B&Q.jpgChinese consumers have a green conscience too. Under pressure from environmentalists, B&Q, the UK-based home improvement retailer, today announced it had stopped selling endangered hardwood in its Chinese stores.

B&Q, part of the UK-listed Kingfisher group, is the largest DIY chain in China with 60 stores and it has just opened its first store in Hong Kong.

China is a great success story for B&Q. The company recently said it expected annual sales growth for comparable stores in China to slow as the business matures but that it would be able to keep expanding at double the Chinese market's pace.

But B&Q's very visible presence in China has inevitably brought it to the attention of Greenpeace and other environmentalists who have been fighting similar campaigns in the west to get DIY stores to clean up their timber sourcing.

At joint press conference with Greenpeace in Beijing today , B&Q executives said the company would no longer sell products made from merbau, a valuable red hardwood used in flooring and furniture. B&Q says it was unable to obtain assurances that the merbau was sourced from legal operations, and so it chose to stop selling the wood completely.

The move is B&Q's first step toward a comprehensive programme in China to help sustain global forests. It is working with Greenpeace to eliminate all illegal and controversial sources by 2010 and switch to proven, well-managed forests for flooring, furniture and plywood in China.

Greenpeace China's campaign director Lo Sze Ping said:

Unless all companies that trade in timber products make concerted efforts, like B&Q, to clean up the timber trade and ensure that their wood comes from ecologically responsible sources, they will inadvertently contribute to global deforestation and to climate change. Companies operating in China have a particular onus to take action because China is now the world's largest importer of tropical wood and the rapid expansion of this sector is having a direct impact on the world's forests.”

Greenpeace had earlier revealed that that many timber species commonly sold in home improvement stores across China come from countries where up to 80% of the logging is illegal and destructive.

While retailers in the west have become practiced in the art of winning over green consumer lobby, their operations in China have largely escaped the heat. Until now, that is.

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