For years, rock stars like Sting, Phil Collins, and Brian May have used their public image to try to save the rainforest. Now, in an ironic and bitter twist, the world-famous US guitar maker Gibson is being investigated over claims it broke environmental laws while importing wood. Gibson facilities in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee are being investigated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service for allegedly violating the Lacey Act and importing rosewood and ebony from Madagascar and India – not sustainable rainforest areas.

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For the past 15 years, Gibson Guitar Corporation has proudly displayed its green credentials by working with the Rainforest Alliance to source its wood from sustainably managed forests, including two reserves in Honduras and Guatemala. In these areas, the governments grant concessions to forest communities allowing them to market sustainably harvested wood. Thus, locals selling mahogany to Gibson get more money in their pocket whilst preserving the forest.

However Gibson is now being accused of breaching the Lacey Act, which protects plants and wildlife from being illegally taken, transported, or sold. What’s worse is that this is not the first time it has happened. The Rainforest Alliance has said it “did no work with Gibson in connection with any of the wood found by US government officials”, while a BBC report has noted the scandal even has political implications with Gibson boss Henry Juszkiewicz (a supporter of the Tea Party) citing the investigation as an “unacceptable over-reach” of the US federal government.

Ironically, Gibson Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz formerly served on the Rainforest Alliance’s board of directors, but stepped down in 2009 after the first federal investigation of Gibson commenced. While the Rainforest Alliance has underlined their efforts to make sure Gibson uses sustainable sources, it is reported that the seized illegal rosewood is worth $500,000 (£317,517).

So what now for the guitar maker? Well, considering their profile, it is essential that they change their wood as soon as possible. Not only will environmentalists now be paying attention, but so will guitar aficionados. Meanwhile, I imagine certain rock stars are now frantically hiding their Gibson guitars at the back of their cupboards.

+ Rainforest Alliance

Via BBC News

Images © Justin Brockie