The 91 percent to 9 percent vote was based on ballots mailed in by shareholders and did not include ones cast at Thursday's meeting. Final results will be published in the company's next earnings report.
Environmentalists promised to put the issue back on next year's agenda _ if PacTel doesn't change its mind before then.
Mark Westlund, a member of the Rainforest Action Network, said similar shareholder campaigns have persuaded companies to change their policies. The effort to stop McDonald's restaurants from using Styrofoam packaging began with a similar vote.
``This is a great foot in the door,'' he said.