Is APP Closer to Throwing in the Towel After Losing 9 More Customers?

The latest milestone in the fight between Greenpeace and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) was announced earlier this week. Following a Greenpeace report accusing APP of cutting protected tree species in Indonesia, nine companies announced they are “taking steps to deal with APP.” This list includes Mondi, Parragon, National Geographic, Constable, Acer, Xerox and most notably Danone, which announced it is suspending all purchases from APP.

These companies joins the likes of Nestle, Kraft, Unilever, Adidas, Mattel and many more who have already dropped APP following the ongoing campaign Greenpeace is running against the company. Greenpeace’s goal is to pressure APP to change its logging practices and make them more sustainable through the company’s customers. Greenpeace believes that if enough customers will stop buying paper from APP, the company won’t have any choice but to make changes in order to stay in business. The list of customers that have left APP is indeed growing, but the company doesn’t seem to show any signs of change, at least for now. Even now, with nine fewer customers, APP seems reluctant to throw in the towel. So it gets you wondering, who will win this fight?

The trigger for the last round of departures was a report published by Greenpeace documenting illegal ramin – an internationally protected tree species – at Asia Pulp & Paper’s largest pulp mill. The report included video footage and forensic evidence obtained during this investigation, which Greenpeace also made available to domestic and international authorities – the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and the CITES Secretariat in Geneva.

Greenpeace’s investigation also identified the global market for paper products from APP paper mills in Indonesia and China, including copy paper, packaging, books and other paper products containing rainforest fibers. The report named names, pointing towards  11 major companies around the world that have been shown to buy or retail products from APP that contain rainforest fiber, including Danone, Xerox, Walmart, Countdown, Collins Debden, Acer, Barnes & Noble, Parragon, and Constable & Robinson.

The argument Greenpeace made was very strong, claiming that any company or country importing from APP should see APP’s global paper production and trade as high-risk. One of the risks Greenpeace mentions is the fact thatramin is an internationally protected species under CITES trade regulations. All international trade in ramin specimens or derivatives from Indonesia is banned, with the exception of that sourced from one small selective logging operation that does not contribute to the pulp sector’s raw material supply chain.” Greenpeace believed that the fear of violating international regulations will outweigh any advantage the relationship with APP provides to these companies. And they were right.

9 of the 11 companies mentioned verified that they take some sort of action. Greenpeace mentioned that even Collins Debden has confirmed that it will no longer source from APP. “This is bold move for a company whose parent company Nippecraft is majority-owned by APP,” Greenpeace added.

Interestingly, at least one of the companies is making this commitment not for the first time. Xerox, according to Greenpeace, “first claimed publicly that it stopped dealing with APP ‘years ago’ but has now confirmed that there were implementation problems as recently as 2011. The company has confirmed it will be reinforcing a policy banning any purchases from APP. “This remark only shows you that while getting these commitments is important, it’s also important to create a mechanism to monitor them and ensure they actually take place.

The most notable commitment came from Danone Group. Following Greenpeace report the company announced that “Danone group’s direct purchases from APP (7,500 metric tons or 1.5 percent of the group’s total cardboard packaging purchases) will thus be suspended by the end of June 2012,” and that the company “will soon publish our global forest footprint policy which includes a “zero deforestation” component / which addresses our commitment to zero deforestation.”

What was APP’s response? A spokesperson for APP told, “APP is also taking this allegation very seriously, and is fully cooperating with the Ministry of Forestry (MoF) of the Government of Indonesia’s investigation which is now underway. It will be the responsibility of the Ministry to announce the findings of the investigation. Until that time, APP won’t be making any more public statements on the matter.”

If this sounds to you like a legalistic reply, you’re probably right. Yet, for those who follow the Greenpeace-APP fight for some time, this is an interesting development. In the past, in response to Greenpeace’s accusations (this is not the first report Greenpeace published on APP), the company usually claimed that Greenpeace’s claims weren’t accurate and tried to discredit these reports. And now? Nada.  Even not about Greenpeace’s statement that this report “shows that APP’s public claim to have ‘zero tolerance for illegal timber’ is yet more inaccurate greenwash.”

It might be nothing, but for me this change in tone is an indication that there are some dents in APP’s armor. No company can lose so many customers and stay indifferent. Not even APP. So even though Greenpeace’s strategy didn’t change much in APP’s practices so far, my guesstimation is that the tipping point is close. Very close. A few more customers that become former customers and you will find APP at the negotiating table with Greenpeace. This is my bet. You’re welcome to place yours.

