Tuesday was a good day for the planet. Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest producers of paper and packaging, published a new ‘Forest Conservation Policy’ with unprecedented commitments to immediately end deforestation in Indonesia. As Greenpeace, APP’s long-time nemesis, wrote, if implemented, these commitments “could spell the end of its long and controversial history of rainforest destruction.”
This is very exciting news for anyone following last years’ Greenpeace campaign against APP’s controversial practices. By taking these new commitments, APP has made a significant move to pull itself off the ‘bad guys’’ list and, pending execution, join the ‘good guys.’
This commitment also represents a warning to other companies that engage in unsustainable practices. Resistance is futile – APP spent years ignoring the impacts of deforestation and has now changed their tune.
So what are these commitments exactly? APP’s new Forest Protection Policy includes the following:
- From February 1st 2013, suspension of natural forest clearance which applies to all suppliers while HCVF and HCS assessment are completed, ending all cutting of natural forest
- Protection of all forests, including those on peatland
- High Carbon Stock assessments to be implemented
- Adoption of international best practice for rights of indigenous peoples and local communities
- Independent monitoring by NGOs
These commitments came after APP unveiled its Sustainability Roadmap last year aiming to stop clearing natural forests by 2015. The difference between that move and Tuesday’s announcement is not just that this specific goal has been accelerated by almost two years, but also that APP’s chairman publicly endorsed the new policies. Additionally, APP is working now in collaboration with several organizations, including The Forest Trust and Asia Pacific Consulting.
The last part is very important considering what Rainforest Action Network (RAN) described as APP’s “long history of broken promises.” RAN shared as an example a promise APP made in 2004 to protect High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs) and reach “full sustainability” as part of a debt restructuring agreement. As of March 2012, they have still not fulfilled that promise. “The real proof of APP’s new commitment will be in how it proceeds with current plans to build what could be the largest pulp mill in the world in South Sumatra,” said Lafcadio Cortesi, Asia Director for RAN.
Even Greenpeace, which celebrated APP’s announcement and said it will suspend the campaign against the company, was pretty cautious about it. “No one is under any illusion that making commitments is going to be enough… it all boils down to APP demonstrating that it can turn policy into practice” wrote Bustar Maitar, the Head of Greenpeace’s Forest Campaign in Indonesia.
I asked Joshua Martin, Director of the Environmental Paper Network how can we be sure that APP will keep its word. “We cannot be sure promises won’t be broken this time, and therefore customers must wait for proof. We do know that the Forest Trust is an organization that is extremely competent and well respected and they will be monitoring the commitments by working closely with APP. Greenpeace has announced it will also be doing its own monitoring, and as it has done in the past will globally publicize violations. The Environmental Paper Network is also planning a new project which includes keeping the North American marketplace informed as to the status of the policy and the results of monitoring,” Martin replied.
Why now – What got APP to finally change course?
Greenpeace believes it’s the result “of years of pressure from Indonesian and international NGOs.” Martin also believes this was the main factor here. “I imagine APP’s decision is based on complex factors but what I am sure of is that the customer engagement strategy of environmental NGOs played a major role in creating an insurmountable obstacle to APP’s goal of global leadership,” Martin told me. “The evidence of their role in deforestation was costing them major markets including all the major U.S. book publishers, many of the major printing houses, the country’s major groceries, fast food chains and more than 100 other major companies including Disney, Mattel, Staples, Office Depot, and National Geographic,” he added.
Greenpeace advised all the former customers to wait first and see if APP truly takes action before getting back to work with the company. In addition, the NGO is increasing pressure on the other large paper company that relies on Indonesian rainforest fiber: Asian Pacific Resources International, Ltd. (APRIL). Greenpeace sent APRIL’s CEO a letter informing him of APP’s commitments, asking him to make similar commitment to end deforestation and mentioning that it intends to contact a number of APRIL’s customers and “express our concerns about APRIL’s ongoing deforestation activities.”
Given that the two-year moratorium on deforestation decreed by the Indonesian President in 2011 expires in May, these new commitments couldn’t come at a better time. While there’s definitely reason to be cautious here, and it is important to acknowledge the vast damage that has already been done to the Indonesian forests, it should still be a happy day not just for the Indonesian forests but to everyone, as we see another large company with controversial practices finally embrace sustainability.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the Parsons The New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.