Zero-Deforestation Commitments: What Do They Mean?

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A new report from the nonprofit organization Forests Trends takes a look at corporate deforestation commitments — and highlights both progress and challenges toward the ultimate goal of ending deforestation in corporate supply chains.

The report, entitled Supply Change: Tracking Corporate Commitments to Deforestation-free Supply Chains, analyzed the more than 500 publicly-available commitments from 366 companies that purchase one or more of four major commodities connected to global deforestation: palm, soy, timber and cattle.

Most of these commitments emerged due to both the work of leaders in the corporate sustainability field and to pressure from civil-society organizations such as Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network, which have shined a light on the major environmental impacts of the palm oil industry. Last year’s devastating fires in Indonesia were only the most glaring example of what’s become all too common in far too much of Southeast Asia.

The question is: Do these commitments make a difference? This report is intended as a resource to answer that question, and it’s part of a wider effort by the Forest Trends’ Supply Change project to put all the available information about private-sector deforestation commitments online. This will allow practitioners and investors to see what progress is being made, and help the rest of us understand how the private sector is working to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.

“Resources like Supply Change are empowering consumers and investors to monitor progress – and to hold businesses accountable for making good on their sustainability promises,” said Michael Jenkins, Forest Trends’ founding president and CEO, in a press statement.

The report found some positive trends and others that are disconcerting. While the increase in year-on-year commitments is commendable, it is not evenly disbursed across industries. For example, palm oil, a supply chain we’ve covered quite a bit here at TriplePundit, is the commodity with the most commitments, with 61 percent of tracked companies having adopted pledges. However, cattle and soy are lagging far, far behind: Only 15 percent and 19 percent of companies sourcing these commodities have commitments on the books. This is especially worrisome as cattle is responsible for an astounding 10 times more deforestation than palm oil.

Another other major concern is the lack of transparency about these pledges. For one thing, only about a third of commitments are accompanied by publicly-available reporting data. Additionally, the vast majority of companies rely on self-reporting, an often flawed process.

“Ambitious corporate action is a critical prerequisite to achieving deforestation-free commodity agriculture,” Jenkins said. “But ambition alone is no substitute for accuracy and transparency, and commitments count the most when companies publicly disclose progress toward achieving them.”

There are some good models here, such as those employed by Proctor & Gamble and Unilever, two companies that use third-party verifiers in the field to help measure progress. We need to see a lot more of this, with involvement from civil society as well. Forest Trends is working closely with CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), which aims to increase transparency and standardize reporting, with the hopes of getting companies to disclose more information.

It is great that more and more companies are making the right decision and committing to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. But despite this wave of commitments, we still have a long way to go before we can achieve industry-wide, zero-deforestation supply chains across these major commodities. Better reporting, increased transparency, and more sharing of best practices, resources and knowledge between companies will be crucial to ensuring that we protect our planet’s tropical heritage before it’s too late.

Image credit: Achmad Rabin Taim via Wikimedia Commons

Corporate Responsibility

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Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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