[Image credit: Greenpeace]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

5 responses

  1. Should APP feel let down by the mill that harvested the ramin? Yes, probably. But, we should note that the mill did declare the presence of the ramin to the Forestry Ministry in its application to harvest the forest. So, Greenpeace’s “APP has been caught red handed” is just spin. Alluding these companies have dropped APP due to Greenpeace’s findings is more spin.  Some of these companies weren’t even APP customers and others had only small contracts. If you read the companies’ statements carefully, it’s doubtful some have even dropped APP, despite Greenpeace’s claims.  But, hey, let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story. Greenpeace’s use of terms like “illegal logging” is unhelpful. APP does not log illegally. That’s a ridiculous accusation. This whole debate is about Greenpeace’s version of sustainable and the Forestry Ministry’s. The discussion belongs firmly in that space. It’s not about illegal logging. The use of terms like that and the constant spin (like the ramin “revelation”) will ensure the status quo is maintained, if you ask me. If Greenpeace wants to change things, it ought to start telling less emotive, more accurate stories, else it will continue to be ignored by those who understand the situation. Greenpeace won’t change its ways though. Its supporters need to hear messages like “APP kills tigers” or “APP kills whales” or whatever, otherwise they’ll switch off. Would you change your ways in the face of half-told, biased stories, or would you resist? That’s the issue here. Greenpeace’s effect is reduced because its message is design to appease its supporters and they’re routinely being caught out spinning facts and science to support their stories. All they’re doing is ensuring the debate rages on.

  2. The reason this campaign has been effective is that it is accurate. In fact, I’d argue that Greenpeace has the most impact when its campaigns are fact-based rather than story-driven. Back in the old days when Greenpeace didn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story in its forest campaigns, it was a lot easier to dismiss them.

  3. No, sorry. In my view, Greenpeace haven’t changed their ways. The APP story is a classic example of over-emotive messaging and dodgy science or deliberately created pseudo-science. The accuracy hasn’t changed one. Greenpeace’s media skills have though. They’re internet wizards, and fair play to them. The companies they attack need to get better at defending themselves on the internet, because that’s where people learn, and even go to check, their facts.  If only one side is posting those facts, comments like the “campaign…is accurate” are inevitable.

  4. Greenpeace remains committed to our campaign against Asia Pulp and Paper and stands behind out recent report, The Ramin Paper Trail, which provides clear evidence that APP is systematically involved in breaching Indonesian laws and the CITES convention.

    We hope that APP may be considering ‘throwing in the towel’ but of course that means more than just ending the PR battle they have been waging to try and convince customers and the public that their operations are ‘sustainable’. It means changing their practice on the ground.

    APP claims to have a zero tolerance for illegal timber in their supply chain and at their mills. They have repeatedly and very publicaly made this claim. Our investigation focused on ramin because it’s a protected species, with logging and trade banned in Indonesia since 2001. It is therefore a clear case. (There is an exemption to this ban for PT Diamond Raya which we note in our report, which sells small amounts into the timber trade – ie not to the pulp and paper industry. International trade in ramin is regulated under CITES).

    The investigation involved repeated visits to various parts of the logyard at APP’s largest pulp mill, Indah Kiat, which also supplies pulp to many other APP mills. Ramin was repeatedly identified in different parts of the logyard over a year long period. As the trade in ramin is illegal, it is perfectly accurate to refer to this as ‘illegal timber’. The implication that APP has been ‘let down’ by one part of its operation ignores the reality that this is their main pulp mill, systematically breaching regulations protecting this species.

    In respect of the companies who have announced they will end trading with APP, their statements are public and clear – Danone, Mondi, and Xerox to name just a few.  Xerox’s statement specifically refers to Greenpeace’s report explicitly. It is true that not all the companies have dropped APP – and where they haven’t (eg Walmart China) we have noted this and we will continue to pressure Walmart and others to go further.

    It is true that this issue is about more than just legality, but to then claim that this is simply about a Greenpeace vs Ministry of Forestry argument over definitions of ‘sustainability’ is wrong.  It is
    possible to operate more sustainably in Indonesia, and to develop industry
    whilst protecting forests. Just look at the actions being taken by APP’s sister company, Golden Agri Resources, who have implemented a policy to protect high conservation value areas, to stop development on peat and to preserve areas of high carbon storage. It’s notable that none of these commitments have yet been clearly made by APP, though we very much hope that this will change in the near future. Greenpeace and the many other NGOs campaigning against APP want to see the company reform – that is why we engage in this work and will continue to do so until we see real change from APP.

    Greenpeace Forests Campaign Team

  5. The Indah Kiat mill cited the ramin in its application to the ministry. You didn’t address that point.Greenpeace have been using the term “illegal logging” for years about APP/APRIL/etc. It’s not about illegal logging, as you well know. You also claimed it is wrong to say this about a Greenpeace vs Ministry of Forestry argument over definitions of ‘sustainability’, but then didn’t say why. I’m afraid all impartial observers know it is precisely about that. You also failed to mention the million+ trees that APP/APRIL/etc. plant EACH DAY as part of their sustainability programmes and the forestry sector’s contribution to Indonesia’s GDP. A balance needs to be struck when reporting APP’s etc. activities, and Greenpeace is missing the mark still. You can’t clip the facts and just tell the bits that confirm your biases – you should give your followers more credit than that.

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